composite woodWant to add square footage onto your home without the massive expense of an addition? Build a deck.

Few homeowners think of it this way, but adding a comfortable deck increases your home’s living space. As with any home improvement, though, the key is finding the right option for you. Today, we’re taking a closer look at two core decking options: real wood or composite wood.

Real Wood for Decks

Real wood decking has stood the test of time as a popular favorite. Of course, it has its pros and cons to consider before you commit.

Advantages of Real Wood

There are plenty of reasons people choose real wood for their decks. Many homeowners enjoy using natural materials rather than synthetic ones. That authenticity comes with practical benefits as well, though.

Real wood has a less expensive initial cost than composite wood because the material itself is cheaper. It can also be easy on your budget because there are a wide number of options.

When you choose real wood, you can pick from a variety of wood types from pine to mahogany. They vary in appearance, cost, and quality. The selection will vary based on your location.

In addition to choosing your material, you also have a wide selection of colors. You could maintain the wood’s natural color or go with a more tinted stain.

Disadvantages of Real Wood

While real wood has advantages for the initial installation, the downsides emerge over time. Wood requires more maintenance than composite wood, so it takes more time and more money over the years.

For most wooden decks, you’ll need to seal and stain them every two to three years. You’ll also need to strip and sand them every six years. Keep in mind that the less your wood costs, the more maintenance it tends to require.

Real wood is also more prone to damage than composite wood. It’s more likely to chip, splinter, warp, and rot. You also need to clean it the right way. For instance, you can’t power wash it to remove heavy dirt and mold.

Composite Wood for Decks

The primary alternative to real wood is composite wood for your deck. Composite wood is made from a combination of wood particles and select types of plastic like polyethylene. These composite boards can be either hollow or solid.

Hollow and solid composite boards have their own pros and cons. Hollow boards don’t expand and contract as often as solid boards do, but when they do, it’s less even and smooth. Solid boards, on the other hand, are sturdier and they don’t hold water inside like hollow boards sometimes do.

Advantages of Composite Wood

There are plenty of great reasons to consider composite wood for your deck. First, it tends to be more gentle for the environment. While real wood requires chopping down trees, composite wood can be made from recycled materials. Not all composites are recycled, though, so look for this feature if that’s a priority for you.

For most homeowners, the key benefit of composite wood is its lack of maintenance. Unlike real wood, you won’t need to strip, sand, seal, or stain it. Once it’s installed, you can get a long life from it with little maintenance other than regular cleaning.

Speaking of cleaning, composite would is also easier to clean than real wood. Pressure washing is a fast way to get rid of mildew, pollen, and other stubborn grime. For milder issues, you can wash it with a basic brush and detergent. Steer clear of bleach, though.

Another distinct benefit of composite would is that you can shop by feature. For instance, if your deck is in a high-sun area, look for a sun-resistant coating. Because composite is man-made, the manufacturer has more control over each item’s features.

Disadvantages of Composite Wood

There’s no such thing as a perfect decking material, and that includes composite decking. The largest hurdle is the upfront cost, because composite materials cost more than real wood.

Over the life of a deck, the costs between real wood and composite wood tend to even out. This is due to the larger ongoing maintenance cost that real wood requires. However, if you’re trying to stick to a budget for the initial installation, composite wood may be outside your grasp.

Another frequent problem with composite decking is that if it fades, you may not be able to refresh the color. With real wood, it’s easy to re-stain it when the color fades. In most cases, though, composite wood isn’t compatible with paint. You may see some paint brands that say they work with composite wood. However, it’s a safer bet to contact the installer or the manufacturer for your composite to check.

Finally, composite wood tends to have fewer options on the cosmetic side. They often come in a set group of colors. Unlike real wood, you can’t simply change the color by picking from a large selection of stains. For some homeowners with a clear vision of how they want their deck to look, this could be a deal-breaker.

What’s Better: Real Wood or Composite Wood?

With all this information in mind, what’s the final verdict? It comes down to what you’re looking for on an individual basis. Neither option is “better” in an objective sense. They each have features that may appeal to homeowners in different situations.

Designing and building your deck is an important choice. After all, the total project will add up to thousands of dollars. If you choose the right option, it could cost you far more in the long run if you need to replace or repair your deck.

To make the right decision, take a look at all the pros and cons and think about how you’ll use your deck. If you’re still not sure, talk to a decking professional who can guide you toward the best fit for your home.