Wood or Composite Decking: Which is Best?
Whether you’re building a brand new deck or replacing an old one, choosing the right decking material is the single most important decision you’ll make. Decking material impacts everything from the hardware you’ll need to the amount of maintenance you’ll be doing in a year, so choosing the right material is key.
In this blog, the decking experts from Decks & Docks discuss the differences between two major decking material categories: wood and composite.
Composite vs. Wood Decking: The Basics
Before discussing the differences between wood and composite boards, it’s helpful to define exactly what each of them are.
- Wood decking refers to boards that are taken straight from the tree and contain no artificial materials. The most popular woods for decking include pressure-treated lumber and exotic hardwoods. Even if it’s treated, wood is organic and will eventually decay.
- Composite decking is typically made of recycled plastics and wood fibers. The artificial material in composite boards may be PVC, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), or a proprietary combination of recycled materials.
Composite boards that contain wood fibers in their core are then typically capped by all-artificial shells.
As your one-stop shop for marine construction materials, Decks & Docks carries both wood and composite at our lumber yards across the East Coast.
Cost: Which Is More Affordable?
In general, lumber decking tends to cost less than composite boards, but this can vary depending on the type of wood or composite brand you choose.
Pressure-treated Southern Yellow Pine tends to be the most cost-effective option to both install and repair. Pressure-treated wood decks can be built by home DIYers, which saves on labor. On the other hand, composite boards tend to be more expensive and often require specialized labor to install.
However, while the upfront costs of natural lumber tends to be lower, there are more ongoing costs associated with natural lumber vs. composite. Depending on how long you plan to own your home or manage your marina, composite may involve fewer costs in the long run because it requires less maintenance.
So, which is more affordable: composite decking or wood? The answer is wood, but remember that prices vary.
Maintenance: Which Requires Less Upkeep?
It’s impossible to avoid some damage from storms or wear-and-tear over the years, so all decks require upkeep. The biggest difference is how often you’ll need to do repairs and upkeep and what kind of attention each material requires.
Real wood needs annual maintenance. Lumber needs to be re-stained and/or re-sealed to protect it from the elements and water damage. Some decks may splinter and require sanding from time to time. Loose boards or boards damaged by pests will need to be replaced.
Composite boards are favored by those who don’t want the hassle of regular maintenance. Composite doesn’t need to be stained, sealed, or sanded. However, composite does need regular cleaning and should be cleared of standing water or soil right away to avoid stains and mold.
So, which requires less maintenance: composite decking or wood? The answer is composite.
Pests: Which Is Stronger Against Infestations?
Pests destroy wood fibers and bore holes into natural lumber, which can compromise the integrity of a deck over time. Marine pests typically target lumber that’s close to water while carpenter bees can nest in wood decks that are far inland.
Pressure-treated lumber and exotic hardwoods do have some natural resistance to pests, but no organic wood is completely immune.
On the other hand, composite decking is made of artificial materials which don’t attract insects. Even if a composite board’s core contains some natural fibers, capping on all sides ensures pests can’t get through.
So, is composite decking or wood stronger against pest infestations? The answer is composite.
Durability: Which Lasts Longest?
With a wood deck, expect to plan for replacements every 15 or 20 years with regular maintenance. That number can go up or down depending on your local climate, the wood you choose, and the amount of maintenance you’re able to keep up with. For example, ipe hardwood has been known to last between 40 and 75 years outdoors!
On the other hand, composite decks tend to last longer on average. Many composite brands come with at least a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty. The artificial materials in composite (such as recycled plastic) take longer to break down than the organic fibers in wood and are less susceptible to environmental damage.
So, which lasts longer: composite decking or wood? The answer is composite, but hardwood can last just as long with the right upkeep.
Aesthetics: Which Looks Better?
Older generations of composite were known for having somewhat of a “flat” look without the natural color variations and patterns of lumber. However, composite technology has evolved in recent years—and now brands like Trex and TimberTech carry color options that better mimic the beauty of natural lumber.
Still, there are no artificial competitors for striking exotic hardwoods like ipe and tigerwood. If a rich, deep color and bold wood grains are what you’re looking for, there’s nothing better than natural timber.
So, does lumber or composite look better? The answer is that it depends on your individual tastes, but natural wood remains the best option for a classically beautiful deck.
Need Help Choosing Between Wood and Composite Decking?
With so many options on the market, it can be hard to pick the exact right material for your next deck. If you still need help comparing your options and selecting something that fits your budget and style, then we’re here to help.
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Dan has worked for Decks and Docks for over twenty-five years. He managed the original Decks and Docks store in St. Pete, which is our largest store. Dan is simply the best all around. He knows more about this company and our products than probably anyone else. Dan currently works in Sales at our corporate office.