Wood Decks or Composite Decks? A Comparison

Jim Mallery

This is Part 6 of 9 in our Series on Restoring Wood Decks and Building New Wood Decks. Navigate to the first article: Restoring a Wood Deck

With your deck deconstructed, it's time to reconstruct.

Your most important decision in deck replacement is the material you will use for decking. You have four general types of decking: wood, composite, plastic and solid. Available materials and brands will vary around the country, and in choosing, you will have to research the local market.

Types of Deck Material

Here is a general look at the various choices of decking.

Wood. If you want beauty, wood's for you--at least when it's new, or when you have done the annual refinishing. Cedar, redwood and pine are the common choices; exotic, tropical woods are available, but at much higher cost, and they probably will be even less eco-friendly. Wood is easy to work with, but it is not a green choice when compared to other decking. And only a person who has tried to keep his deck looking good year after year can appreciate the amount of work and expense required to keep it tiptop. A wood deck should be cleaned with a deck cleaner and recoated with a deck finish. Some types of wood-deck finish make bold promises of longevity, but don't believe them.

Composite. The rise of composite decking in the last several years has brought a new dimension to decking. Made from sawdust and recycled plastics (a main ingredient of the Trex brand is plastic grocery bags), they are considered green. Composite boards are dense, heavy, and flexible. They cannot be used as structural members. They are more expensive than the common wood decking, and are attached with special decking screws, which also are expensive. The ends of composite boards must be predrilled before the screw is driven; some types of composite are so dense that each screw must be predrilled.

Composites will stain (think outdoor dining involving wine, mustard and catsup), and they will mildew. However, they usually clean up well with a light bleach solution.

Composite decking often is made with a wood-grain appearance, but it looks like a fake wood-grain. Nevertheless, because composite decking is so much more durable than wood and easier to maintain, it is regarded as a top-end decking. Besides Trex, TimberTech is another common brand of composite decking.

Plastic. Manufacturers such as Trex, TimberTech and Azecs are producing PVC decking. It does not stain and mildew as readily as composite, but it is more expensive. And it still really looks and feels like plastic.

Solid. Impervious finishes come in various designs. They usually are used only when you want to keep water from reaching the area below the deck, such as a carport or living area. Impervious deck material includes:

  • resin impregnated with an aggregate such as stone or recycled glass
  • membranes glued to the underlayment, somewhat like outdoor carpeting
  • membranes over which concrete, stone or brick pavers are laid
  • painted-on, rubberized coatings (These have a high failure rate.)

Those are the common types of decking. Next, we will look at designing a deck.


Next article: Deck Designs. Tips on how to make the most of your backyard deck.

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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