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Decks provide space to enjoy the warmth and relaxation of spring, summer and fall comfortably. Your ideal deck design may include any number of features, but the actual deck materials dictate overall style. Premium products like composite decking offer an attractive, low maintenance finish, but come with limitations and disadvantages that may surprise you.
Consider the pros and cons of composite decking before finalizing your ideal backyard living space.
Pros of Composite Deck Boards
You'll find various composite products on the market, and availability depends on your location. Big name composites, like Trex, are sold across North America, while lesser known or new-to-the-market products may be limited to certain regions.
Most composites are manufactured from wood byproducts (sawdust, wood chips, etc.) and recycled plastics. Combining synthetic and organic materials captures the best of both worlds, creating a durable product that looks and feels similar to wood decking. The number one benefits of composite products is longevity — you can expect your composite deck to withstand the most severe weather conditions for decades without any additional treatment or protection.
Composite eliminates the need to stain, paint or treat your deck. Standard treated wood will weather naturally, but expect this decking to fade, crack and split as the material dries. A pressure treated wood deck should be stained on an annual or bi-annual basis to maintain an attractive color and finish - composite products maintain a consistent and beautiful appearance from the first year onward.
Create a multi-colored outdoor living space by combining different composite colors on one deck. Consider lightly colored deck boards bordered with darker tones for a dramatic look, or talk to your decking contractor about incorporating patterns into your deck design. With the consistency of composite, you can appreciate this d cor scheme for years without the hassle of repainting or refinishing.
Avoid slivers by installing composite deck board and railings. This is especially attractive to parents or grandparents, and allows even young children to play on the deck surface without fear of injuries due to slivers or sharp edges. You'll also appreciate the comfort of composite deck boards. The material warms in the sun, and provides a soft surface for bare feet.
Most composite product lines offer a picket railing, similar in style of wood railings. If you have modern tastes or want to preserve your view, many composite manufacturers offer a tempered glass system, either supplied with the glass or delivered with the framework to fit glass panels ordered through a local supplier.
Composite deck boards can be used to create stairs and landings, and most manufacturers offer trim boards to cover all of the rough edges. Every visible aspect of your deck can be covered with composite for a uniform appearance built to last.
Cons of Composite Decking
Price is the most recognized disadvantage of composite products. Depending on where you are located and the availability of building materials, composite products cost between 50 to 100% more than standard treated lumber. Cedar wood prices falls somewhere in the middle of those two options.
Each composite manufacturer offers a slightly different product, at a slightly different price, although all are significantly higher than treated lumber. Even with the replacement costs of treated lumber factored in, composite carries a higher price tag, and the value of your home won't necessarily reflect the added investment. Real estate studies show that installing a deck increases the value of your property, although the materials and design may not factor into that dollar figure.
Standard wood decks and composite decks have a similar impact on the environment. Treated lumber resists rotting and decay nearly as much as composite, although the appearance of this product deteriorates quickly. Some composites use a greater amount of recycled materials, but this is product-dependent and not an industry standard.
All composite decks are built on a treated lumber frame, for optimum durability and stability. Treated lumber is used for the posts, beams and joists, as well as all stair stringers. Decking contractors use standard galvanized or stainless steel fasteners on composite projects, and rely on the strength of treated lumber to create a stable framework for composite deck boards, trim and railing components.
If you were considering composite as a way to avoid treated lumber, be aware that a significant amount of treated lumber will be used to build your composite decking. Most cedar wood decks are designed in the same way — all lumber installed below or at grade should be treated, as well as any structural components. This provides greater durability and may be required by local building codes.
Composite decking is permanently colored to avoid or reduce maintenance. But that also means the color, tint or shade cannot be changed. Standard wood can be repainted or refreshed, while the only way to alter a composite product's appearance is through a surface cleaning. Mild outdoor cleansers remove debris left by weather, and bring the original manufactured color back to life.
Darker colors may lead to fading, an irreparable occurrence that happens in projects where full exposure combines with high traffic. Other potential damage, including severe scratches and deep gouges, is difficult to repair without replacing individual deck boards. It may be difficult to obtain a uniform finish in these cases, although fading will even out over the long term.
Composite decking presents a number of pros and cons to homeowners, covering everything from maintenance to budget, appearance and availability. Consider each composite manufacturer individually before making up your mind, and be sure to think about how the final deck design will appear in pressure treated wood, cedar wood or your preferred brand of composite decking.