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Composite Decking: A Wood Alternative That Looks Like The Real Thing

By Frank Jossi Rise Writer
Nov 19, 2020

Wood decks provide great places for families and friends to congregate for gatherings, meals and hanging around outside. Homeowners love natural wood's look and feel and how a patio can soften their homes' hard edges.

Walking from a door onto a raised deck gives a sense that a home has an outside room - a welcome addition during a pandemic when meeting people outside remains the safest approach for small gatherings. 

Veranda Deck Composite Decking
Veranda Deck Composite Decking. Photo Credit: Veranda Decking

But composite decks work in a variety of settings beyond the backyards of homes. They can serve as flooring for three-season porches, decking around swimming pools, boat docks, and urban decks on rooftops. 

Composite decks compete well against natural wood decks, which have less natural resistance to bugs and decay. Even pressure-treated wood decks discolor as they age, and they have toxins that you wouldn't want near pets and children. Also, they have a more limited life span than composite materials.

With many of the advantages of wood without the drawbacks, composite woods provide a viable solution for homeowners who want a long-lasting, good looking deck. Composite decking can last half a century, maintain color for years, and stand up against harsh weather conditions. Only minimal maintenance is required. 

Homeowners looking for recycled products will like composite decking because 80% to 100% come from recycled materials. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of colors, allowing homeowners to mix and match by adding accent boards to create designs. Let's take a closer look at the upsides and downsides of composite decking. 

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Composite Decking?
  2. What Materials Compose Composite Decking?
  3. How Long Does Composite Decking Last?
  4. Is Composite Decking Eco-Friendly?
  5. Can You Cut Composite Decking Lumber?
  6. How Much Is Composite Decking?
  7. How Long Does It Take to Cut Composite Decking?
  8. How Do You Prepare to Install Composite Decking?
  9. Should a Professional Contractor Install Composite Decking?
  10. How Do You Clean Composite Decking?
Fiberon Composite Decking
Fiberon Composite Decking. Photo Credit: Lowes

What Is Composite Decking?

Manufacturers create composite decking in factories using molds. A process called "co-extrusion" brings together recycled and raw materials that get melted together by an extruder that pushes it into lumber shaped molds. Composite decking companies often point out they gather materials from sources near their factories.    

TimberTech PRO Legacy Pecan Capped Composite Decking
PRO Legacy Pecan Capped Composite Decking. Photo Credit: TimberTech

What Materials Compose Composite Decking?

Generally, the ingredients include sawdust, wood chips, wood fiber, plastics, and other materials. There are three types of composite decking. Wood-plastic, a combination of recycled plastic and wood fibers, can be found in Timbertech, Trex, BamDeck (which includes reclaimed bamboo fibers), and Fiberon's Veranda decking. Coated with a rugged polymer shell more rigid than wood plastic, the "capped composite" costs a bit more but lasts longer. 

Capped polymer, made of polyvinyl chloride, has no wood fibers but incorporates a wood grain finish. Some plastic lumber comes from virgin plastic, a definite downside for environmentally-minded consumers. It tends to be more expensive than capped composites but has excellent durability. Top brands are Azek and Zuri Premium Decking

Zuri Composite Decking Royal Building Solutions
Zuri Composite Decking. Photo Credit: Royal Building Solutions

How Long Does Composite Decking Last?

Composite decking lasts longer than wood. Wood decking lasts 10 to 20 years, and to make it fast longer requires periodic power washing, staining, sanding, and repair if hit by mold, rot, and termites. Composite decking manufacturers offer a limited 25-year guarantee but last as long as 50 years.

Trex Recycled Plastic Composite Decking
Recycled Plastic Composite Decking. Photo Credit: Trex

Is Composite Decking Eco-Friendly?

As highlighted earlier, composite decking – plastic or wood-plastic – often comes from recycled or waste materials. Chemicals help create the boards. The manufacturing process uses energy. But so does cutting down forests, transporting lumber to mills, and processing it. Trex, a leading composite decking manufacturer, said a standard 16' deck uses materials from 2,250 plastic bags. So, a 500 square foot patio recycles 140,000 plastic bags. Compared to lumber, the manufacture of Trex decking produces fewer toxic air pollutants, water contamination, smog, and greenhouse gases.

Composite Deck Construction

Can You Cut Composite Decking Lumber?

Absolutely. Composite pieces look, feel, act, and cut just like lumber. No special tools are required, but it is wise first to check the manufacturer's recommendations. Circular saws and miter saws work best for cutting composite decking. For the smoothest cuts, use Carbide-tipped saw blades. The broader the decking lumber, the more tooth count needed. What works for most composite decking is 20 tooth count for 6 ", 24 tooth count for 7.25", and 40 tooth count for 12". Cut 1/8" off pieces before other cuts to make sure you have a clean edge.

Trex Decking Transcend Spiced Rum
Trex Transcend Spiced Rum Composite Decking. Photo Credit: Tre

How Much Is Composite Decking?

Composite decking costs more than wood decking. It ranges from $45 to $55 a square foot installed, compared to $25 to $35 a square foot installed. Replacing or adding a 320 square foot deck runs $14,400 to $17,600 for composite decking done by a contractor, compared to $8,000 to $11,200 for wood. A 200 square foot deck runs $4,000 to $8,000. Keep in mind maintenance on wood potentially runs as much as five times more than composite decks.

Cutting Decking

How Long Does It Take to Cut Composite Decking?

It all depends on the size of your composite deck. A 12' by 16' deck, with framing already installed, will take around four to five hours of cutting to prepare the wood for installation.

How Do You Prepare to Install Composite Decking?

First, install the frame to hold the decking. Structural framing, typically wood, should be treated lumber with a high hardness rating. Kiln-dried lumber works best for the structure. Before deck installation, you should get a tape measure, chalk, spacing tools, a carpenter square, and saws. Follow local building codes and, if needed, request an inspection after installation. 

Moisture Shield Composite Decking
MoistureShield Composite Decking. Photo Credit: MoistureShield

Should a Professional Contractor Install Composite Decking?

A do-it-yourself approach works if you have some experience with outdoor projects and the right tools to get it done. If you make a mistake on you will probably have to hire a contractor to fix it. On the other hand, you can save thousands of dollars on installation costs by doing it yourself. But contractors know the building codes, procure better prices on products, offer more design flourishes, and finish projects faster.

Cleaning Deck

How Do You Clean Composite Decking?

Sweeping decks with a broom should be a common practice for debris removal. Shoveling snow is okay and does not damage the decking. Spraying off the deck after spills and wear and tear works. For more thorough cleaning, use a pressure washer. Keep the pressure on low because composite decking is softer than lumber decking. Plenty of cleaning products exist for composite decks or use ordinary soap. Clean food and grease spills immediately to maintain the stain warranty.   

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-06-16T02:41:22+0000
Frank Jossi

Article by:

Frank Jossi

Based in St. Paul, Frank Jossi is a journalist, editor and content strategist. He covers clean energy in Minnesota for Midwest Energy News and writes frequently for Finance & Commerce. His work has appeared in more than 70 local, national and international publications.