There is nothing quite as all-American as the deck on a home. This is where the kids play, the grill is going, and summer always seems to lingers a little longer. The wooden deck attached to a home became a status symbol in the fifties, and quickly became a fixture of suburban life. Then, in the 90s, composite decking was introduced to the market, promising a longer-lived and more maintenance-free alternative.
What, then, is composite decking? Simply put, composite decks are usually crafted from mixing wood fibers with either new and/ or recycled plastics. Some composite decking is being made from 100% poly-vinyl. Combined with coloring elements and protective additives, the result is a manufactured product in the shape of a board which is relatively heavier in weight than real wood of the same size. It will not rot or splinter, is highly resistant to warping, and is generally more weather resistant than traditional wooden decking.
Let’s take a closer look at what everyone should know about composite decking.
- There are essentially two types of decking – solid and hollow. Solid decking is heavier, looks more natural, but is more susceptible to temperature fluctuation. Hollow decking is cheaper, and needs greater care before installation to prevent damage.
- Initial costs of composite decks will likely be higher, both for materials and labor. However, over the lifetime of the deck, expenses for composite decking are likely to be lower. This is largely due to reduced upkeep, as well as its longer lifespan.
- Most composite deck boards will be much longer than wooden boards, because there is no fear of warpage. Boards can be 20 feet in length!
- It can be made in a vast array of colors. Painting or staining composite decking is unnecessary, since the color pigmentation is added at the time of manufacture. Do you want a pink deck, or alternating purple and yellow boards? You can have whatever you wish. Just remember that, whatever color you choose, you can’t just change your mind and paint over it.
- Your composite deck may not warp, but it can sag and buckle. Most sagging is caused by improper spacing between the joists when it is installed. Also, thermal expansion, the fluctuation of temperatures, can have a more significant effect on composite decking than on natural wood decking. Spacing between composite boards, and boards and walls, is usually greater than between wooden boards. Careful, professional quality installation is very important.
- Composite decking is fade resistant, but it may fade over time in strong sunlight. Composite decking will get lighter in color tone as it fades. Natural wood, left alone, fades to grey.
- It will also get hot under those conditions, although certainly not hot enough to melt. Shading the deck is always recommended during the hottest, sunniest days.
- You will need to allow for drainage under composite decks. Any moisture trapped under composite decking, on top of wood joists, makes the joists susceptible to rot and decay.
- These products are also stain resistant but, as with issues of fading, resistance doesn’t mean never. Attend to spills as promptly as possible, and keep the deck swept. Expect to hose it thoroughly at least twice a year.
- The most common complaint about composite decking is mold growth. While all deck materials can grow mold, algae, and mildew, wood must be cleaned and resurfaced. Composite decking cannot be resurfaced, and staining can be difficult to remove. It is recommended to apply and maintain a mold barrier from the start to prevent the occurrence of mold. If mold is already present, owners must use special cleaners which will remove the mold, but won’t harm the surface.
When considering a long-term investment like a deck, be sure to do your homework. Price out contractors, ask friends with decks who they’ve worked with, and make a list of wood vs. composite pros and cons. Most importantly, make sure you have enough mustard and ketchup on hand for the first cookout!