Composite decking has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional wooden decks over the past couple decades. Made from a blend of wood fibres and recycled plastic, composite decking aims to provide the beauty of natural wood without all the time-consuming maintenance. In this guide we'll examine everything about it.
- Composite decking offers excellent low-maintenance benefits compared to natural wood. It resists stains, damage, and moisture without yearly sealing or staining.
- Quality composite materials are durable and long-lasting, with warranties averaging 25-30 years. This results in lower lifetime costs compared to replacing wood decks every 5-15 years.
- Composite is made from recycled plastic and reclaimed wood fibres, giving it an eco-friendly profile compared to harvesting new timber. Many boards contain 70% or more recycled content.
- The upfront material and installation cost is 10-30% higher for composites compared to pressure treated timber. But reduced lifetime maintenance costs help offset the premium.
- Advanced manufacturing techniques allow composite planks to mimic the look of natural wood very closely. The best composites are virtually indistinguishable from cedar or pine at a glance.
- Composite unlocks unique design possibilities like curves, custom colours, inlays, and elaborate patterns. It's also suitable for high-traffic commercial applications.
- Manufacturers continue innovating new technologies and materials to enhance composite's durability, sustainability, affordability, and aesthetics over time.
Advantages over traditional wood
Composite decking offers a number of advantages over traditional wood:
- Mould - composite materials are stain, mold, and fade resistant. They don't require yearly staining, sealing, or painting.
- Durable - composite decks can last 2-3 times longer than wood before needing replacement. Many come with 20-30 year warranties.
- Customizable- composite decking comes in a wide variety of colors and grain patterns to match your style.
- Eco-friendly - many composite brands use up to 95% **recycled content**, keeping waste out of landfills.
However, composite decking also has some downsides to consider:
- Higher upfront cost - composite materials generally cost 10-30% more than pressure treated lumber depending on quality.
- Hotter surface - composite boards absorb more heat than wood and can get uncomfortably hot on sunny days.
- Looks artificial - while technology has improved, composite decking still does not perfectly mimic the look and feel of real wood.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll dig into all the pros, cons, costs, and considerations for composite decking to help you determine if it is the right choice for your backyard project.
What is Composite Decking?
So what exactly is composite decking?
In simple terms, composite decking is made by mixing wood fibres (like sawdust and wood flour) with recycled plastic materials. The most common plastics used are HDPE (milk jugs, detergent bottles) and PVC (vinyl siding).
Manufacturers take these raw materials and get them all cozy together using heat, pressure, and adhesion. Once mixed, the composite sludge gets extruded into the familiar plank shapes we know and love.
After extrusion, the deck boards get a protective outer shell or cap layer applied. This provides protection from the elements, extra durability, and enhanced fade resistance.
Most composite caps are made from polypropylene or vinyl. They are heat fused to the inner material, creating a super durable outer barrier. Some brands only cap 3 sides, while premium options encapsulate all 4 sides of the plank.
Once complete, the planks have a wood-plastic core and plastic outer cap. This gives you the best of both worlds:
Composite technology has improved *dramatically* since early generations. You'd be hard-pressed to tell new composite apart from real cedar or pine.
Manufacturers use advanced embossing techniques to imprint realistic wood grain patterns into planks. And they add multi-chromatic stain colours to mimic various wood species.
So with just some sawdust, plastic scraps, and high-tech manufacturing, you can get beautiful, durable decking!
Composite decking has come a long way from its debut just 20 years ago. Innovations in materials and production methods have made it an ideal deck surface.
Now that you know the composition and manufacturing behind composite, let's look at why it's become such a popular deck board option.
The Pros and Cons of Composite Decking
Composite decking offers some stellar benefits compared to traditional wood. But it's not all rainbows and butterflies. There are a few potential downsides to weigh as well.
Let's break down the key pros and cons so you can make an informed decision for your deck.
The Pros of Composite Decking
Tired of power-washing, staining, sealing, and babying your deck every year? Composite is the low-maintenance solution you've been dreaming of.
Composite resists stains and damage from weather, food, wet feet, and UV rays. Unlike natural wood, it doesn't require yearly refinishing or treatment to keep it looking fresh.
An occasional soap-and-water wash is all you need. No sanding, no staining, no hassle.
With wood, it's not a matter of if your deck will need work - it's when. Composite removes that worry completely. Just wash it and go on enjoying your outdoor oasis.
Composite won't rot, splinter, or crack under your feet. The wood-plastic combination makes it hardy and resilient against element damage.
Most quality composite decking comes with **20-30 year warranties**. Compare that to 5-10 years for pressure treated timbercolour. You'll get 2-3x more usable life out of your composite investment.
And that long lifespan includes keeping its good looks. While wood fades, stains, and weathers over time, composite retains its color and grain pattern for decades.
Going green feels good! Composite lets you create an earth-friendly deck using recycled plastic afibresnd reclaimed wood fibers.
Rather than dump waste into landfills, manufacturers upcycle these materials into durable new decking. Many boards contain 70% or more recycled content.
Using high-quality composite helps reduce demand for virgin timber. We get to keep more trees growing in the forest where they belong.
Ever gotten a splinter from your deck? Ouch! Mould Composite eliminates painful splinters so everyone can roam barefoot safely.
Its non-porous surface also means fewer places for gross mold or mildew to grow. No more black spots marring your beautiful deck.
When wet, composite boards maintain their traction and grip. Kids and older folks won't slip sliding around on drizzly days.
The Cons of Composite Decking
Higher Upfront Cost
There's no way around it - quality composite decking does cost more initially than pressure treated wood, often 50 -70% more.
Of course, the investment pays off long-term with that extended lifespan and nearly zero annual maintenance. But be prepared for a larger upfront budget for your dream composite deck.
Hot Surface Temperature
Ever burned your feet on a metal playground slide? Composite has a similar heat risk on sweltering summer days.
The plastic composition absorbs warmth from the sun more than wood. Surface temps can climb up to 20-30 ̊C hotter than wood in direct sunlight!
For the UK's milder climate it's not generally a problem, except for those occasional rare sweltering summer days. Grey composite decking boards are an option to consider if your deck is likely to get a lot of sun and retain the heat.
Limitatons of appearance
Composite technology has come a long way to mimic real wood, but they aren't there yet. Under close inspection, most composite still looks a bit artificial.
The print quality and clarity of grain patterns and wood tones is not perfect. And you'll never convincingly match exotic or aged woodlooks.
If perfect realism and wood authenticity are priorities for you, composite may leave you wanting. For most people, it looks pretty good.
Special Fasteners Required
You can't just screw and nail composite planks down like traditional wood decking. The composition doesn't hold screws well, and nailing risks cracking boards.
Instead, you need to use special hidden fasteners or decking clips. These provide a stronger hold and keep the top deck surface screw-free. But it does create a bit more installation hassle.
So to recap - composite excels at low-maintenance and durability compared to traditional wood. But you need to be willing to make some appearance and cost trade-offs for those benefits.
Composite Decking vs. Wood Decking Comparison
Composite and wood both make excellent decking materials, but with different strengths and limitations. Let's compare them across a few key factors to help decide which is better for your needs.
For most homeowners, cost is a primary concern when tackling any project. Let's look at the cost differences between composite and wood:
Composite: Approx £45 - £55/ squaremetre
Wood: Approx £20-30/square metre
There's no denying it - wood is cheaper upfront. You'll spend 50 - 70% more for quality composite.
But composite will save you money long-term by virtually eliminating maintenance costs. Replacing rotten boards, painting, staining, cleaning - it all adds up over 5-10 years!
Our recommendation? If your budget is tight, opt for pressure treated softwood initially. You can always replace with composite down the road when funds allow.
How long do you want your time and money investment to last before replacing the deck?
Composite: 20-30 years
Wood: 5-15 years
Quality composite formulations easily achieve a 25-30 year lifespan with minimal upkeep. Compare that to pressure treated wood lasting just 5-15 years before requiring replacement.
Over 2-3 decking cycles, composite becomes a clear money saver despite higher initial cost. It will also continue looking great year after year, unlike fading and weathering wood.
Nothing hurts more than spending a beautiful weekend working on your decking rather than enjoying it! What's the maintenance like for each material?
Composite: Minimal maintenance needed. Wash occasionally with soap and water.
Wood: High maintenance. Requires regular cleaning, sealing, staining, splinter repairs.
Composite removes almost all deck maintenance tasks from your calendar. A periodic soap-and-water wash is all you need to keep it looking fresh and clean.
Wood inevitably takes staining, sealing, splinter repairs, and more every year to retain its beauty. And even then it fades and weathers over time.
If you want to use your deck more and work on it less, composite is the clear winner.
Which material looks more appealing - the rich grain of natural wood or modern uniformity of composite?
Composite: Consistent, manufactured appearance. Limited grain/color options.
Wood: Natural, rich grain patterns. Unlimited stain options.
Beauty is subjective of course! If you love the look of real, stained wood, composite can't fully replicate that yet. For a manufactured material look, composite excels.
Advancing printing technology has improved the realism of composites dramatically. But most still have an artificial appearance upon very close inspection.
Our advice? View samples of both materials before deciding. Make sure your preferred decking look is available at your desired price point.
For the eco-conscious, which material leaves the lightest footprint?
Composite: Made from recycled waste (70%+ recycled content)
Wood: Requires harvesting virgin timber from forests
Composite wins big points for sustainability. Rather than dump used plastics and wood scraps, manufacturers upcycle these into durable new decking.
Pressure treated wood needs fresh lumber harvested from forests. Even "sustainable" wood ultimately contributes to deforestation long-term.
If environmental impact is a priority, composite is arguably the greener decking choice.
In summary, there are great reasons to choose either composite or wood. Assess your budget, desired lifespan, maintenance preferences, looks, and green goals. Then pick the option aligned with your priorities.
Types of Composite Decking
Early composite formulations were prone to mold, mildew, and moisture damage. No fun!
Modern composites apply a protective outer shell or cap to resist water absorption. This barrier layer shields the inner wood-plastic core.
Capped composites have excellent stain, fade, and scratch resistance. But they cost 10-15% more than uncapped.
Uncapped decking is less expensive but more vulnerable to element damage over time.
Our advice? Pay a little extra for capped composite if your budget allows. The protective shell keeps things looking fresher longer.
Solid vs Hollow
Here's another fun composite debate - solid or hollow core?
Solid composite boards are, well, solid all the way through!
space-saving contains voids inside to reduce weight. This spacesaving design uses less raw materials too.
Hollow composite boards cost a little less but aren't quite as strong. I only recommend them for low-traffic areas without heavy loads.
For high-traffic spaces, solid composite is worth the minor additional cost. The inner strength provides confidence it won't dent or buckle over time.
Grooved vs Ungrooved
Lastly, should you choose boards with grooves or go smooth?
Grooved planks have channels along the sides for hidden deck fasteners to slot into. This provides a smooth surface without visible screws.
Ungrooved (or squareedge) boards allow you to screw anywhere along the sides. The screws remain visible poking out the edges unless you plug them.
For a screw-free deck surface, opt for grooved composite boards with hidden fasteners. But ungrooved works fine if you don't mind seeing screws along the sides.
Installation and Maintenance Tips
Composite decking is touted for its low maintenance. But *some* care is still required once installed to maximize longevity. Follow these tips and tricks for composite deck bliss!
Installing composite isn't overly complicated, but does require awareness of a few quirks:
- Use quality hidden deck fasteners - they create a screw-free surface and hold boards firmly in place. Nailing risks cracking.
- Allow 6mm spacing between boards - composite expands and contracts slightly with temperature changes. Proper gaps prevent buckling.
- Use two screws per joist - one simply won't cut it. Dual screws prevent any chance of board warping or pulling away.
- Follow manufacturer spacing guidelines - placing deck boards too close together restricts airflow and drainage, risking early deterioration.
- Use composite-compatible flashing - flashing designed for wood may react poorly with composite. Use manufacturer recommended products.
Get the substructure right, use the right fasteners, and take care when aligning boards - the rest is smooth sailing!
Composites resist most dirt, stains, and damage with ease. But even low-maintenance decks need occasional cleaning.
Here are some composite deck care tips:
- Sweep regularly - this removes pollen, dirt, and debris that can stain if allowed to accumulate
- Wash 2-3 times per year - use soap/water or composite cleaners to prevent buildup and keep colors vibrant
- Spot clean spills - don't let wine, grease, or food linger and soak in. Clean messes quickly to avoid permanent staining.
- Avoid abrasive brushes - stick to soft cloth or sponges to prevent scratching the deck surface when washing
- Rinse thoroughly - soap residue left from washing can dry and leave streaks. Double rinse to keep things squeaky clean
With just some mild soap, water, and elbow grease now and then, your composite sanctuary stays looking fresh.
It's rare, but composite boards can become damaged, warped, or loose over time. Here are some repair tips:
- Replace individual boards - no need to redo the whole deck, just swap damaged planks one-by-one
- Tighten loose screws - natural expansion/contraction can loosen screws. Tighten them to snug up boards.
- Sand very lightly - for scratches or staining, 220 grit sandpaper cleans without damaging the composite shell
- Fill gaps carefully - use flexible composite-matched caulk to fill any gaps between planks that appear
- Follow manufacturer advice - they know their products best! Follow provided repair guidance for ideal results.
With repairs, take a minimal approach. Spot-fix issues as they occur vs. overhauling the entire deck.
Ok, there's no way around the “elephant in the room” ; composite decking costs a lot more than wood upfront.
With composite planks around the £7 -9 /metre mark, softwood can often come in at half the price or less.
But hardwood is more of a like for like comparison , and on that front, composite can be 30% cheaper. (And comfortably outlive hardwood).mould
Of course, lifespan is a crucial factor, and when you take that into account, composite decking boards look far better value for money.
The bottom line? Allure of "low maintenance" does come at a price. But plan smart and you can get reasonably close to wood deck pricing. Just focus on maximizing value - the beauty and convenience you gain with composites makes every penny worthwhile!
Design and Customization Options
One of the coolest benefits of composite decking is the versatility it provides for customization and unique designs.
With real wood, you're somewhat limited to straight lines and basic shapes by the need for seamless continuous boards.
But composite unlocks a world of curvy, artsy, and elaborate options thanks to a key advantage - manufacturers can bend composite boards along two axes without damaging them.
Let's explore some of the possibilities for personalising your decking.
Curves, Radii, and Organic Shapes
Stuck with straight lines or basic rectangles? No more! Composite freedsfrees you to add interesting curves, radii, and free-flowing shapes to your deck.
With the ability to bend boards on site, you can create oval, kidney bean, or other shaped decks. Add graceful curved borders along the edges. The only limit is your imagination!
Bending does become harder with thicker boards. Most brands allow tight radius bends on 25mm thick boards
Mixing Plank Colours
Real wood forces you to stick with one stain colour for continuity. Composites let you freely mix and match plank tones and grains for a custom look.
Feeling bold? Alternate between rich reds and greys for an eye-catching contrast. Or blend similar warm and cool wood tones for a striking yet cohesive appearance.
Align lighter planks near the house for a "sunburst" effect. The creative options are endless!
Inlays and 3D Effects
With bending capabilities, inlays, 3D patterns, and emblems become possible by cutting and fitting boards. No router or chisel needed.
- Some popular inlay ideas:
- Company name or family crest
- Special dates or messages
- Decorative shapes or botanical elements
And for a fantastic night time effect, don'tDon't be afraid to add LED lighting around inlays.
Accessorizing and Enhancing
Once you have your deck layout, there are infinite possibilities to accessorize. Add planters, pergolas, curtains, living walls, water features, fire features, weather-resistant furnishings, and ambient lighting.
Really go all out and personalise things with custom drink rails, benches, steps, planter boxes, trim, and decor items.
Composite Decking for Commercial Applications
Most of our article has focused on residential deck projects. But composite performs incredibly well for commercial spaces too!
Let's explore why more restaurants, hotels, parks, and businesses are switching to composite for their public outdoor decking needs.
Commercial spaces mean LOTS of foot traffic. Like, tons of people traipsing across day and night.
This heavy, constant load quickly destroys normal wood decking. Rotting, splintering, and wear become serious issues needing constant repair.
Not so with rugged composite. The wood-plastic construction stands up well to heavy daily loads for decades with minimal degradation. Much longer lasting than wood alternatives.
Commercial composite decks keep looking and performing great year after year with minimal upkeep.
Public spaces require safe walking surfaces. Wood can become dangerously slick when wet or worn.
Quality composite decking provides exceptional wet slip resistance through the use of textured grain patterns and embossing.
Grooves channel water away quickly. And unlike wood, the surface doesn't gradually smooth over time. It maintains traction and grip season after season of use.
Business owners love composite's low maintenance benefits. No need to constantly seal, stain, or repair worn planks like with wood.
After quick periodic washings, composite looks like new for decades. The colour and finish remain vibrant with minimal upkeep. Huge time and cost savings.
And weather and sun exposure won't prematurely degrade exterior composite decks like it does wood. Keeping up appearances is a breeze.
For business owners, the appeal is obvious - safely handle heavy loads while spending less on upkeep and enjoying increased deck lifespan. Composite just makes sense for commercial space.
New Innovations and the Future of Composite Decking
The composite sector continues to rapidly improve as manufacturers innovate and compete, with many exciting developments on the way. Here's what you can expect in the next few years:
- Enhanced realism: Emerging 3D printing technology and high-definition grain patterns result in remarkably authentic wood aesthetics.
- New composite materials: Expect more mixes like mineral-enhanced composites and hybrids with bamboo fibers or lava rock dust. Improved durability and sustainability.
- Nanotechnology applications: Tiny nanoparticles blended into resins can enhance stain, mold, and scratch resistance substantially.
- Lower costs: As production scales and competition increases, expect falling composite prices to challenge wood further on affordability.
- Larger format boards: New production processes allow wider and longer boards for fewer seams. Faster installation results.
- More recycled content: Some composites already utilize 95% recycled materials. Increasing reclaimed inputs improves sustainability.
- Cooler temperatures: Phase change materials and reflective pigments help reduce heat absorption, improving composite’s livability.
- Improved warranties: Better manufacturing allows more brands to back their products with 20, 30, and even 50 year warranties.
The composite decking revolution is still in its early phases. Exciting innovations continue unfolding to challenge wood's dominance.
Within the next decade, expect composites to match or exceed wood in aesthetics, affordability, longevity, sustainability, and enjoyment.
Composite decking has evolved into an exceptional alternative to traditional wood decking. When manufactured properly using quality materials and construction methods, today's composite matches or exceeds natural wood in durability, longevity, and visual appeal. With advanced technologies like embossing and multi-chromatic stains, many composite planks achieve remarkably realistic wood aesthetics.
While upfront costs are higher for composite, reduced maintenance expenses and an extended 25-30 year lifespan result in competitive lifetime costs. Composite promotes sustainability by utilizing recycled plastic, wood fibres, and manufacturing processes that minimize waste. Customization options like bending boards into curves unlock creative new deck designs not possible with wood.
In summary, composite decking alleviates many downsides of natural wood while offering enhanced longevity, low maintenance, and design flexibility. As manufacturing technologies continue advancing, composites become an increasingly compelling choice to create your ideal outdoor living space with the beauty of wood, but none of the hassles.
Let's wrap up with answers to some frequently asked questions about composite decking.
What are the main components of composite decking?
Composite consists of wood fibres (think sawdust and wood flour) blended with recycled plastic materials, mainly HDPE and PVC. The combination forms durable, weather-resistant deck boards.
How long does composite decking last compared to wood?
The average expected lifespan for quality composite is 25-30 years. This assumes proper installation and care.
By comparison, pressure treated softwood lasts just 5-15 years before replacement is needed.
So composite outlasts wood 2-3x over! Pretty good ROI for the upfront cost premium.
Does composite decking get hot in the sun?
Yes, composite absorbs heat more than natural wood. Surface temps can get 10-20 ̊C hotter than wood on sweltering days.
However, all decking gets hot in peak sun -even wood can burn your feet. Proper sun shading helps if overheating is a major concern.
Is composite decking slippery when wet?
Not at all. Quality composite formulations have solid traction, even when soaked. Wood gets slippery too when wet.
Advanced embossing creates grippy grain patterns. And composites don't polish smooth over time like wood. Great traction lasts years.
Does composite decking require sealing or staining?
No staining, painting, or sealing is needed to maintain composites. The color and finish last 25+ years intact.
Simply washing the deck now and then keeps it looking fresh. It's a true low maintenance dream compared to wood.
Can you use composite decking for commercial applications?
Absolutely. With higher durability and slip resistance, composite performs incredibly well for restaurants, boardwalks, hotels and other public spaces.
Quality composite decking is approved for commercial builds. The low maintenance is especially appealing to businesses.
Is composite decking eco-friendly?
Fairly eco-friendly, yes. Composite contains 70% or more recycled plastic and wood content, keeping waste out of landfills.
Manufacturing has some environmental impact, but companies are improving sustainability initiatives each year.
How do you attach composite deck boards?
Quality hidden fasteners are best. These clip into grooves in composite boards and attach to the joists for a screw-free surface. Face screwing risks cracking.
Diagonal boarding patterns help fasteners grip even better. Follow manufacturer spacing and span recommendations.
Can composite decking be easily repaired?
Minor repairs are straightforward. Sand out light stains, fill gaps with matching caulk, tighten loose screws, or replace a damaged board with an identical new one.
But extensive repairs are tough. You can't sand or rout composites like wood. And colour matching aged boards is unlikely. Easier to replace entire sections once failing.
Does composite decking warp or splinter over time?
No, composite technology prevents warping, splintering, twisting, and cracking underfoot.
The materials expand/contract slightly with temperature changes. Allowing proper board gapping at installation prevents any warping or buckling long-term.