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Composite Decking Pros and Cons

Composite Decking Pros and Cons
Composite material is an alternatiuve to wood for a deck like th
More and more homeowners are choosing composite decking -- composed of wood waste, fillers and recycled plastic -- as a low-maintenance, eco-friendly solution for their decks. And the wood grain patterns and colors of composite decking are becoming more and more realistic. Such decks can be dressed up with rails made from wood, glass or stainless steel wiring.  Activity-specific spaces can be added and decks can be built on a variety of levels to work with the natural terrain and to emphasis specific views or vistas.

Unlike wood, composite decking never needs staining or sanding but only an occasional cleaning with soap and water. Composite decks are good for the environment as well. Manufacturers use millions of pounds of both pre and post consumer waste plastic that would otherwise end up in landfills. They use recycled wood waste so no new trees must be felled. Composite decks also last longer than wood decks and thus stay out of the landfill longer.

Composite decking costs about 50% more than pressure-treated decking and somewhat more than cedar or redwood, depending on the grade of lumber. The added upfront costs are offset down the road, however, with lower maintenance costs. Composite decking is available in a variety of grades and the cost depends on such factors as the materials used to make the decking and such extras as UV protection and scratch resistance. Composite decking weighs more than wood per linear foot and at the same time it is not as strong. As a result a stronger frame is required. Most manufacturers call for 16 in. on center framing for straight runs and 12 in. on center for diagonal runs. Composite decking is not a structural product but is usually installed over a frame of pressure treated lumber. Cooking grease can stain the deck and hot coals can melt the plastic. Keep in mind that boards attached with hidden fasteners are especially hard to replace.

Capped or Uncapped:  Composite decking is available as a capped or uncapped product.  The capped product is sealed in plastic that can be colored and embossed  to take on the variegated appearance of a natural product. Capped decking is also more scratch, fade, and stain resistant and often comes with a 25 year fade and stain warranty.

Hidden Fasteners
It can be fastened with a system of clips that are hidden under the decking, which adds a little cost but gives the deck a cleaner look and is a more permanent fastening system.

When comparing decking brands, make sure the product has a Fade and Stain Warranty.  Many manufacturers offer warranties up to 25 years.

Preventing Mold and Mildew
Today’s composites have been engineered to be largely impermeable to water but it is important to follow basic precautions to prevent mold. Decks should be installed at least 24” above ground to allow adequate ventilation.  If any mold or mildew develops it should be removed right away by cleaning with a solution designed for this purpose.

Composite decking is available in a rich variety of nature-inspired colors including tans, grays, browns and classic earth tone colors. The example above is from Trex's Transcend line in Island Mist. Below is Fiberon's Horizon Symmetry in Warm Sienna. EverGrain's Envision line in GreyWood is below. Many manufacturers sell decking that matches specific wood species such as Cedar, Redwood, Silver Maple or Brown Oak. There are also regional varieties including Cape Cod Grey and California Redwood. There are varieties that match exotic woods such as Mahogany, Ipe and Mangaris. The example above is from Timbertech is called Tropical. 

Temperature & Texture
If your area has very hot summers, be sure to select lighter colors for the boards as they are cooler to the touch. Composite decking is available in a wide variety of textures. Board types can range from smooth to matte to highly textured and are now available in many natural wood-grain patterns. If the deck is located near a pool be sure to select boards with a non-slip texture. (The four decking photos are courtesy the manufacturers.)

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