When one of our Nesters was embarking on a recent project to expand a back deck off of their new home, one of the first questions that came up was, wood deck boards, or composite?
Summer may be winding down, but some home renovation projects are just getting started. Now could be the perfect time to button up some of those backyard projects or improvements as the weather hopefully starts to cool down across our Nest regions. Hello Fall!
Here we help you navigate the nuances of wood versus composite for your next deck build. Is the hassle of staining worth saving some money by using real wood? Which option has the lowest environmental impact? Which is most readily accessible considering supply chain delays?
Sometimes referred to by the brand name Trex (like Kleenex), composite deck boards boast some advantages. But by doing your homework (like reading this blog) you’ll quickly learn that this is not necessarily a “no brainer” decision. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. Also, when you dig in to your online research, you’ll find a bit of a messaging battle going on between the composite guys and the wood guys. Well, we hope this helps dispel some myths and clarifies some of the options you have in front of you.
Which one is better? Like all great answers, it depends. Let’s look at a few of the factors to consider:
Heat + Slip Resistance
Composite boards tend to heat up more and hold heat longer than wood boards. That’s about all there is to it. You’ll find yourself getting the hose out to cool them off or even avoiding them all together during full sun hours, and that can be a disadvantage for some people. Composite boards are also more slippery than wood, due to wood’s rougher surface and ability to absorb moisture. Both of these factors may make composites questionable for usage around your pool, but at the same time they are also free of splinters and don’t have to be stained annually, and composites maintain a consistent, beautiful look for essentially the life of the deck.
You’ll quickly learn that hardwood deck boards hold up better and longer than softwoods, but they both require regular maintenance including cleaning and debris removal, mold mitigation, and staining. And because of the cost of hardwoods, even though they require less staining and last longer, softwoods are more common for decking, especially pressure treated yellow pine here in the U.S. Composite boards are also susceptible to mold and staining from debris, and still have to be cleaned and maintained regularly according to manufacturer specifications.
Composite deck boards from Trex and other brands are almost always more expensive than their wood alternatives, even during the height of supply chain issues in 2021, sometimes composites are twice as much per foot. That said, they last longer and require less regular maintenance, although they are not trouble free, as some claim they aren’t as strong and are susceptible to expansion/contraction and mold. Shop around and compare quality and details such as stain and fade warranties.
Lifespan + Impact
Both sides have their spin. Trex is made with 95 percent recycled material, does not require toxic stain to be added after construction, and lasts longer, while not requiring trees to be cut down. Sounds wonderful. However, wood is a natural, renewable product, which will biodegrade over time even when put in a landfill. Composite boards utilize nasty chemicals and glues in their manufacturing process, but then again, so do pressure-treated wood boards (which you will need anyway for the deck structure). One source says that composite deck boards have a higher carbon footprint overall than a wood deck, but in the end both sides make some valid arguments. With proper upkeep, wooden decks should last just as long as composite.
Both materials have their aesthetical advantages. Modern composite deck boards look more natural than ever before, are easier to keep in that pristine look, and can achieve a level of consistent beauty in a carefully landscaped deck that is unmatched. But some people really just prefer the natural look and feel of real wood. Especially with some of the fine hardwoods like Ipe, the feel underfoot of natural wood is also unmatched. So what do you think…picture perfect, or perfectly natural?
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