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Building with Composite Decking: Is it a Smart Choice?

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Composite Decking

As part of the building industry’s constant quest to make things better, more convenient and easier, composite decking was developed. There used to be just one option for decking—wood—but now there are a few choices available to suit any homeowner’s budget and preferences.

Wood decking needs regular maintenance and care, such as annual staining or refinishing, and this can be tedious for some people. Although there are kinds of wood decking materials such as ipe and other tropical hardwoods that require less maintenance, owning a wooden deck entails responsibilities.

Recognizing that a lot of homeowners might appreciate options that require less maintenance, some entrepreneurs came up with alternatives using materials such as aluminum, vinyl, and plastic. But the most popular option in the decking industry that has seen a lot of demand in the last decade is composite wood decking.

Also known as synthetic decking, wood-polymer composites and cheap composite decking, composite is quickly becoming the top decking material choice for many homeowners and builders.

Here are the reasons why:

  • It is environmentally friendly
  • Lightweight
  • Stain resistant
  • Insect/borer resistant
  • Weather resistant
  • Will not rot or splinter
  • Very low maintenance
  • Good workability and can be easily shaped
  • Does not need paint or stain

What in the World is Composite Decking?

Wood composite decking is a man-made material made from combined materials such as wood and plastic. First introduced into the decking market in the early ’90s, these materials are processed to emulate the appearance of wood. The wood component of this combination typically consists of lumber byproducts such as wood fiber, sawdust and chips.

The plastic components are often made from both recycled and virgin thermoplastic materials that include ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) and PP (Polypropylene). During production, these components are added with preservatives and pigmentation, and then heated in high temperatures to thoroughly melt.

How do They Make it?

There are two major production methods that also affect the strength and quality of the composite decking.

The first process is called extrusion, wherein the raw materials are mixed and melted and then forced through an opening that has the shape and size of a decking board. This process solidifies the mixture into a finished product that has a consistent shape and size.

The other process is called compression molding, wherein the molten materials are combined and placed on a wood grain mold. The materials in the mold will then be compressed under extreme pressure and heat to create a strong physical bond. They are then formed into lengths simulating wooden boards while they are being cooled.

The finished product can have a beautiful, wood-like look, and they often come in a wide variety of grain patterns, colors and composite deck prices. This type of artificial wood decking can give a homeowner the freedom to build a deck without the maintenance, as composite decks don’t have to be sanded, painted or stained.

To Cap or Not to Cap

There are actually two types of composite or synthetic decking: capped composite and uncapped composite.

Uncapped

This is the first generation type of composite decking and is less expensive than the capped type. It never needs to be refinished or stained, nor does it splinter or twist. It is, however, more prone to stains and fading, so it has to be periodically cleaned to maintain its beauty. It is highly recommended that the surface be swept clean, soaped, scrubbed and hosed down every six months.

Capped

This is the next generation composite decking. It has a plastic surface that serves as protection of the wood fibers from being exposed to the elements. It also prevents the boards from fading and staining. Capped composite decking is not porous, which means that liquids will bead on the surface and will not easily dry so the surface tends to be slippery when wet.

How to Choose the Best Composite Decking

There are a few important factors that should be considered when choosing the best composite deck for your home. These include composite deck prices, color availability and type of fastener system used. You can also narrow down your search for the best product when you determine your desired deck texture, deck location and how you intend to use the deck.

There are a few big names in the composite decking market, such as Trex composite decking, Evergrain, Veranda Decking, CorrectDeck and TimberTech. The composite market is constantly evolving as manufacturers continue to develop their products to provide homeowners and builders with the best combination that will eliminate stain, mold and fading issues from wood composite decking.

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Composite Decks

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Composite Decking Questions Answered

Have you considered composite decking before but disregarded the option because you did not know enough about it? Have you wondered how is it made and what is it made of?

You are in the right place! Here your questions regarding composite decks will be answered, and more. Composite decking has been around for decades, but there still seems a lack of familiarity with it. So let’s start off with the basics and look at the material a little closer.

What is Composite Decking?

Composite decking is a pseudo-wood product created from a mixture of recycled plastics and wood fibers. Color pigments and protective additives are incorporated into the mixture to form a traditional wood-like deck board but with added resilience that requires less maintenance than other decking materials.

There are several polymers used in manufacturing composite decking such as polyvinyl chloride, high-density or low-density polyethylene, and polypropylene.

Wood flour is then added to stabilize the plastics and also protect it from ultraviolet rays that may damage the plastics. Choose a brand that uses finely ground wood fiber as the consistency allows for a more uniformed look throughout the deck.

How is Composite Decking Made?

Most new generation composite decking products are manufactured using “extrusion,” a forming process wherein the melted mixture of wood and plastic are forced through an opening or a mold to produce boards that have consistent shape and size. It’s just like putty pushed through a mold.

Another popular manufacturing method used for modern composite decking is “compression molding.” The melted plastic and wood materials are placed in molds which are then compressed in extreme pressure and heat levels so that a strong physical bond is created.

The pressure squeezes out air pockets that might weaken the product and a highly compressed board is created.

What are the Benefits of Composite Decking?

We have a comparative review that discusses the benefits of composite decking vs. wood decking. But let’s talk about some of the benefits of composite decks when used for outdoor living.

Weather Resistance

Because of its density, composite decking has a high resistance to decay and rot caused by constant or prolonged exposure to the elements, especially moisture. And because there is less moisture in the boards the possibility of mildew, bacteria and insects are also reduced.

Durable

Composite deck boards are made to be resistant against stain such as food and beverage stains. You won’t have to worry about mustard, barbecue sauce, coffee and wine seeping through your decking. Cleanup is also easy. Because it is resistant to stains, the life and beauty of your deck is preserved.

Ultra-Low Maintenance

You won’t have to spend more just to have a long-lasting deck. Composite decking does not need stain, sealers or paint, so expenses for maintenance is greatly reduced. You just need to keep it clean by sweeping or mopping, remove stains with composite deck cleaners available commercially, and hose it off twice a year for general cleaning.

Complementary Colors

Many composite decking brands offer boards in a wide range of colors to complement any home. You won’t need to paint or stain the product because the boards already come in different beautiful colors to choose from.

Ten years ago, there were only about 10 choices when it comes to types and composite decking colors. But as the industry has grown over the last few years, more and more choices have become available. In fact, there are now over 50 composite decking products in the market.

Your Ultimate Composite Decking Resource

Knowing more about any product before you buy will greatly help in making an informed decision, and will significantly reduce stress and future regrets.

Sometimes we miss buying what’s best for us because we lack knowledge of it. So don’t be afraid to explore and don’t avoid composite decking just because you are not familiar with it.

Read on and find out more about the ins and outs of this product and get your information first-hand from Dallas Deck Craft, the decking experts serving the Texas counties of Dallas, Collin and Rockwall since 1980.

With more than 30 years of deck building experience, we share valuable insights that will help you with your deck building needs, not only on composite decking, but on many other decking materials as well.

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Wood Deck vs Composite Deck – Which is Better?

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If you’ve decided to have a wood deck installed in your backyard, chances are you’ve been surprised at just how many different options there are for the type of wood decking you can use.

Recent years have seen some positive developments in the quality of a composite deck and a plastic deck—but are they really better than the real thing?

Common Types of Wood Decks

To give you an idea of what we’ll be comparing against, let’s take a few minutes and discuss some of the more common types of wood decks used in residential projects.

Redwood Deck

Popular on the west coast but used country-wide, redwood is known for its longevity and beauty.

Although when it comes in contact with moisture or even concrete it can create a deteriorating process so it is recommended to use pressure-treated material for framing and support. If properly maintained by keeping a good weather sealant/stain it can last for many years.

Cedar Decking

Cedar is standard species used for many kinds of decking and construction projects. It has many of the same characteristics Redwood and as such needs the pressure-treated pine for the framing as well as the weather sealant.

Tropical Hardwood Decking

Ipe, tigerwood decking and red balau woods, from the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Brazil, have become popular in recent years due to their extreme durability and density and are a great choice for a deck.

The tropical hardwoods probably have the best longevity of all woods. With the heavy density weather sealant is not required unless you don’t mind reapplying about every six months. Relatively affordable considering these types of wood are imported.

Pressure-Treated Wood Deck

Probably one of the most affordable, this type of wood has been treated with a chemical preservative to stave off rot, fungi, and pests and therefore has a great longevity.

You must maintain a good weather sealant/stain applied as needed to keep the appearance up on a pressure-treated deck. It also helps to minimize warping as well as checking.

Wood Decking vs. Composite Decks

There was once a time when any serious homeowner or contractor would shy away from composite decking—however, composite decking has made substantial improvements over the past few years, resulting in less fungal buildup, much slower decomposition, more longevity as well as a reduction in price.

Composite wood is made up of wood particles and plastic. The plastic is usually polyethylene, and may or may not be recycled, depending on the manufacturer. Certain brands of composite deck boards are hollow and therefore understandably cheaper but are generally not as strong or sturdy as solid composite boards.

Another consideration is that composite wood can get quite hot if the temperature outdoor gets high enough—as it does here in Dallas, Texas due to the plastic components of the material retaining heat. This heat can be lessened to some degree by the color of the composite wood.

The lighter the wood color the less heat it will retain. It’s still doubtful that anyone would want to walk around barefoot on a composite deck in the middle of August.

Composite decking performs quite well in very humid areas, of which there are a few in our region. The plastic isn’t quite as prone to the absorption of moisture as 100% wooden decking which can possibly lead to a longer lifespan.

Wood Decking vs. Plastic Decking

Plastic decking has been touted as being low or maintenance free—however, this isn’t necessarily true. As both composite and plastic decking will require a good cleaning at least once a year in order to prevent color fading.

Technically the deck would likely remain functional, but it sure wouldn’t be pretty if left unmaintained. Recent technology in the formula used for plastic or otherwise known as PVC has minimized the effects the sun can have on this material.

Cost of Wooden Decking vs. A Composite Deck

The cost of decking, either wood or composite varies quite a bit depending on the quality, brand, grade and type, but it’s safe to say that in most cases, composite materials are not necessarily cheaper than “real” woods. In the low to middle end of the spectrum, composite woods might be a little higher.

To give you an example of the price variances, a pressure-treated wood deck might cost as little as $10 per square foot, whereas a very high-end composite deck could run upwards of $40 per square foot. Ultimately, which material you choose for your decking will depend on preference and budget.

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A Brief Overview of the Benefits of Composite Decking

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In the past decade or so, advancements have significantly improved the quality of composite decking, yielding a material that is stronger, longer-lasting, and less prone to warping, deterioration, and other common problems associated with outdoor wooden construction.

How is Composite Decking Made?

Composite decking is generally made from the combination of wood and plastic (hence composite). The wood is usually sourced from lumber byproducts such as wood chips, fibers, and sawdust. The plastics used are often recycled polyethylenes (but not always—you’ll have to confirm with the product manufacturer).

Producers of composite decking take the wood and the plastic products and heat them up, at which point coloring and a preservative agent are added to the “wood soup.” Finally, the mixture is poured into casts to form boards. Once it hardens, the composite decking is ready to be shipped to your local supplier.

The Best Uses for Composite Decking

Composite decking has become a popular choice for outdoor decks as a result of its durability and resistance to weathering. Composite woods are also more resistant to moisture, making them a great choice for humid areas or as decking for above ground pools.

There are two kinds of composite decking: hollow and solid. Hollow decking isn’t as popular as solid decking, as it tends to look less realistic and isn’t as sturdy as its counterpart, but it does carry the benefit of being less prone to temperature and moisture related expansion and contraction.

Solid composite decking can contract and expand more, but is generally more durable and strong. Which type you choose is largely dependent upon the intended use of the deck and the temperature conditions where you live.

The aesthetic appeal of composite wood has also substantially improved over the years—while a trained eye might still be able to spot it, as it’s not a perfect 1:1 replica of “real” wood, composite wood can often look very natural and pleasing.

A wide variety of grains, colors, and other options are available to homeowners—matching composite wood to the already-existing wood in your home is generally a fairly easy process.

Most composite decking comes with a fairly long warranty—as this material is designed to last quite a long time—but homeowners should be aware that in order to take advantage of the warranty, the deck has to be built according to the manufacturers directions.

Hiring a professional deck builder ensures that your warranty will be valid for years to come.

Composite wood can also be used for parts of your outdoor deck other than the deck itself; for example, suppose you had your deck built out of Trex composite decking. Trex also makes railing out of composite wood, meaning that your entire project can remain uniform.

As a final note, composite decking does require maintenance, though this maintenance is generally considered a bit less intensive than natural wood requires. Typically, composite decking must be cleaned at least once per year.

Composite Decking Prices

In addition to its improvements over the past few years, the cost of composite decking has also become much more affordable.

However, a common misconception is that composite decking is significantly cheaper than “real” wood—while this can be true, it isn’t always the case. Just like natural woods, the price of composite decking will vary based on quality and type.

Whether you decide to build your deck using composite decking or natural wood decking, you can expect to find prices similar to each other which offer different benefits—therefore, the smart move will be to base your purchase on the intended use of the deck (e.g., an above ground pool deck may benefit from composite wood’s resistance to moisture).