Whether you are grilling up some juicy burgers or lounging around with a great book, spending time outdoors on a beautiful deck is a great way to relax and recharge. When it comes to outdoor decks, composite decking materials have been getting a lot of attention, but what are they, and how many types are there?
Composite decking refers to building materials, typically in the form of plank-like boards, that have the appearance and functionality of wood but are made from a combination of plastics, wood fibers, and binding agents. The most common types of composite decking are solid boards and capped boards.
A deck can transform an outdoor space into an oasis while adding significantly to a home’s overall value, and a growing percentage of these structures are being built with composite decking. Keep reading to learn why composite decking is becoming the building material of choice for decks and how it can be a better choice than wood.
What Is Composite Decking?
As the name suggests, composite decking is a wood-like building material that is typically made from a blend of synthetic and organic components, although there are varieties that are 100% man-made. Here is a look at what goes into composite decking:
- The synthetic portion of composite decking typically comprises plastic polymers like polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (more commonly known as PVC)
- The organic components consist of wood fibers or by-products like sawdust (also known as wood flour)
- Holding everything together are binding agents like resin or glue
- Certain chemicals are also added to make composite decking insect-repellent and rot-resistant
As technology improves and production capabilities continue to develop, the popularity of composite decking as a preferred material for deck-building figures to grow. In fact, more than half of the decks in the northeastern United States are made from composite decking, and in the western states, close to 40% of decks are made from composite materials. Also checkout our detail guide on Why Building A Deck Is Worth It .
Why Use Composite Decking Over Wood?
Traditionally, various types of wood like cedar, redwood, pine, or exotic hardwoods, have been staples of the deck-building industry. Recently, however, composite decking has made significant inroads in the market for decking materials. This is largely due to the significant benefits that composite decking offers over wood, including these notable examples:
- Durability – unlike wood, composite decking can stand up to the damaging effects of weather conditions like rain (warping) and sun (fading) and it is also resistant to insects and rot
- Treatments – whereas wood planking requires periodic treatments like sealing, staining, and painting, as often as every couple of years, the only ongoing care necessary for composite decking is cleaning it once or twice per year
- Longevity – another appealing aspect of composite decking is its incredible longevity, up to 50 years in some cases, compared to a maximum of 30 years for high-quality, well-maintained wood decking
- Appearance – one of the most appealing aspects of wood decking is its natural appearance but today’s composite decking not only features realistic grain finishes but it is also available in a wide variety of colors, shades, textures, and designs
- Cost – although the initial investment in composite decking can exceed the cost of wood, over time, the significantly lower maintenance costs (e.g., sealing, staining, and painting) and longer lifespan can add up to substantial savings in the long run
- Conservation – from an environmental standpoint, composite decking reduces the use of cut timber for deck-building while utilizing wood byproducts like fibers, sawdust, and wood flour
As a building material, many types of composite decking can be used in the same manner as wood planks and some are very easy to install using interlocking tongue and groove systems.
The Most Common Types of Composite Decking
There are several types of composite decking used to build decks. The main differences between them are how they are fabricated and the types of materials they contain. Here are the most common types of composite decking used today:
Solid Composite Decking Boards
Solid composite decking boards are molded into planks from a uniform blend of plastic and wood materials. The main advantages of this type of composite decking are:
- It is very strong and durable
- It is a viable substitute for nearly any application where wood is used
- It requires little maintenance and is easy to care for
However, like wood, solid composite decking boards are susceptible to damage in extreme weather conditions and under prolonged exposure to UV rays and precipitation.
Capped Decking Boards with Composite Core
The most popular types of composite decking are known as capped boards which get their name from the way that an inner core is “capped” by an outer layer. Within the capped board category, there are two main variations: boards with a composite core and those with a synthetic core.
Capped boards with composite cores feature blends of wood and plastic materials (from 75% to 95% recycled components) surrounded by an outer plastic coating that is designed to present a textured, wood-like appearance with realistic grain patterns and colors emulating different types of wood.
This type of composite decking is known for being highly resistant to damage caused by weather conditions, insect infestations, and moisture-related rot. In addition, capped decking boards with composite cores can withstand extreme temperatures better than any other deck-building material.
Capped Decking Boards with Synthetic Core
This type of composite decking is commonly known as capped polymer and is made from 100% plastic materials. As such, capped polymer boards are the longest-lasting composite decking material on the market and the most resistant to long-term wear and tear such as scratching and fading. They do have a few drawbacks, however, including:
- Because it is 100% synthetic, the plastics in capped polymer boards are more susceptible to expansion and contraction in extreme weather conditions and therefore may not be suitable for installation in certain climate zones
- Capped decking boards with synthetic cores are more difficult to work with and can present a challenge to install
In terms of price, capped polymers are typically the most expensive option as far as deck-building materials are concerned but they also represent the best investment in the long run.
Composite decking is transforming the way that outdoor decks are being built. With their weather-resistant characteristics, low maintenance requirements, and long-term sustainability, composite decking materials are not only the future of deck building, but by reducing the need for cut wood, they also help to preserve a precious resource.