Vs. Composite Decks:
Despite Trendy Substiutes,
Wood is Still
For decades, if you mentioned that you were building
a new deck, everyone would assume you meant cedar.
The classic wood has a hard-won reputation for
durability and beauty. Not much can compare to
the natural warmth and charm of genuine Western
But in recent years, there has been a big push
for using newer composite decking products instead
of wood. After all, the new products are being
hailed as maintenance-free, environmentally friendly
and virtually indestructible. Who wouldn't want
that kind of deck?
Yet composite materials do not always live up
to their own hype. Here are some important considerations
to weigh before choosing to use something other
Mold & Mildew: The
There are contractors who build decks, and then
there are contractors who care for decks. When
you're building something you're going to have
to live with for years, it's important to talk
to both. Professionals who maintain composite
decks will tell you they can be prime candidates
for mold and mildew - both on the surface and
in the composition of the product as well.
Not only will mildew growth make the deck surface
look unattractive, it also makes the surface
extremely slick and dangerous to walk on. To
counter it, manufacturers often recommend soaking
the deck in bleach. However, bleach is highly
corrosive to wood fibers and may jeopardize both
the color and integrity of the deck over time.
And bleach cannot prevent regrowth of the mold
Tread Softly, Please
To compensate for the "slippery when wet" factor,
some composite decking manufacturers have added
ridged surfaces or brushed grain. While this
can improve the slickness associated with moisture
and mildew, ironically it also provides a better
grip for the mold and mildew making it more difficult
to remove. Traffic patterns will wear more noticeably
with composite decking products and dents and
scratches cannot be sanded out. Areas on stairs,
around furniture and near doors see much more
activity. Be careful about choosing a material
that will wear more quickly.
Stains That Stay
You've been there: Cooking some steaks on the
barbecue when some grease splatters on the
deck. If your deck has been coated correctly,
such a mess cleans up fairly easily. But composite
decking is often left raw, and stains often
seem to set permanently. Once oil has bonded
with the decking materials, it can be difficult
if not impossible to remove.
That Sinking Feeling
Composites are significantly heavier than regular
wood, and have been known to sag between joists.
This can result in a bowed, unsightly appearance.
Part of the problem is that composite decks
are typically built on wooden supports. The
rate of expansion and contraction is different
for composites than it is for wood. As a result,
changes in temperature and humidity will affect
them differently, which can lead to sagging.
Sure is Hot Out Here
Many home owners comment about how much more
heat their composite deck retains. Wood is
a naturally good insulator, keeping a deck
cool. Composites do not breathe as well, and
therefore tend to lock in heat. Many plastic
based products become too hot for you to enjoy
the deck in the summer.
That may not be a factor typically considered
when building a deck. But if you live in a warmer
part of the country, shaving a few degrees off
the outdoor temperature can make a big difference
as to how enjoyable your new deck will be.
Saving the Planet, One
Deck at a Time
One of the biggest selling points used for composite
materials is that they are earth friendly.
They consume fewer trees and recycle plastic.
That sounds great on the surface. However,
the environmental issues are a little more
complex than they might appear. Creating plastic
in the first place requires far more energy
usage than it takes to harvest a tree. Plastic
also comes from non-renewable resources, while
trees are replanted and grow back. In fact,
America grows 30% more wood each year than
it harvest and has more forestland today than
100 years ago. What's more, wood is entirely
biodegradable. At the end of its life cycle,
it can be absorbed by the earth without negative
impact. But plastic based products sit in landfills
for years and years without breaking down.
In addition to being renewable and biodegradable,
Cedar does not require treatment with toxic chemicals
because it is naturally resistant to rot and
insects, and its own natural preservatives help
protect it in harsh weather. In other words,
Western Red Cedar is ultimately more earth friendly
Looks Aren't Everything,
But They Help
Let's be honest: composite decking isn't exactly
pretty and no one will mistake such artificial
products for the natural products whose appearance
they try to imitate. Anything made up of wood
fibers and plastic will need some serious help
to look decent. And even though it often comes
in a variety of shades, composite decking remains
more of a paint grade product.
That is one of the primary selling points of
cedar that remains true to this day. No substitute
product has been able to capture the look and
feel of genuine western red cedar. Any survey
of homeowners will show that cedar still remains
the hands-down favorite when it comes to appearances.
Fads will come and go. Yet when you closely
examine the options, you discover there is still
much in favor of sticking with a classic such
as cedar, a building material with centuries
of proven performance.
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