Wood vs. Composite Decking

We get asked this question all the time. What are the pros and cons of wood vs. composite decking? There are many factors to consider, but there is no right or wrong answer. Each has their own unique aesthetics and benefits.

Treated Lumber

20150417_160015 (Medium)Treated lumber is the most economical decking product and has a long life span. Treated lumber is southern pine that is pressure treated to infuse chemical preservatives into the wood to make it resistant to rot, decay, and insect damage. You could ideally get 30 years or more out of a well maintained treated lumber deck in Michigan. By “well maintained”, we mean washing and staining/sealing annually. That’s a lot of time and expense that adds up over 30 years. For the rest of us that only get around to deck maintenance every second or third year, you can expect to get 20 years from your treated lumber deck. Even if you perform zero maintenance to your treated lumber deck, you’ll get 10-15 years of service from it, although it won’t be very pretty to look at.

  • Pros
    • Low initial cost
    • Easy to work with
  • Cons
    • Can shrink and twist
    • Inconsistent grain

Cedar Lumber

MiralDeck 003 (Medium)Cedar lumber is bit more expensive, more attractive, and more dimensionally stable than treated lumber, but it also requires greater regular maintenance. Cedar decking is naturally resistant to insects, so it is not chemically treated, but it still susceptible to rot and decay if not protected. Cedar decking and railing that is not properly maintained could potentially rot out in as little as 10 years time. Cedar products will rot from the inside out, so by the time you can see any problems the damage will already be quite severe. Regular maintenance is crucial to the longevity of a cedar deck.

  • Pros
    • Visually appealing
    • Dimensionally stable
  • Cons
    • Requires regular maintenance
    • Limited lifespan

Composite Decking

Picture 06-28-10 017 (Medium)Composite decking is the most expensive option in decking material, but it also requires very little maintenance. Composite decks don’t require staining, sanding, or sealing, but they do need to be washed. Just like your car, they can get dirty and dull looking, but a quick wash with soap and water can make them look new and shiny again. The different composite decking manufacturers will have wash and care guidelines on their websites. Trex® decking is an excellent composite decking product, and we are a TrexPro® Platinum deck builder.

  • Pros
    • Low maintenance
    • Extremely long life
    • Made from recycled materials
  • Cons
    • Higher initial cost

Here are a few other things to consider when deciding on  wood vs. composite decking material.

  • How long do you plan on staying in the house? If you plan on staying in the home 5 years or less, it’s more economical to go with a treated lumber deck because you won’t see the long term maintenance savings from a composite deck.
  • How important is color? While wood decks can be stained different colors, it’s hard to make them lighter in color. Composite decking has a few lighter colors that you just can’t duplicate very well with wood decking. You can also get composite decking, trim, and railing components in white. Composite decking also maintains a consistent color and look from board to board, where natural wood can have inconsistencies in color and grain.
  • What is your start up budget? A composite deck can cost 40-50% more than a conventional wood deck. Over time the cost savings in maintenance will be worth it.