Twenty years ago, a “sexy” and “trendy” new building material was introduced that promised to revolutionize how outdoor decks were built and maintained – it was known as composite wood.
The allure was pretty simple. Composite decks, made from a combination of plastic and wood fiber/saw dust or other non-wood materials, were promoted as easier to work with and would last far longer than traditional wood.
While they steadily grew in popularity for a decade, builders and homeowners discovered a flaw: Early first- and second-generation composite materials didn’t include additives to prevent the growth of mildew or maintain the colour of the composite decks over time. Early decks got dirtier faster than traditional wood decks, and some lost their colour much faster than wood decks that were stained or sealed.
Thankfully, manufacturing techniques have caught up with these flaws and, while they’re not perfect, composite decks offer a stylish, durable alternative to traditional wood decks and can add value and functionality to any home for years to come. The most common materials used for these types of decks are Polyethylene-Based, Polypropylene-Based, and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)-Based, and it’s important for homeowners to understand each one so they can choose which type is best for their deck.
Made mostly of plastic and a small percentage of wood byproducts like sawdust, Polyethylene-based material is oil based and can be textured to look like real wood. In fact, this is the main reason so many builders and homeowners prefer these kinds of composite decks, because the building material most closely resembles natural wood compared to all other composites. Of course, there are a few drawbacks. This material can expand or compress depending on the change of seasons, and is also softer, meaning it should not be used for composite decks with great spans or where the beams are placed far apart. As a result, suppliers, retailers, and builders are gradually moving away from this material in favor of Polypropylene-Based and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)-Based deck materials.
For do-it-yourselfers, we recommend being on the lookout for clearance pricing on this kind of material, as the low cost to get rid of remaining supplies at your local lumber yard or home improvement center may not be worth it in the long run.
When we talked about first- and second-generation composite decks being the victim of mold, mildew, and colour fading, manufacturers addressed this by coming up with a variant made of polypropylene and reclaimed hardwood lumber. Rugged and durable, this type of material has an extremely high melting point – 320 degrees Fahrenheit – making it an ideal outdoor building material in an area with constant sunlight and high temperatures. It includes additives making it more resistant to mold and mildew, as well as contains pigments to keep the deck boards from fading over time. Unlike Polyethylene-based materials, this type of composite decking is more durable and can be installed for designs requiring greater spans or where the beams are spaced wider apart.
There are dozens of companies who make materials for composite decks that have now jumped on the Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bandwagon. These are materials with no natural wood content whatsoever and are, in fact, made completely from plastics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your deck won’t look like it’s made from food containers or plastic milk jugs but has greater stain resistant properties and won’t absorb water like other early generation composite products.
As manufacturing techniques have improved, companies have figured out how to make this material look like wood in terms of texture, grain, even going so far as to add faux knots in the surface. The main drawback for this material when used for composite decks is it isn’t as strong as those which include wood byproducts, therefore it’s mostly confined to decks with shorter spans and where horizontal braces are used. PVC composite decks offer the most significant resistance to fading, stains, and mildew and never require finishing with color staining, sanding, or painting.
It’s important to remember there’s no such thing as an “ideal” material to use when building a deck. The biggest advantage that composite decks enjoy over those made from natural wood is the evolution of the manufacturing process, as companies throughout the industry continually work to make their products more resistant to stain, colour fading, mold and mildew, and stronger overall. Some of the biggest names in the industry include Fiberon, AZEK©, Trex, and TimberTech, among many others.
- Fiberon decking, made by the company of the same name, comes in either a traditional wood-composite material or the newer and increasingly popular PVC – also called synthetic wood. Like all composite materials made in a controlled environment, Fiberon decking has a consistent colour, with each board looking the same as the one next to it.
- AZEK© boards, constructed from synthetic wood, are known for having the same texture and appearance of real wood, but also last for decades with only regular maintenance.
- Trex Wood-Polymer® lumber is another popular choice for composite decks. From an eco-friendly standpoint, there are few composites that earn more kudos as it’s made from equal portions of reclaimed plastic (milk jugs, discarded packaging for compact discs and other items), and wood waste byproducts like saw dust. All of the ingredients are combined with an adhesive to make the lumber, which can be used for surface boards, benches, and steps.
- TimberTech is a tough and durable composite manufactured to mimic the look, texture, and colour of natural wood, but with few or any of its weaknesses. It’s engineered to resist cracks and warps, and comes with an industry leading 25 year warranty. Best of all, it is known to repel water and stains, and resists mold, fungus, insects, and other natural elements that would wear down wood much faster.
Materials used to build composite decks have improved in leaps and bounds over the last decade, making them an ideal alternative when it comes to traditional wood thanks to their ease of maintenance and durability.
If you want to know more about composite decking materials or just to see what is the best material to use for your deck, call us here at 416-238-2589 and we will be happy to have a 1 on 1 consultation to learn about your project and show you some of ours.