Dexksos logo in blue

Wood vs. Composite Decks: The Ultimate Guide

Ground Level Deck by Dexksos

Wood Decking: The Classic Choice for Warmth and Natural Beauty

Wooden decking has been a favored choice for decades, offering a natural, warm aesthetic that enhances the outdoor living space. Made from various types of wood, it brings a classic charm to any backyard or garden. From softwoods like cedar and pine to exotic hardwoods, wood decking offers versatility and timeless appeal. While it demands more maintenance compared to composite decking, the natural beauty and the way it ages over time appeal to many homeowners.

Pros and Cons of Wood Decking

Pros:

  • Natural Beauty: Offers a warm, authentic look that only real wood can provide.
  • Cost-Effective: Generally, less expensive upfront compared to composite decking.
  • Variability: Available in a wide range of wood types, grains, and colors.
  • Eco-Friendly: Sustainable, especially if sourced from responsibly managed forests.

Cons:

  • Maintenance: Requires regular staining, sealing, or painting to maintain its appearance and longevity.
  • Durability Issues: Prone to rot, insect infestation, and weather damage if not properly maintained.
  • Inconsistency: Quality and appearance can vary significantly between boards.

Types of Wood Decking

Pressure-Treated Wood: The most cost-effective option, treated with chemicals to resist rot, decay, and termites. While affordable, it may not be as durable or attractive as other options.

Cedar: A softwood known for its natural resistance to rot and insects. Cedar decking offers a beautiful, natural look but requires maintenance to preserve its color and protect against weathering. Cedar decking has been difficult to source since the supply crunch in 2020.

Mahogany: Offers a rich, dark color and tight grain. Mahogany is prized for its beauty and durability but is on the higher end of the cost spectrum.

Ipe: One of the most durable and long-lasting options. Ipe is extremely hard and resistant to rot, insects, and weathering. It’s also the most expensive wood decking material.

Cumaru: Similar to Ipe in durability and color but slightly less expensive. Cumaru is another excellent choice for a long-lasting, beautiful deck.

Relative Cost:

  • Pressure-Treated Wood: $15 to $25 per square foot
  • Cedar: $4 to $9 per square foot
  • Redwood: $4 to $6 per square foot
  • Composite Decking: $15 to $36 per square foot
  • Ipe: $20 to $25 per square foot
  • Cumaru: $4 to $6 per square foot

The choice of wood for your decking should balance aesthetics, durability, maintenance needs, and budget. While pressure-treated lumber offers an affordable entry point, exotic hardwoods like Ipe and Cumaru provide unparalleled beauty and longevity, albeit at a higher initial investment.

Composite Decking: A Blend of Durability and Aesthetics

Composite decking is a modern decking material designed to offer the look and feel of natural wood without the high maintenance. It’s made from a blend of wood fibers and plastics, which are combined and processed to create planks that are durable, weather-resistant, and easy to care for. This innovative material has gained popularity among homeowners looking for a sustainable, low-maintenance decking option.

Composite deck build by Dexksos

Pros and Cons of Composite Decking

Pros:

  • Low Maintenance: Unlike wood, composite decking doesn’t require staining, painting, or sealing.
  • Durability: It’s resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestations, ensuring a longer lifespan.
  • Aesthetics: Comes in various colors and textures to mimic natural wood.
  • Sustainability: Often made from recycled materials, making it an eco-friendly choice.

Cons:

  • Cost: Higher initial investment compared to traditional wood decking.
  • Heat Retention: Can get hot underfoot in direct sunlight.
  • Less Natural Look: While it mimics wood, the look and feel might not satisfy purists.

Types of Composite Decking

Wood Plastic Composite (WPC): WPC decking is the most common type of composite decking. It combines wood fibers and recycled plastics, offering a balance between cost and performance. Ideal for those looking for a durable, eco-friendly option that closely resembles natural wood.

Mineral-Based Composite (MBC): This type is made by blending mineral compounds with plastic. MBC decking is even more durable than WPC, with superior resistance to weathering and wear. It’s the choice for homeowners in harsh weather climates or those looking for the highest durability.

Cellular PVC: Completely free of wood fibers, this type is made entirely from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It offers the highest resistance to rot and insects and comes in a wide range of colors and styles. Though it doesn’t contain wood, advanced manufacturing techniques give it a convincing wood-like texture.

Leading Composite Deck Brands

Trex: One of the pioneers in composite decking, Trex is renowned for its high-quality products that come with a 25-year warranty. Their decking is made from 95% recycled materials, making it a great choice for eco-conscious consumers.

AZEK: Specializes in premium cellular PVC decking that looks just like real wood. AZEK products are known for their durability and resistance to the elements, with emphasis on high-performance and low maintenance.

Fiberon: Offers a wide range of composite decking options, including WPC and PVC products. Fiberon is praised for its realistic wood grains and robust color options, catering to various styles and preferences.

TimberTech: Provides high-quality composite decking with a focus on aesthetics and durability. TimberTech offers a variety of product lines, including both WPC and PVC options, to suit different budgets and design needs.

Cost Differences

Choosing between wood and composite decking involves considering various factors, including aesthetics, maintenance, and, importantly, cost. While initial costs can give us a starting point, it’s crucial to look at long-term expenses to truly understand the value of your investment. Here, we’ll dive into the numbers to compare the upfront and ongoing costs associated with both wood and composite decking.

full composite decking in saddle built by Dexksos

Cost of Composite Decking

Composite decking is known for its durability and low maintenance, making it a popular choice for those looking to invest in a long-lasting outdoor space. However, this comes at a price.

Initial Cost: On average, the cost for composite decking materials ranges from $30 to $45 per square foot installed. This price can vary based on the brand, quality, and features of the decking material. Premium options, like high-end composites that mimic the look of natural wood closely, can cost even more.

Maintenance Costs: The beauty of composite decking is its minimal maintenance. Apart from occasional cleaning with soap and water, composite decks require little to no additional spending on upkeep. This could save homeowners around $2 to $5 per square foot over the deck’s lifespan when compared to wood decking maintenance costs.

Long-Term Value: Although composite decking has a higher initial cost, its durability and low maintenance requirements can make it a more cost-effective choice in the long run. A composite deck can last 25 to 30 years or more with minimal fading and wear.

Cost of Wood Decking

Wood decking offers a natural look and feel that many homeowners desire, and it generally comes with a lower initial price tag compared to composite decking.

Initial Cost: The cost for wood decking varies widely depending on the type of wood chosen. Pressure-treated wood, the most budget-friendly option, can cost as little as $15 to $25 per square foot installed. Mid-range options like cedar or redwood can cost between $25 to $35 per square foot installed. Exotic hardwoods, such as Ipe, are the most expensive, ranging from $30 to $40 per square foot installed.

Maintenance Costs: Wood decks require regular maintenance, including staining, sealing, and repairing. This can add an average of $2 to $5 per square foot to the total cost annually, depending on the type of wood and local labor rates. Over a 10 to 15 year period, this can significantly increase the overall cost of a wood deck.

Long-Term Value: While wood decking may be less expensive upfront, the ongoing maintenance costs and shorter lifespan (typically 10 to 15 years for pressure-treated wood, longer for high-end woods) can make it more costly over time. The need for more frequent replacement compared to composite decking also affects its long-term value.

Maintenance

Maintaining your deck is crucial for extending its lifespan and keeping it looking its best. The type of decking you choose, wood or composite, significantly influences the maintenance required, both in terms of effort and cost. Real wood decking demands more attention to retain its appearance and integrity, while composite decks are celebrated for their ease of maintenance. Let’s delve into what maintaining each type of decking entails, shedding light on the specific tasks and associated costs.

Maintenance of Composite Decking

Composite decking’s appeal largely comes from its low-maintenance needs. Designed to withstand the elements, composite decks require minimal effort to keep them looking great.

Routine Cleaning: Simple cleaning with soap and water is typically sufficient to maintain a composite deck. This can be done by the homeowner and doesn’t incur additional costs unless you opt for a professional cleaner, which might cost around $100 to $300, depending on the deck size.

No Need for Staining or Sealing: Unlike wood, composite materials do not require staining, sealing, or painting. This not only saves time but also eliminates the recurring costs associated with these maintenance tasks.

Longevity and Durability: Composite decking is resistant to fading, staining, scratching, and mold. However, should damage occur, repairing composite decking can be more complex and potentially more expensive than wood, depending on the damage type and material warranty.

Maintenance of Wood Decking

Wood decking, while naturally beautiful, requires more care to preserve its look and longevity.

Regular Cleaning: Wood decks should be cleaned annually to remove dirt, debris, and any mold growth. A professional cleaning service can cost between $100 to $300, similar to composite, but is necessary to prepare the deck for further maintenance tasks.

Staining and Sealing: To protect against moisture, UV damage, and weathering, wood decks need to be stained and sealed every 1 to 3 years. The cost for staining and sealing can range from $0.50 to $2.50 per square foot, depending on whether you DIY or hire a professional. This means for an average-sized deck, you could spend $150 to $750 on this maintenance task alone each cycle.

Repair and Replacement: Wood is susceptible to rot, insect damage, and wear, necessitating occasional board replacement or structural repairs. Costs vary based on the extent of the damage and the wood type, but expect to budget for repairs over the lifetime of the deck.

Overall Cost Consideration: While the upfront material and installation costs for wood may be lower, the ongoing maintenance requirements can add up, potentially surpassing the initial savings when compared to composite decking.

custom stairs built by Dexksos

Usability

Usability of Composite Decking

Splinters: One of the significant advantages of composite decking is its resistance to splintering. The smooth, synthetic surface is safe for bare feet, making it a preferred choice for families and pet owners.

Heat Retention: Composite decks can get quite hot under direct sunlight, more so than natural wood. This can be a consideration in very sunny climates, where the deck might become uncomfortable to walk on during the hottest part of the day without footwear.

Warping and Home Improvement Tasks: Composite materials are designed to resist warping, cracking, or sagging over time. Their dimensional stability means less work for homeowners, as there’s no need for sanding, staining, or sealing. However, if damage occurs, repairs might require specific matching materials or professional assistance, since composite boards can’t simply be sanded down or easily replaced with a piece of lumber from the hardware store.

Usability of Wood Decking

Splinters: Wood decks, especially those that are aging or not meticulously maintained, can splinter. This natural deterioration makes them potentially hazardous for barefoot traffic unless regularly sanded and sealed.

Heat Retention: Wood tends to absorb less heat than composite decking, making it a cooler option in hot weather. This characteristic makes wood decks more comfortable to use during summer, especially in direct sunlight.

Warping and Home Improvement Tasks: Wood is susceptible to the elements; over time, it can warp, crack, or rot, which might require homeowners to engage in sanding, applying sealer, or replacing individual deck boards. While these tasks can be DIY projects, they do add to the overall maintenance effort and cost. Regular sanding is also necessary to keep the surface smooth and free of splinters.

Environmental Considerations: It’s also worth noting that the usability of a deck isn’t just about immediate comfort but long-term environmental impact. Composite decking offers a sustainable option with its use of recycled materials, whereas wood should be sourced responsibly to ensure it’s not contributing to deforestation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Your Essential Guide to Deck Permit in Cambridge, MA

Understanding Deck Permit in Cambridge, MA Constructing a deck can be an exciting addition to any home, providing a space for outdoor relaxation and entertainment. However, before breaking ground on your new deck construction project in Cambridge, MA, it’s crucial

Read More »

Wood vs. Composite Decks: The Ultimate Guide

Wood Decking: The Classic Choice for Warmth and Natural Beauty Wooden decking has been a favored choice for decades, offering a natural, warm aesthetic that enhances the outdoor living space. Made from various types of wood, it brings a classic

Read More »
Scroll to Top