Composite vs Timber Decking
Timber decking has ruled the roost for a long time and it is the traditional material you think of when decking is mentioned. But like a lot of areas of our daily lives, the ‘traditional’ answer is not necessarily the best anymore. People get used to the same thing and don’t embrace change, but composite decking has developed rapidly over recent years and is now very much part of the debate as to which is the best decking material.
Undoubtedly, both materials are still popular, but here we will study key areas of consideration when looking at a decking installation, and see how the two materials compare.
Typically timber decking is cheaper as an initial installation, particularly softwood decking. One of the main reasons why composite decking is a little more expensive is because it needs more support in the foundation framework because it is a composite material of wood fibres encased in plastic, and therefore has no natural structure. However, after two or three years you will find this initial cost differential is balanced out through maintenance costs. If you opted for timber decking you will need to buy stains and oils each year to maintain the structure and appearance, as well as the cost of your time, this means that composite decking soon pays for itself.
It is not true that composite decking is zero maintenance, you do need to give it a clean every now and again with soapy water, but compared to the maintenance required for timber decking, it will feel like nothing. People say that timber decking can last a lifetime, but that is only the case if you also spend a lifetime maintaining it. On an annual basis you will need to stain or oil the panels extensively to avoid moisture ingress, insect deterioration and the development of fungus or moss. This is also required to improve the appearance. After a few years it is also recommended that you fully sand down the timber panels and effectively start again in building up the layers of protection.
This can be expensive and back-breaking, and inevitably it leads to a year when you decide not to do it. After that it can be a struggle to make the decking look the same as it did before.
Without doubt the natural wood effect of timber decking is lovely and what many people want from their decking. Even a slightly aging timber decking can look nice, but it won’t look nice for long. You need to re-stain your decking every year, and unless you use the best quality and therefore most expensive stain, the colour will deteriorate rapidly as soon as the bad weather comes. Then you are sat looking out at aging and poorly-stained decking for months until you go out and stain it again.
Composite decking holds its colour and its overall appearance long term, there are also many different colour ranges to choose from. With a gentle occasional wash you can have a consistent appearance for years. Furthermore, advances in the technical development of composite decking mean that these materials can now look closer to natural wood than ever before, and this is likely to improve even further, whereas natural timber decking can’t be improved upon in any way.
The big claim people make about timber decking is that it is undoubtedly the best material environmentally, and of course it is very friendly to the environment. But don’t make the mistake of thinking composite decking isn’t. If you source your decking from the right supplier, it is possible to find composite decking where the wood fibres and the plastic materials are 100% recycled. And because composite decking tends to last longer, you are not having to replace these materials.
Over time, timber decking will warp, crack and splinter, even if you are annually protecting it. This can be a problem when children or pets are running on it and something undetected injures them. Timber decking can also be slippy, and again this is not easy to see visually. Composite decking maintains its physical structure and doesn’t deteriorate, so there is no issue with cracking or splinters, and it is also non-slip so is completely child-friendly.
The overall verdict is that composite decking is the best value investment over a long period of time, because once it is installed it will look the same and be structurally the same, without you having to work hard to maintain that. People want consistency and low-maintenance products, and in that sense, composite decking is the best solution. And this argument will only get more convincing as technology improves the product even more.