It’s no secret: composite decking is expensive, with even the budget options costing more than lumber. And with complaints abounding online about super-slippery and scorching hot composite decks, it’s difficult to know the best options. Not all composite decking product lines are the same, and the key to building a deck that will allow you to live your best deck life safely is to pick the right product line for your needs.
What to Consider When Buying Composite Decking?
What You’ll Use It For
With tons of features and product lines to compare, choosing a composite product can get overwhelming fast. The most important thing to consider is what you’ll use this deck for. Is it to go around your in-ground pool or hot tub? Do you want to barbecue on it? Spend your entire summer on it? Is it something you’ll use a lot or only occasionally? Knowing what you want to use it for will help guide you on what features are most important. It doesn’t matter so much if the deck gets scalding hot if no one uses it in the summer.
One of the top two complaints about composite decking is that it can be so slippery! Higher quality products, especially those made with PVC or mineral, have deeper embossing and rate higher for grip. Consider how much traction you, your family, and any visitors will need — not just now, but ten to twenty years in the future. Also consider how much rain and ice your deck will get (especially pool-side decks) — the wetter the deck will get, the more traction you’ll need.
Before buying, always run your hand over a sample. If your hand glides, it’ll be slippery. If it doesn’t, it’ll have more grip.
Always err on the side of caution. Improving traction after installation through grit paint or treads can void warranties. If you need to be certain that the decking is non-slip, then go with lumber and grit paint. It’ll be higher maintenance, but so will any changes you need to make if the composite decking doesn’t meet expectations.
The second top complaint is that composite can heat to extreme temperatures in the summer sun, enough to give you severe burns. A few manufacturers like MoistureShield and Deckorators use different manufacturing techniques to keep composite material cooler. PVC decks also tend to be cooler than vinyl composite.
If your climate calls for hot summers and your deck will be in full sun, pick a composite material that stays cooler and pick a light colour. You may also want to check out other materials.
Building your deck with more ventilation will also help keep deck boards cooler as cooler air whisks away some of the heat.
For more tips, check out our guide to keeping your composite deck cool enough to walk on.
Early composite materials looked like, well, plastic, but manufacturing has improved since then. Budget composite still looks like plastic, but high-quality composite will look more like wood. Some brands even have no-repeat grain embossing for the most natural look.
Composites also come in a variety of colours. If you’re concerned about a boiling hot deck, choose a light colour like white, tan, or beige. A light colour will also mean you need to wash your deck more often as dirt shows up more, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
Composite lumber can be two or three times the price of real wood lumber. Budget options can also be quite dangerous, reaching foot-scalding temperatures in the summer and slip-sliding around even when completely clean and dry. Higher quality products will have added features, like improved aesthetics, improved traction, and sometimes cooling technology.
Factor in add-ons as well, as you’ll also need hidden fasteners (optional), skirting pieces, post caps, railing balusters, and railing posts. These costs can add up quickly.
Double check your local municipal codes to find out if you can even use composite decking. Some municipal codes don’t allow using non-wood lumber or may have specific restrictions on how you can use it. The code may prevent you from using it as stairway treads (probably because of its reputation for slipperiness) or for support framing.
If you’re in a wildfire hazard area, municipal codes will either not allow composite or restrict you to specific brands that are approved for Wildland Urban Interface zones. (Also, even if you’re not in danger of wildfires, if you plan to barbecue on your deck, check the brand’s flame spread rating!)
Often, people gravitate to composite decking for the promises of a no-maintenance deck. But that’s not true. Composite decks are low maintenance and they need to be scrubbed or power washed at least twice a year. Dirt and debris will fill in the embossing and mould over, making composite more slippery.
While composite decks are scratch-resistant, you can’t fix any damage more major than a scratch. You’ll have to replace the entire part, which, if you’re using hidden fasteners, means you’ll have to replace the fastener, too.
However, it’s still less maintenance than other decking types.
7 Best Composite Decking Brands
Unlike other composite brands, some Deckorators’ product lines use minerals instead of wood pulp. Mineral-Based Composite provides some incredible advantages, like that it has 34% better grip than other composite decking, it 35% lighter than other composites, and has virtually no thermal expansion or contraction. This is a superb choice for rainy climates or those who need guaranteed traction.
As one of the top three composite brands, Fiberon is also a top industry innovator. Their focus is on sustainability, with some of their products being made with over 90% recycled products. They also offer one of the longest warranties in the business, between 30 and 50 years depending on product line (25 years is the industry standard).
Fiberon’s Paramount decking is also approved for use in Wildland Urban Interface zones and meets the additional requirements of San Diego County.
If you live in a rainy or scorching climate, or you’re looking for a pool-side decking, you’re going to love MoistureShield. MoistureShield was designed to hold up to water. While all capped composites can withstand moisture to a point, MoistureShield has less than 0.06% swelling even when soaked in water. It also has some pretty good traction, which is important when your deck is often wet.
Their CoolDeck technology has been proven to reduce heat by 35%. That could be the difference between a deck that’s 140F and 90F. CoolDeck is only available on select lines, though, so watch out for that.
4. TimberTech AZEK
TimberTech AZEK has a lot of the same advantages as Fiberon. They both offer composite and PVC decking (the AZEK line being PVC). They’re both rated for use in Wildland Urban Interface zones in case of wildfire. And they both have longer warranties than industry standard, with TimberTech Pro featuring a 30 year warranty. Both the TimberTech and AZEK lines offer pretty attractive wood grain patterns, using wire brushing instead of embossing for an attractive finish that doesn’t make it more slippery (although AZEK has low traction overall).
When most people think of composite decking, they think of Trex. But their reputation is all over the place, especially depending on the product line. Their main advantages are their standard 25-year warranty that they offer some of the most affordable composite decking options.
But cheapness comes at a price. Trex still looks like plastic even with a woodgrain finish. It becomes boiling in direct sunlight. And Trex is pretty slippery. Their premium Transcend product is an improvement, but if any of these are deal-breakers, look elsewhere.
6. Wolf Decking
Like Fiberon and AZEK, Wolf Decking offers both composite and PVC decking. They have the most affordable PVC decking in the industry, which lets you get a higher quality deck for the same price. Their Serenity line is at the top of the industry for slip resistance.
However, it’s not as scratch-resistant or as flame-retardant as AZEK. In fact, their Serenity line has a lower flame rating than pine. If you’re a fan of barbecues on your deck, give this one a miss.
If slip resistance is at the top of your priority list, then this PVC composite material is for you. It has an outstanding slip resistance of 0.82 dry and 0.89 wet, which is better than any other synthetic product out there. PVC materials also heat less than vinyl composite brands in direct sunlight (it’ll still get hot, just not as scalding).
Their other main pro is that they have the most realistic wood-like appearance with non-repeating grain patterns. They also claim that their acrylic cap is 5X more resistant to wear and tear than composite decking.
Their drawback is that they’re limited to only 6 colors.
Composite Decking FAQs
Is Composite Decking Expensive?
Composite decking is more expensive than a wood deck, although since the price of lumber has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the difference is much smaller than it used to be. Add-ons like hidden fasteners, skirting pieces, post caps, railing balusters, and railing posts raise the price. However, with the right composite product for your needs, you’ll save money in the long run between maintenance and the life span. Some product lines provide warranties up to 50 years (25 years being industry standard).
You will spend more upfront with a composite deck than a wood deck (between 33 – 50% more), but over time, the cost of maintenance will even out.
Is Composite Decking Worth It?
Whether composite decking is worth it depends on your own needs and how long you plan to have the deck. If you’re planning to sell your house within the next five years, it’s better to go with a wood deck. Houses with composite decking sell for less than those with a wood deck.
Plus, you’ll only realize the savings (in both maintenance costs and time) over the long haul. If you need a deck that’s slip-proof or stays cooler in the summer heat, then either you need to invest in a PVC composite material or go with lumber. A composite deck will stay with you for twenty years, so it pays to take time to deliberate.
How Long Does Composite Decking Last?
Composite decking can last up to 25 years, with some product lines even providing warranties from 30 to 50 years. Most lumber decks last 15 years. However, if your deck suffers damage more severe than scratches, there’s no possibility of repair. You will have to replace that part entirely.
Read Our Related Composite Decking Articles:
- PVC Vs Composite Decking | What’s the Difference?
- How to Finish the Ends of Composite Decking?
- Pros and Cons of Composite Decking
- Is Composite Decking Fire Resistant?
- How Long Does a Composite Deck Last?
- Can You Use Ice Melt on Composite Decking?
- Can You Put Composite Decking Over Wood Frame?
- How Wide Are Composite Deck Boards? (Profile & Size Guide)
- 5 Best Sealers for Old Composite Decking
- 10 Best Composite Deck Cleaners For Mold and Mildew
- Can You Pressure Wash Composite Decking?
- How to Keep Composite Decking Cool Enough to Walk On
- Is Composite Decking Slippery When Wet?