Wood vs. High-Performance Composite Decking
By Kevin Lenhart, PLA, Yardzen Design Director
Traditionally, we’ve used wood to build decks, but does that mean it’s the best material for the job? The short answer: no! Composite materials, like TimberTech® decking (our favorite of the products out there), are growing increasingly popular, and for good reasons. High-performance composite is superior to wood as a landscape building material, from the sustainability benefits to design versatility to lifetime value.
Below we’ll compare the two materials to help you understand which one makes sense for you.
The lifespan of composite decking varies with the product, but it exceeds that of wood, often significantly. Depending on the product, TimberTech decking has an expected lifespan of up to 50 years, including a 50-year warranty for fading and staining. Their AZEK line in particular has a lifetime product warranty. By offsetting replacement by a decade or more, choosing composite decking equates to less resource consumption and fewer materials ending up in the landfill.
Composite decking repels moisture and resists weathering and mold better than wood. You never need to paint or stain composite to protect it from the elements. This deferred maintenance adds up to lower lifetime costs than wood, not to mention less hassle.
Wood is a porous material, and over time it weathers from exposure to the sun, wind, and precipitation, particularly in more inclement climates. Wood can also develop mold from the absorption of moisture. Maintaining the integrity of a wood deck requires a new coat of paint, stain, or sealant every 1-2 years. And, typically requires replacement every 10-15 years (though wood type does affect longevity and susceptibility to mold, cracking, and weathering).
Composite decking is manufactured, not harvested like wood, overcoming the major environmental issues surrounding timber production. The sourcing and production of composite create significant sustainability opportunities, including resource conservation, water conservation, and forest preservation. TimberTech uses up to 80% recycled material in their capped composite decking and up to 50% recycled material in their capped polymer decking, recycles nearly all of the water used in their manufacturing process, and in the last twenty years has saved an estimated 3 million trees’ worth of decking.
Purchasing composite decking casts a vote for forest ecosystem preservation, biodiversity, and fighting back at climate change.
Worldwide, timber is commonly grown in monoculture plantations, where native forests with diverse plant and animal populations are cut down and replaced by stands of a single tree species. This practice leads to a host of environmental issues, including:
Erosion pollution in waterways
Biodiversity and habitat losses
Reductions in carbon sequestration
Emissions of carbon (some 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions)
It’s certainly possible to manage timber plantations more ecologically, but any plantation pales in comparison to natural forests for carbon sequestration, habitat provision, and overall ecosystem services. To that end, wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council has been produced in a comprehensively sustainable manner. Sadly, this represents only a fraction of the global timber supply. On the contrary, wood is often grown and harvested illegally in defiance of environmental protection laws–this is particularly common with tropical hardwoods, whose demand from Western consumers has driven a spike in black market production.
High-quality composite decking offers the luxurious look and feel of traditional materials while having the added benefit of durability and long-lasting beauty. This means that its color and texture are resistant to fading.
High-performance composite materials also have more stylistic diversity than wood, coming in ranging colors, sizes, and textures. TimberTech decking exudes authenticity, with subtle color variation, realistic wood grain patterns, and textures that look and feel natural. As with wood, the many options that TimberTech offers allow it to look equally fitting in any design style.
In terms of design convenience and versatility, composite is tough to beat. Designers and homeowners can quickly browse a vast catalog of decking colors and finishes, easily access samples of their favorite options, and find railings to complement their decking selections.
Wood can be beautiful when well-maintained. It also works in any design style, from the most traditional to the most modern. However, left unattended, wood weathers, splinters, and deteriorates from rot.
Ease of Use
Not all composite decking is the same when it comes to installation–some products have specific installation systems that contractors may not be familiar with. We like TimberTech because it can be installed just like a standard wood deck–no custom system, no fuss.
Our contractors have shared that TimberTech is easier to cut than some types of wood, and it can be heat bent to accommodate curved designs, offering greater flexibility than wood. We also hear from contractors that they receive fewer client call-backs on composite decks due to the durability and lack of splintering. (No splinters is a big win for composite!)
Contractors are familiar with wood and know how to build decks with it efficiently. That said, their workflow must include taking measures to protect both the structure and surface of wood decks from moisture and weathering damage, generally by applying waterproofing paint, stains, or sealants.
When working with hardwoods like ipe, contractors must also factor in added difficulty to cut and drive fasteners into the dense material. Post-installation, wood decking is frequently a source of fix-it calls from clients, who encounter splinters or boards that have broken down from exposure.
High-performance composite has a competitive purchase price, and when you consider the lifetime savings from deferred maintenance and superior longevity, it becomes clear that composite is a cost-effective decking option.
Wood requires frequent maintenance and only has a lifespan of 10-15 years, making it a more expensive and resource-intensive choice in the long run.
This blog post is sponsored by TimberTech.