Even as little as 15 years ago, the market for composite decking didn’t exist on nearly the same scale as it’s on now. However, when one looks at the practical benefits of this modern material, it’s easy to see why it has experienced very fast growth, especially in the last five years. This decking offers better products than ever before, because the industry has had to address the demands of consumers.
What is composite decking?
Composite decking is made from a combination of plastic and wood fiber. The wood fiber typically consists of anything from wood chips to sawdust. Additionally, the plastic part of composite decking can come from recycled plastic materials or new plastic materials.
The two main processes for creating composite decking are extrusion and compression molding. During extrusion, the wood fiber and plastic are mixed together and forced through an opening that produces pieces with a fairly regular shape and size. During compression molding, the molten materials are placed on a wood grain mold and compressed under extreme heat to give them texture.
This process has become more sophisticated in recent years since it was first conceived. Boards are made to be hardier, with surface patterning that is more detailed. Color ranges are richer. This is because consumer expectations around these things have become more refined, too. Attention to detail has become more of a priority. It took time to get to this point, of course.
The Beginning Years of Composite Decking
Composite decking started to gain widespread acceptance in the late 1990s as builders and homeowners began to realize its benefits. At the time, composite decking was marketed as a low-maintenance and durable alternative to wood deck planks. It could even be worked like wood in terms of the tools needed to install it.
However, some homeowners and builders were dissatisfied with composite decking in that era. As the wood fibers aged, the deck would become dull in a short amount of time. Additionally, if the deck faced long exposure to a wet environment, structural deterioration, mold, and rot would inevitably lead to deformations and structural failure.
Just like when computers and flat-screen televisions first entered the market, new technology eventually fixed many consumer complaints and pushed the industry forward. In the case of composite decking, mixtures with mineral and organic-based fillers helped create products that were lighter, and with more tensile strength.
The result was boards that are less prone to deterioration. Additionally, the use of special endcaps on each board now provide a highly weatherproof barrier to help it resist the fading and color change that often happened when it was exposed to the elements.
Average cost of composite decking
Today, you can expect to pay anywhere between $2-4 per lineal foot for standard composite decking boards, sometimes higher depending on your source.
Of course, along with the cost of the product and the installation, you’ll also get a warranty with your composite decking. Many manufacturers offer either a limited-lifetime warranty or a 25-year warranty. Some warranties will even transfer from one homeowner to another if the house sells. However, warranties will not cover stains, scratches, or fading.
Maintaining composite decking
For many busy homeowners, one of the advantages of composite decking is the ease of maintenance. A composite deck requires little in the way of upkeep. You don’t have to sand it, paint it, seal it, or stain it. It’s also designed to resist warping, weathering, and insect damage.
For families who see their decks as part of their outdoor entertaining and living space, the fact that composite decks need a simple scrubbing with a soft brush and soapy water is a major time-saving advantage.
For decking that homeowners wish to get up and running quickly, and for those moderately experienced DIYers who want to do the work themselves, composite decking is a go-to material. Once again, this is due to how much composites have evolved even in the last half-decade.
The boards are designed to be more lightweight, thanks to “hollow board” options. They can still be installed using the same kind of tools you need to cut wood and they are easy to manage on a project site. Also, many new composite decking products feature what’s called a “hidden clip system”, which allows easy fastening that results in a seamless, and visually appealing deck.
Advantages for families with children
Composite decks are made from slip-resistant and splinter-free materials. Not only does this make it safe for your own feet, it helps protect the bare feet of small children and pets. Additionally, while composite decks will eventually react to heat, they’ll do so at a higher temperature than a traditional wood deck. As such, if you have fun features on your deck like a fire pit or fire table, you can rest easy knowing you have some extra protection with a composite deck.
Impact on home value
Not only can it add value to your outdoor lifestyle, it also adds value to your home. Homeowners who add a composite deck to their home can recoup much of the cost of their investment when they go to sell their home. In fact, some homeowners can see as high as a 62% return on investment for their composite decking addition.
Putting together an outdoor living look
When it comes to picking out the ideal deck design, you have a variety of color choices and styles from which to choose. Some composite decking boards even copy the look of lumber and hardwood, so you can still enjoy the appearance of wood without the upkeep. Also, you can find deck accessories, including railings, handrails, fascia boards, gates, balusters, treads, post caps, and deck lighting, that are all designed to complement each other and complete your outdoor living space.
Since composite decking is manufactured, each board has the same look and the same color. As a result, many homeowners pick composite decking for its uniformity. Plus, it doesn’t fade to a light gray like some unstained and unsealed wood decks. For a lot of people, that’s a plus.
Durability of composite decking
Apart from the emphasis on detailed surfaces, deeper colors, and an all-around more substantial boards for a better walking experience, a lot of work has gone into to making those boards more resistant to the elements. More UV protection has been incorporated into each board resist fading. The overall design of each board has been bolstered to create a more moisture-resistant surface.
These days, composite decking materials have expanded their use, and has become a viable option for docks and marinas as well as for residential settings. A great part of this expansion of use is down to the fact that composite deck materials are simply tougher than they used to be when they first appeared on the market.
Environmentally friendly product
For the environmentally conscious, composite decking is a smart investment. Since composite deck boards are made with wood fiber, and recycled plastics, they are one of the many innovative products that make use of products that might otherwise end up in landfill. Every 10 square feet of composite decking contains nearly 1,100 one-gallon milk jugs and 3,000 recycled plastic shopping bags.
Getting better all the time
In the last five years, composite decking has evolved into an outdoor surface that more and more homeowners and commercial contractors trust for the long term. It looks better. It stands up to wear better. It can become a selling feature to a home. Or, it can be a feature that you come to love most about your home for years to come.