Here in the Midwest, there’s nothing better than hanging out on your deck on a warm evening. For most homeowners, a deck is a must-have. If you’re considering adding a deck this year or upgrading an older deck for better use, the biggest decision you’ll have to make is discerning between wood vs. composite decking material. To help you determine which material is best for you, we’ve outlined the differences, pros, and cons for each. You’ll find everything you need to know about wood vs. composite decking.

What is Composite Decking?

Composite decking is a hybrid product made up of mostly recycled wood fibers and plastic. This material is dense and offers a hard, durable surface that’s impervious to extreme temperatures and moisture. In the past, homeowners were wary of composite decking because it didn’t mimic the appearance of natural wood well. Recent technology, however, allows composite decking materials to convincingly replicate the appearance of many wood types. Now, with a beautiful appearance, composite decking is becoming an increasingly popular choice for homeowners across the country. Let’s walk through a few of the pros and cons of composite decking.

Pros of Composite Decking

  • No Maintenance: Once installed, composite decking requires virtually no maintenance.
  • Extreme Durability: Composite decking’s durable construction ensures the material will never crack, fade, rot, or splinter.
  • Pest Resistant: Many pests like to call natural wood decking home. Composite decking, on the other hand, is impenetrable and therefore inhospitable to insects or rodents. You won’t need to worry about termites, mice, carpenter bees, or any other pest infestation.
  • Variety of Design Options: Composite decking can be made in virtually any solid or blended color to reflect the qualities of any wood. Since it’s made with plastic, it can also be heated and shaped to create the soft curved deck lines that are so popular today.

Cons of Composite Decking

  • Upfront Cost: Composite decking will cost more upfront than many natural wood decking materials. That said, it’s ready to use as soon as it’s installed. Plus, when comparing wood vs. composite decking, keep in mind you’ll save money with composite decking’s minimal upkeep—only requiring a little soap and water or quick power wash.
  • Potential for Hot Material: Some composite decking, especially older materials, can get very hot when exposed to direct sunlight—making it uncomfortable to walk barefoot. This is especially true for dark-colored boards. However, many modern options feature cooling technology. For example, the Trex Transcend Lineage composite line is engineered to reflect the sun, cooling down your deck even on the hottest summer days.

What is Wood Decking?

Wood has long been the go-to material for deck building. Its popularity is why composite materials are modeled to look like natural wood whenever possible. Wood decking has been around for such a long time because it is a versatile, durable material. That said, it’s not the best decking material for everyone. Natural wood will age and weather, which means it’s not perfect. For some, this adds to the character of a home. Others prefer a more consistent material that will not change over time.

It’s important to note that the cost and durability of a wood deck will be determined by the type of wood you choose. While most homeowners opt for an inexpensive pre-treated pine, you can also choose from more expensive cedar or tropical hardwood decking. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of natural wood decking.

Pros of Wood Decking

  • Cost: Treated wood decking materials will cost less upfront than composite decking. Cedar and tropical hardwood decking pricing has risen to that of composite levels over the past several years.
  • Durability: Until composite decking was developed in the late 1980’s, natural wood was the premier decking material. Wood has naturally-occurring durable qualities that make it a long-lasting material, especially when properly maintained.
  • Color Options: Wood decking can be stained any color you choose, offering you the flexibility to customize it perfectly to match your home and style.

Cons of Wood Decking

  • Weathering: While wood is a durable material, it is highly prone to weathering. Rain, snow, and extreme temperatures will cause wood deck planks to warp and twist over time, changing the look and overall appearance of your deck.
  • Maintenance: When evaluating wood vs. composite decking, consider that wood decking needs to be washed at least annually and treated and stained once every 2-3 years. Without regular maintenance, you could begin to see cracks, rot, and splitting.
  • Lifespan: Because wood does not stand up as well to the elements as composite decking, it has a much shorter lifespan, which can mean frequent replacements and a great deal more work.

Now that you have a clear idea of the difference between wood vs. composite decking, let’s discuss what typically most influences your final choice: the cost. It’s important to look at both the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a new deck, as well as the overall lifetime cost of the deck to get a clear picture of which option suits your budget.

The Upfront Cost of Wood vs. Composite Decking

When it comes down to it, natural wood decking will save you on upfront costs. It can be installed by just about anyone if you’re using standard pre-treated pine, and it’s inexpensive. Composite decking will typically carry a higher upfront cost unless you’re planning on building a deck from premium wood types like cedar and tropical hardwood.

The Lifetime Cost of Wood vs. Composite Decking

While wood might be cheaper upfront, composite decking has been shown to pay for itself in as little as two years. Since composite materials do not need any regular maintenance, and will not attract pests or weather over time, there is virtually no upkeep. Wood, on the other hand, will require regular washing, restaining, the replacement of any warped planks, and more. When comparing the overall lifetime cost of wood vs. composite decking, remember that you’ll spend less, and get a longer lifespan out of a composite material.

How to Choose Your Composite Decking Products

There are many options when upgrading, replacing or installing a deck. It can be difficult to discern which vendors offer long-lasting, trustworthy materials for your investment. At Zeeland, we partner with industry-leading manufacturers for our composite decking products. With cutting-edge technology, competitive warranties, and durable construction, products from our composite decking partners offer unmatched peace of mind.

Trex Decking

With a reputation for innovation, Trex Decking offers premium composite decking covered by a 25-year guarantee. The ultra-durable protective shell on its decking products prevent sun fading, weather damage, splitting, cracking, or fading—providing a low-maintenance option for homeowners. From rich colors to natural wood grains, there are many options to customize the look of your Trex composite decking.

TimberTech Decking

Your investment goes a long way with TimberTech composite decking, backed by 25-50-year limited warranties. These products maintain their appearance and performance for decades with little maintenance. Achieve your desired look without the hassle of refinishing, sanding, or staining. Browse a variety of shades, finishes, or natural wood options to complement the appearance of your outdoor space.

Wood vs. Composite Decking: What’s Your Final Selection?

In the end, your deck is your deck. If you’re working with a smaller budget, a natural wood material will work just fine, so long as you keep up on regular maintenance and staining. Composite decking is perfect for those willing and able to make an upfront investment, so they never have to worry about maintenance or upkeep again. 

Regardless of the differences between wood vs. composite decking materials, a quality-built deck will provide you with the beautifully groomed outdoor living space you’re looking for. Got a new deck project coming up? For all the materials you need, from treated cedar to tropical hardwood to Trex decking, choose Zeeland Lumber & Supply. Let us know what you’re looking for online, give us a call at (888) 772-2119, or stop into one of our local showrooms.

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