How to Choose Between Wood or Composite Decking Materials

Margaret Wack
Written by Margaret Wack
Updated January 11, 2022
Group of friends sitting on deck with wine glasses
Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Wood and composite decking are both popular options, but each comes with different strengths and weaknesses

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Warm weather means even more opportunities to take advantage of your home’s outdoor space, including your deck. If you’re looking to give your deck a facelift—or build a new space—you’ll need to decide between decking materials like wood and composite decking. 

When making a decision between the two, you’ll need to consider how you plan to use the deck, weather conditions, and maintenance preferences, among other issues.

About Decking Materials

All decks use treated lumber for the framing. The framing is the structural part of the deck that you don’t usually see unless you’re underneath it. When you decide what decking material to choose, you’ll typically only be choosing materials that will make up the decking surface and railings.

There are two main categories of deck materials to choose from these surfaces: natural wood or artificial products. Each of these materials has strengths and weaknesses, so there’s no clear-cut answer about which material is better for you. You should consider factors including maintenance needs, weather and environmental conditions, and your own personal preferences when making a decision.

What is Wood Decking?

The majority of decks built today use wood decking. Treated lumber and cedar are the most popular types of wood decking. Hardwoods like ipe, jatoba, and tigerwood are also sometimes used for wood decking. The main reason people choose wood is for the initial cost savings, since wood tends to be less expensive than composite decking.

Wood Decking Pros

  • Aesthetics: Wood decking has a classic, aesthetically appealing look. While composite decking can sometimes look fake or artificial, wood decking has a natural, authentic appearance.

  • Lower installation cost: Some types of wood decking are very affordable to install, making them a great option for homeowners on a budget.

  • Easy to customize: You can stain or paint your deck to match your house’s color or to add more character to your patio.

Wood Decking Cons

  • More maintenance: Wood decks require more maintenance than composite decks, including stripping, sanding, and staining.

  • Higher cost over time: Because wood decks require more maintenance, they can cost more over time than composite decks.

  • Less durable: Wood decking tends to be less durable than composite decking because it is more prone to moisture, rot, and discoloration.

What is Composite Decking?

Deck contractor installing composite wood
ronstik / Shutterstock.com

Composite decking materials are another popular option. Composite decking combines wood and plastic and includes some of the benefits of both natural and artificial decking materials. While composite decking doesn’t look as natural as wood decking, it requires much less maintenance and is more durable over time.

Composite Decking Pros

  • Less maintenance: The main reason people choose composite or synthetic deck materials is for the low maintenance required.

  • Lower cost over time: Because composite decking requires less maintenance, you will spend less over time to maintain your deck.

  • More durable: Because it contains plastic, composite decking is more durable and often lasts longer than wood decking.

Composite Decking Cons

  • Less natural appearance: While composite decking has come a long way in recent years, it still has a slightly more artificial look than natural wood decking.

  • Higher installation cost: Composite decking also tends to be more expensive to install. While homeowners save on maintenance costs over time, the higher initial cost may be an issue.

  • Difficult to customize: While composite decking comes in various colors and styles, it’s difficult to change the look of your deck once installed.

Wood Decking vs. Composite Decking: Final Verdict

Which type of decking is right for you ultimately depends on how you plan to use your deck and your aesthetic preference. If you prefer the look and feel of real wood and don’t mind being responsible for regular maintenance, then wood decking could be a good choice. It’s also a smart option for homeowners on a budget who want a lower installation cost.

On the other hand, composite decking might be a better choice for homeowners who prefer minimal maintenance. Although you’ll still need to clean your deck or patio, you won’t need to sand, strip, or stain composite decking. While composite decking can sometimes look more artificial than natural wood decking, it also has far fewer maintenance needs. Homeowners may also be able to save money over time on maintenance when compared with traditional wood decking.

If you’re installing a new deck or want to change your deck’s material, you should get in touch with a deck builder near you for advice and a personalized quote. They can walk you through your options and discuss which deck material might work best for your specific situation.

FAQs About Decking

Should you paint or stain your deck?

If you’re deciding whether to paint or stain your deck, it’s usually a good idea to go with staining. Staining a deck not only makes your deck look good as new, but also protects the material from moisture and wear and tear. You can reach out to a deck staining company near you for a personalized quote.

Should your deck be built at the same level as your home?

You should not build your deck at the same level as your home. Doing so can make your home’s foundation more vulnerable to moisture and rot.

Can you bleach a wood deck?

While you can bleach a wood deck, you should use oxygen bleach instead of chlorine bleach. This type of bleach is more environmentally friendly and better for your deck.

Should you install a retractable awning for your deck?

Installing a retractable awning can be a great way to provide shade for your patio, keep you cool, and protect your outdoor furniture. That said, it can also be expensive to install and requires regular maintenance and cleaning.

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