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Composite Decking vs. Wood: What’s the Difference?

Nov 17, 2023

You’ve officially decided to create your own outdoor oasis at home by building a deck! Now, the question that remains is, what are you going to build that deck out of?

For years, natural wood has been the go-to decking material. However, engineered materials that have come onto the market more recently, like composite decking, offer many advantages and can even lead to long-term savings.

Is wood or composite decking right for your project? Learn more about the differences between these two materials so you can make the right decision for your home and budget.

What is Composite Decking?

Composite decking has been around since the late 1980s and has experienced a steady growth in popularity over the past several years. Composite decking is simply wood fibers encased in plastic. Surprisingly, this material is a big hit with eco-conscious customers because it is usually made from recycled plastics and reclaimed organic wood and sawdust. Composite decking material is available in a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures. It’s also resistant to water damage, fading, and other types of wear and tear you would expect from being constantly exposed to the elements.

What is Wood Decking?

Lumber refers to organic wood that has been processed and cut into planks suitable for construction. The properties of the wood may vary depending on what type of tree it came from. For example, hardwoods like teak, garapa, and ipe are generally considered more durable. Softwoods like cedar are easier to work with and can be pressure-treated to be more resistant. Wood naturally comes in various shades of brown but can be stained in a variety of colors. People love the natural, authentic look and texture of organic wood.

Composite Decking vs. Wood Decking

The main difference between wood decking and composite decking is that wood is a natural material while composite is man-made. As a result, manufacturers have developed composite to have many of the same benefits of wood—namely, its aesthetics and versatility—but with a longer lifespan and lower maintenance needs. As a result, however, composite decking is usually more expensive per square foot at initial installation.

The Pros & Cons of Composite Decking vs. Wood

Pros of Composite Decking

Because it contains plastic, composite decking material repels moisture instead of absorbing it. As a result, it won’t warp, splinter, crack, or rot. Wood-destroying insects and rodents cannot chew through composite decking boards either, giving them superior durability. As a result, your composite deck can last up to 50 years before it needs to be replaced. Maintenance is a relatively simple process. Once or twice a year, you should spray your deck with a power washer or give it a good scrub with soap and water. Otherwise, sweeping away any debris like dirt and leaves will keep your deck looking great.

Composite decking boards can be cut and fastened just like regular wood boards. One additional advantage they have over wood is that they can also be bent with the application of heat to create curved sections of the deck. Newer composite materials are specially engineered to remain cool even in direct sunlight on the hottest summer days.

Cons of Composite Decking

There are a few drawbacks to using composite decking. First and foremost, the materials cost more per square foot. The next concern is aesthetics. Some people don’t like composite because it doesn’t look natural enough. Composite decking comes in many different colors, but it is hard to paint or stain your deck a new color once you’ve installed it. Some composite materials that haven’t been designed with cooling technology can retain heat and reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun. Since it doesn’t absorb water, it is more likely to present a slipping hazard after precipitation.

Pros of Wood Decking

One of the main benefits of using wood is for aesthetic reasons. Real wood doesn’t just “look natural”—it is! Plus, if you want to change up the look of your deck, it’s easy to stain the wood to a different color. Another great thing about wood is that it can be much cheaper than composite—though this does depend on the type of lumber you use.

There are also some people who would argue that using wood is better for the environment because it is a completely organic material, and trees can be replanted. However, composite materials reuse materials that would otherwise end up in landfills and don’t require new trees to be cut down, so the jury is still out on which material is more sustainable. Depending on the type of composite, wood may or may not be cooler.

Cons of Wood Decking

Wood absorbs water, making it susceptible to warping, cracking, splintering, molding, and rotting. Water damage also makes wood more vulnerable to damage from insects and rodents. To help minimize the effects of environmental damage, you should sand, stain, seal, and paint your deck every two to five years. Like composite decking, you should clean it semi-annually.

Wood decking material will also fade with exposure to direct sunlight, and regular wood will get hotter on a summer’s day than composite planks with cooling technology. Even with regular maintenance, your wood decking can last up to 30 years at most. In reality, it will probably be closer to 10 to 20 years.

Cost of Composite Decking vs. Wood

Cost is one of the most important factors to consider when planning a home improvement project. There are two different costs to consider: installation cost and maintenance cost. The installation cost is the upfront cost you will pay to build the deck. The overall installation cost depends on the cost of the material and how big your deck is.

Composite decking cost

Composite decking usually costs between $30-$60 per square foot. If you build a 7’ by 12’ deck, you’ll spend around $3000 to $5000.

Composite decking cost

Wood, on the other hand, starts at around $15 per square foot and tops off around $30-$40 per square foot. This makes the total upfront cost of your deck closer to $1000-$2000.

Just looking at installation costs, wood comes out as the cheaper material. However, wood decks require extensive maintenance, including regular sanding, staining, and sealing to prevent water, pest, and sun damage, whereas composite decking only requires occasional cleaning once installed. The cost of maintaining composite decking is usually no more than a few hundred dollars each year, but it can be up to $1000 a year for wood. Over time, that difference can really add up. Composite decking will cost less over the course of its entire lifetime, and you will get more years of use out of it.

How to Choose Between Composite Decking vs. Wood

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right material for your decking project, including cost, aesthetics, maintenance, durability, and sustainability. Though composite offers some unique features and benefits, the “right” choice ultimately comes down to your budget, lifestyle, and preferences. If you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of rain or you are committed to the upkeep required for a more natural look, wood might be a great option. However, if you live in a damp climate and want to enjoy your deck with minimal yearly work and costs, you’re probably better off opting for composite.

Get Composite and Wood Decking in Tulsa

Whether you’re considering wood or composite for your decking project, DeckIt is your premium supplier for decking materials in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We offer several high-quality varieties of wood and composite decking materials for every style and project. Contact us today to learn more about our options and get started on your deck.