Composite Decking VS Wood Decks
is wood? Which is composite?
Are Happening in the Composite Industry
decking, at least the composite products that people were complaining
to me about for the past 15 or so years is dead. Nobody buys the old
porous, mold creating composites anymore. Why??? Advancements have been
made to make man made decking last far longer, look much better, (Much
more like wood), and some are even offering a warranty that matches
their claims. In the photo above, try to guess which ones are wood, and
which are composite. Read on until the end of this update to find
4 types of Man Made Decking
with very different expectations
First Generation Composites
(Read on for previous articles and updates--that is what the original
article was about)
Recycled plastic and wood fiber
heated and processed to create wood. Recently a friend of mine heard
about the first Trex Deck in Canada being removed. He managed to get a
piece of it, and the boards hadn't failed. They were discoloured, it
had swelled a bit, but it didn't fail. People expected it to stay
beautiful for decades due to the aggressive marketing and slick
advertizing, however it just didn't meet expectations. These products
make up a very small part of the market--less than 10%, and it is
usually some kind of blow out sale that supplies the materials.Clad Composites in 2016
the big companies, Trex, Azek, Timber Tech and Fiberon, and Wolf, (I am
sure I missed a few) now produce decking with a hard plastic shell
bonded to the composite board. This makes the wear surface less prone
to staining from barbecue messes, food and wine spills and does away
with the tanning butter risk. It prevents mold growth being visible,
(it may still happen--but not visibly). It is also producable at a
price point similar to the old products. Some companies use Rice husk
fiber to eliminate the risk of mold altogether. These new capped
composite products are still heavy, prone to a bit of noticable sag
between joists long term, but all in all they age much more gracefully
than the first generation material.Clad PVC in 2016
and Wolf are the primary manufacturers of Clad PVC Decking. Each are
much better than the old school composite. No worry of mold, they are
color fast, (minimal fading to be expected), they look like wood, are
lighter weight and don't tend to sag between joists long term. I like
both. I like one more than the other because of their warranty...Rigid PVC that accepts a finish
Decking has come out with a product that you can stain just about any
color you like, and it gives a wood like grain that looks much like Ipe
or Mahogany. It is strong, doesn't shrink much and the finish they sell
has done very well in all the tests against first gen composites. When
they were all faded out, TruGrain still had much of it's color. I do
like the PVC products because they are a known commodity. We know they
are rigid and near structural material, and with a UV coating, UV
degradation isn't likely.
is capped PVC by Wolf Home Products atop Ipe interior floor. The new
capped decking looks convincingly like wood.
Warrantees are Finally Here
Fiberon and Trex now include the labor to replace defective decking
within their Warranty-- HOWEVER, A builder has to buy a certain amount
of product in order to qualify for compensation, and undergo training
by the companies. Wolf is the stand out, they only require the builder
to undergo product training to qualify. This means that should Wolf
produce a bad batch of material, as long as the builder you choose is
approved by them, you the customer will not have to pay a builder to
replace the materials for a certain amount of time. As usual, you need
to read the warranty. If the builder you choose does not buy $200,000
worth of material from Trex in a year, they won't honor the
reading the warranty documentation from start to finish is crucial to
choosing a material. The warranty will often point out inherent flaws
in the product--basically everything they exclude tells you alot about
Most better products
have stain and fade warrantees, the best products cover labor for 5
PVC decking going on a PT frame with hidden fasteners. Joists get
flashed to help the PT last as long as they expect the ASA wrapped PVC
years vs Centuries
decking has been made for about 30 years now. We humans have been
making things outdoors from wood forever. We know generally the best
softwoods last 20-30 years, tropical hardwoods last 30-40 in most
climates. The majority of the first generation composite decks are
looking a little dated now. They just didn't live up to expectations.
These products however, have come a long long way in a short time. The
plastics that are used on the outside of the high end decking is the
same composition used by automotive companies and that takes decades to
fade out. For this reason, I humbly suggest that for appearance and
durability and initial price for prefinished softwood deck, or an
unfinished hardwood deck they are just about par for cost.
part of the equation that is nudging most people towards capped
composite products is maintenance costs long term.
you go with what we know will last 40 years, but will cost you more
long term, or, what costs less and might last just as long?
answer has recently become less clear-- and that's a good thing.
more comprehensive article is on it's way, with the new website in
April. This page gets so much traffic that I had to get a quick update
done for spring. Happy building everyone!
way, the photo at the top of the article. All capped composites with
exception of the third board from that top. It's Kayu Bhatu (Indonesian
Composite decks are maintenance
Man made decking
is better than wood
Composite decking lasts
millions of dollars are spent to glamorize composite decking
products. Many people are absolutely sure that all
composite decking is wonderful. As a
tradesman and designer I get a chance to see these products after a few
years of service, with all their flaws exposed. It puts me in a
position to question the promises and dissect the language in
their marketing materials.
I've fielded hundreds
of phone calls and emails over the years from people that bought the
promises of the composite companies. Many were disappointed when the
warranty turned out to be void because the company just wasn't there,
wasn't honoring the warranty or their issue was excluded from their
warranty. The sad part is that most of the people didn't research the
product until long after they bought and they started having problems.
Its human nature I suppose; we trust too much. I find myself in the
middle of two groups of people equally as passionate and insensed with
have heard noises recently about virgin PVC products being the focus of
a class action suit. PVC materials may have a tendency to be stained by
cooking oils, and tanning butter. If you apply tanning lotion and then
lay on the deck, you may have a permanent "Shroud of Turin effect." I
have noticed that the products go a bit chalky and fade out over time,
so there just might be merit to the claim. Maybe we can talk about that
law suit later in the year.
Class Action 2013
Trex has a conditional settlement
in place for its latest class action suit. The summary of it
is, they will pay you 20% of what you paid for the product or what the
contractor paid for the decking up front, and about 50 cents a foot
towards the labor to install it. We charge about $15.00 per square foot
to change decking on a typical deck, so 50 cents a foot is a paltry
amount. You won't get your decking changed that cheap. If you can live
with looking at the deck, take the money.
used a cleaner to try to get rid of the mold, and you kept the
receipts, they will pay you $18.00 a jug.
want to roll the dice once more and use their "New and Improved
decking", they will give you a 50% discount on decking and fasteners.
If you choose to remove the old decking, unfortunately you will have to
pay for the removal, transportation and disposal of the old decking.
That factor wasn't adressed in the agreement.
Trex has cured the problems with their decking by switching production
to their new cased product--and maybe the Ford Pinto, and Chevy Vega
will be discovered to be masterpieces of human engineering. There will
likely be fading issues, and the casing might be expanding and
contracting at a different rate than the core, so we will wait for the
jury on these new products and hope for the best.
not easy being a forerunner in the development of man made products
that are competing with something brilliant created by evolution. Red
Cedar, Redwood, Cypress and Mahogany have been growing and adapting to
a rain forest environments for millennia. When you take them out of
their rainy environment, and use them in a dry environment they last
for decades. Their intrinsic beauty and earthy look is something we
find attractive as humans. This is why the composite decking companies
try to make their products look like wood--which may well be, part of
If you have had any
issues like this, please send us an email with your name and contacts
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are Maintenance Free
decking manufacturers stopped claiming “Maintenance Free” when
their products due to court settlements early on. Currently they refer
to their decking as
you that their products will require cleaning a couple of times a year
make it look good again.
leave the decking
looking powdery. They are
acidic and chemically strip
the finish and kill the mold for a time. Green clients should be aware
that to “maintain” these products it involves splashing chemicals
around your yard. A good stiff brush is required to physically scrub
the decking, so it isn't like mopping a floor in your house.
Better than Wood
If it is
better than wood—why
are they trying to emulate the look of wood.
new products are quite convincing. Big hunks of plastic with wood
and variable coloring to emulate the look of wood. Sure, it
will likely fade, but when it is installed it looks just like wood.
Ipe or Mahogany will likely have a durability of 40
years if oiled yearly. A wood
deck can be refinished every few years to
look like new again.
deck is now possible, but with varying results—Normally if it gets too
tough looking you replace the decking. 5 years from now, your
deck will look like a 5 year old composite
scratches and stains. When you attempt to change a board or two--it is
more than likely that the new boards will be an entirely different
color than the faded boards you have presently.
buried in a landfill—composite
very well last forever. They say a plastic shopping bag will last 1000
years underground, it is a safe bet that composite boards
will also do just as
well when buried. Long after you have tired of your stylish composite
won’t be recycled; it will go to the landfill with plastic patio
chairs and the rest of the non-recyclables. This deck was
photographed by Glenn Stewart a
home inspector in California. www.TheHouseWhispererBlog.com
don't know what brand of composite the photo below is. These are photos
that no Composite Company wants you to see.
Many local lumber yards have cut back on
of the builders I know are apprehensive to install composites due to
omnipresent rumours of failures and unhappy clients. It
is becoming apparent that after a few years composites simply don't
like they did when they were installed. Color fading and the necessity
to clean with
the harsh chemicals leaving the decking chalky
and porous are just a couple of the issues for these products. Many of
the pre-finished wood decks and pergolas found in
our gallery were 5 years old when they were photographed, and look much
like the day they were installed.
had some serious color fading issues and one local deckbuilder had 2
failures within 1 year, (large decks). As a solution, they tried a new
product designed to bond to composite decking. I will be having a look
at the coating this summer to see how it is lasting and if it is
successful, we will tell you all about this coating system for
Numerous class action lawsuits
have been initiated against Trex, now apparently
settled. They also had a voluntary broad scale warranty
issue stemming from flawed composite decking from a now moth-balled
You really have to temper their marketing and warranty promises due to
history. Trex has since come out with a version
of their decking which is wrapped with a coating to address the mold
issue, though, being new, time will tell if it is a viable solution.
this article was written we have
literally had hundreds of
phone calls and emails expressing horror stories as a result of people
buying composite decks through builders. We get many calls from
clients that are looking for replacement decking and parts for
products no longer produced.
issue of Warranty is not being addressed by
the composite companies. All but one manufacturer
that I have seen excludes the cost of disposal and labor to replace the
decking from their warranty. This is the composite industry
telling builders that they do not value their time. This is akin to
pitting our clients against builders across
the country. If you are a builder recommending composite to a
client for their deck, you are putting yourself in a potentially
position of being libel for damages, ie. you may be bound
to supply your labor for free to replace faulty composite decking. Lets
face it--if you make composite decking that is faulty, you cannot
ignore the fact that to make the client that purchased the composite
decking whole, you need to cover labor and disposal of the defective
decking. These companies are relying on slick
marketing rather than reputation.
(Tamco), actually offers a 5 year warranty that includes
replacement costs--Not Disposal of Faulty Decking Product though, which
I find strange. Why not go all the way? Though with anything, you need
to do research before buying. I didn't find
many complaints about
Evergrain, when I searched, but you should do your own research before
buying any composite product. When you buy a man made product like
composite decking, you need to
weigh all the factors. Most builders like the product, but how many of
them have that decking that they recommend on their own home
and are still happy with it a decade later. Unfortunately most deck
return later to
see how the decks they build look 5-10 years later. I see this warranty
change as a serious positive.
Closed in the past few years. (A list in progress)
a decking manufacturer closes, the implied warranty is
worthless. Maybe we need to asess their stock before buying to get an
idea of whether they will be there to honor a warranty.Correct
Filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and sold all of its assets to a
subsidiary of Building Materials Corporation of America (BMCA) in
see a large set of comments about Correct Deck (click)
(composite decking warranty--Contact CorrectDeck Directly)CPI
Went through a restructuring and could not meet its financial
comittments, was liquidated by the creditors in 2009 (composite decking
limited lifetime warranty--Worthless)Xtendex
Manufacturing plant in Barrie (Carney Timber Products)
closed and was liquidated. 2007Dexx
Composite decking plant in Bolton Ontario burned
to the ground in 2005. For some reason they never resumed production.ProCell
Purchased by AZEK 2008GeoDeck
Original company no longer operating, Name has been sold to 2
companies since and warranty is no longer valid.Brite
Bankrupt in 2007, business closed in 2008
(no warranty service)Elk Cross Timbers
Purchased in 2007, Closed in 2011Monarch
(Green Tree Composites)
Closed in 2008Life Time Lumber
Business Closed 2011
hundreds of now defunct composite decking companies, this is a list of
the largest that we know about companies. Please let us know if there
are others you feel should be added to this list.
Coupling Vinyl with Wood
generation composites were recycled plastic/vinyl mixed with
wood. Unfortunately the “Pulp” wood
they use is made from high sugar species of wood, which are not known
for outdoor durability such as
pine, spruce and bark from these trees. This is
over wood that isn’t good enough to use to make paper from.
absorbs moisture, then dispels it
this creates a pocket within the vinyl that soaks up moisture every
time it gets wet. Over time this produces black mold—like in an
un-vented shower stall
and it will never subside. Cleaners may make it look alright for a few
days—but it will always come back and normally worsens with each
contains wood or pulp
it may be
prudent to steer clear of the product.
offered by composite
are notorious for pointing out their tragic flaws. Pool chemicals,
mechanical wear, mold growth are often not covered by their limited
when they test composite
durability and color-fastness they
test for the equivalent of about 6 months in the real world.
Furthermore manufacturers have told me that each batch of composite
will be a slightly different color. I haven’t personally seen a
testing that included testing for freeze thaw stability.
manufacturers are marketing their decking
as fade resistant. Since the testing is a vague thing, once it gets
into the real world it is likely to be a different case. All composite
decking fades over time. Here are photographs of Trex
Brasillia sent in by Robert Rackish in 2010.
"Little did we know that it would fade and pick up stains
easily", he said in an email. He went on to say he has been
searching for a product that would restore the color and hasn't found
to show what the original color looked like. In the first photo
you can see the two scraps that are the original color on the faded
Is Composite a Structural
can legally use composite for joists and handrails then it will be
materials. Most composite
hand-rails are not Building Code Legal. Most
composite manufacturers advise to create a frame that has the
joists about 12” apart, rather than the typical 16” since the materials
will tend to sag under its own weight.
get numerous people asking for composite
pergolas. Since we can’t
fasten to it, or span more than a couple of feet without
deflection, designing a pergola is a challenge we just don’t
see as worthwhile.
Vinyl Decking (without wood
vinyl decking seems durable and long lasting. One of our
builders says he decides which composite
is good by laying it on
something solid, hanging a 3” corner off the edge and giving it a good
whack with a hammer. If it shatters off—Don’t use it. He sticks to
Virgin Vinyl products and has had good luck. (EON by CPI is not Virgin
Vinyl, we would suggest it is a PVC product classed with plastic patio
does expand and
contract a great deal and this needs to be accommodated by using
different methods for fastening and leaving tolerances (spaces) to
allow expansion based on temperature. Variance of about 150 degrees F
should be standard in North America, which means up to 2 or 3“ of
expansion should be expected with some products for a 20' piece of
decking. Most builders cut the material into shorter pieces so that
this expansion is easier to hide.
Many builders claim
that vinyl fencing has improved over the years. Here are some photos
fencing failures. UV breaks down PVC. Spray paint will be
nearly impossible to remove.
Builders Selling Composites may
have to supply free labor to
Speaking as a builder, we have a
tough enough time getting jobs
finished on a schedule and on budget. We work long hard
days to keep our clients happy, and when a warranty issue with
composite decking company causes this relationship to be
jeaprodized, we need to make tough decisions. Only Evergrain offers a 5
Limited Warranty that covers Installation Costs--but not disposal
visit with Tom from Hickory Dickory Decks
kind enough to show me around a few
installations in Burlington.
The decks looked good—that’s why he’s our competition in
many areas. He tells me that 90% of their work is composite decking.
offer a great thanks for his time showing me his work.
large company with many sub-contract
employees it is hard to keep a tight control on quality control so
there were flaws here and there. I think their work is quite good
the decks realistically did not look 3
years old, but they may have been close. At the time of this revision
we did not have disclosure as to how old exactly they were. Regardless,
there were flaws in some that indicated that they were likely in the
range of 3 years old.
decks I saw had obviously been
professionally cleaned. Some of the composite
decks containing wood
showed evidence of mold growth and staining.
had caused some boards to shear screws,
and there were quite a few joints that didn’t quite line up. Plastics
expand when you heat them, and contract when you cool them. Unless the
temperature is the same as the date of installation there will be gaps
and/or pressure distortion.
expands when it absorbs moisture, and shrinks
when it dispels it. This factor has to be accommodated by leaving
spaces or using special techniques to minimize the visibility and
Careful out there!
the opinions expressed in these articles are simply an opinion of the
author. No malice is intended. If you have information or evidence of
errors or possible corrections we invite your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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