Compare Wood vs Composite Deck


Author: Ashley Smith

Wooden Decks

Wood is the original and most common choice for decking.  It is durable, economical and lasts for decades if properly maintained.

The vast majority of decks are made with Southern yellow pine, a cheaper wood that is pressure treated to prevent weather damage, rotting and insect damage.  Higher-quality woods such as cedar and redwood don’t require any type of pre-treatment because they contain natural preservatives.

How Much Does a Wood Deck Cost?

The price of a wood deck depends on the type of wood, the size and configuration of the deck and, to some degree, the difficulty of installation.  Plan to spend around $15 to $25 per square foot for pressure-treated wood such as Southern yellow pine and around $25 to $30 per square foot for high-end wood such as cedar and redwood.  Both prices include the cost of materials and installation.  On the low end of those price ranges, you’ll get a basic deck without benches or a railing.

Let’s say you’re planning to build 16×20-foot deck.  Based on the price ranges above, the total cost works out to $4,800 to $8,000 for pressure-treated pine and $8,000 to $9,600 for cedar or redwood.

Wood Decks Pros

  • Look – A wood deck appears authentic because it is authentic. It looks, feels and smells like real wood.  Most people consider a wood deck more attractive than composite.
  • Price – Wood decking generally costs less than composite. Pressure-treated pine sells for about half the price, while premium woods like cedar and redwood cost slightly less than composite.
  • Lifespan – Decks constructed using high-quality wood can last 20 years or more with regular maintenance. Although many manufacturers claim composite can last that long or longer, the product hasn’t been around long enough to know for sure.

Wood Decks Cons

  • Maintenance – Most decks need to be sanded, thoroughly cleaned and stained or sealed about every two to five years (depending on the type of stain and weather conditions). Left untreated, wood decking will fade and eventually rot.
  • Wear and tear – There’s always the possibility that your deck will splinter or warp, particularly in harsh climates. Pressure-treated woods are particularly susceptible to warping.

Composite Decks

Composite is a manmade decking product that has gained popularity over the last decade.  It is manufactured using a combination of wood fiber and plastic.  The planks are designed to look like wood, although most people can tell the difference between natural wood and composite.  Even with a composite deck, the load-bearing supports are made of natural wood because it is sturdier.

How Much Does a Composite Deck Cost?

Composite decks generally cost about $30 to $45 per square foot installed.  For a 16×20-foot deck, that works out to $9,600 to $14,400.  Budget on the high end of that price range if you’re adding features like railings or benches to the deck.

People often wonder why composite decks are more expensive than natural wood decks.  The answer? They’re more expensive to manufacturer.  The trade off is that maintenance costs are far lower and composite decks are expected to last longer.

Composite Decks Pros

  • Maintenance – Composite requires far less maintenance. It never needs sanding, sealing or staining. However, it does need to be cleaned several times a year to remain in good condition.
  • Durability – Composite is stain-resistant and holds up to harsh weather. It will not splinter or rot.
  • UV resistance – Fading of composite decks will be minimal over time unlike natural wood which will fade quite a bit. Composites retain the original color for many years.

Composite Cons

  • Not real wood – Some composite decking looks cheap and not at all like real wood (other composite looks great, though – brand matters). The artificial surface can also be slippery.
  • Quality concerns – Composite is a relatively new product, so questions have been raised about its long-term durability. These questions won’t be fully answered until the product has been available for decades.
  • Can’t be refinished – You can’t refinish or repair a composite deck when it starts to show signs of wear and tear. The only option is to replace it.

Should You Build Your Deck From Wood or PVC?


By Joesph Truini      Jul 31, 2012 @ 1:30 PM

Wood is still the king of decking materials, but the widespread acceptance and availability of manufactured “PVC” lumber has continued to grow among DIYers and professional deck builders alike.  Which material is best for your new deck or deck-remodeling project will depend on factors including decking color, available board sizes, maintenance requirements, and, of course, price.


Natural-wood decking products can be roughly divided into three categories: pressure-treated lumber, redwood and cedar, and tropical hardwoods.  You’ll find most types of wood decking at your local lumberyard, although availability may vary depending on where you live.  A growing number of decking options—tropical hardwoods in particular—are available only online.

Pressure-Treated Lumber

This ubiquitous green-tinted wood has been the best-selling decking material for several decades and still is today.  Each year approximately 75 percent of all new decks are covered with pressure-treated (PT) decking.  The understructure frame—posts, beams, joists—of virtually every deck is made of PT lumber.

PT decking is the most affordable and widely available material.  The most common size of treated decking is 5/4 x 6–inch planks (about 80 cents per linear foot), but 2 x 6s (70 cents per linear foot) and 2 x 4s (50 cents per linear foot) are also used.

Most PT decking is cut from southern yellow pine and then chemically treated to resist decay, fungus, and wood-boring bugs.  For more 70 years PT lumber was infused with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a suspected carcinogen.  However, CCA hasn’t been used in residential lumber since December 2003.  Today, most PT lumber is treated with less-toxic chemicals, such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), copper azole, or carbon-based, nonmetallic preservatives.

The main disadvantage of PT decking is that because it’s cut from pine, it’s not very dimensionally stable.  It has a tendency to swell, crack, split, and warp.  When wet, it’s surprisingly heavy. PT decking requires routine maintenance too, including an annual power washing and an application of stain or clear wood preservative every two or three years.

Redwood and Western Red Cedar

These two western softwood species are treasured for their rich crimson color and natural beauty.  In addition, redwood and cedar tannins and oils make them naturally resistant to rot, decay, and voracious insects, so they don’t need to be pumped full of chemicals.  These two woods are also lightweight and easy to cut and fasten with nails or screws.  They’re stable and much more resistant to warping and splitting than PT lumber.  The most common sizes of redwood and cedar decking are 2 x 6 and 2 x 4.

Unlike PT lumber, redwood and cedar come is a wide variety of grades, ranging from the most expensive and clearest to the least expensive and knottiest.  The California Redwood Association suggests using Construction Common or Deck Common redwood for decking.  For a clearer—and more expensive—grade, choose B-grade redwood or Construction Heart redwood.  The Western Red Cedar Lumber Association recommends four grades of cedar for use as decking: Architect Clear, Custom Clear, Architect Knotty, and Custom Knotty.  Again, the clearer the grade, the more it costs.

Typically, redwood is slightly more expensive than cedar, but both species are three to five times more expensive than pressure-treated lumber.  (Prices fluctuate widely across the country, however.  These woods are cheaper in the West and more expensive in the East.)

Even though redwood and cedar are naturally resistant to the weather, you should lightly scrub or power-wash the surface annually, and apply a stain or clear finish every three to four years.  To maintain the wood’s natural color and texture, you must apply a semitransparent stain.  If you don’t, both redwood and cedar will eventually weather to a soft silvery gray.  It’s fine to let the wood weather naturally, but we’d still recommend applying a clear wood preservative every few years to block excess moisture.

Tropical Hardwoods

The newest entries into the real-wood decking market come from Africa, South America, Malaysia, the Phillipines, and other faraway places.  Most have exotic-sounding names such as Massaranduba, jatoba, meranti batu, camara, abaco, red tauari, tigerwood, and ipe.

Tropical hardwoods share several common characteristics.  They’re all very dense, hard, heavy, durable, and naturally resistant to rot and insects.  They’re so dense, in fact, that it’s impossible to drive a nail or screw without first boring a pilot hole, which is why most tropical decking is installed with hidden fasteners that clip or screw into the edge of the boards.  Decking sizes commonly available include 3/4- and 1-inch-thick boards, which come 3-1/2 or 5-1/2 inches wide.

It’s difficult to give accurate pricing information on tropical hardwoods since there are so many species available.  Generally speaking, however, tropical hardwoods are the most expensive real-wood decking option, costing slightly more than redwood and cedar.

No wood decking is 100 percent maintenance-free, but tropical hardwoods come close.  Most need little more than an occasional scrubbing and perhaps a coat of clear wood preservative.  They’re so dense they don’t accept stains very well, so if you choose to apply a stain, be sure it’s a penetrating stain that’s specifically formulated for tropical hardwood decking.  Standard decking stain won’t be completely absorbed, and it’ll leave behind a sticky film.  It’s often recommended that you wait two or three months before applying a finish to tropical hardwood.  This extra time allows natural oils to leach out of the hardwood, after which the decking will better accept the finish.  If you choose not to stain tropical decking, it’ll eventually weather to a light silver color.

Buy only tropical hardwood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.  This is your assurance that the wood was grown and harvested in a legal, sustainable manner—and not illegally clear-cut from a rainforest.


Composite Decking

Composite decking, such as Trex, TimberTech, and Veranda, is a hybrid product that’s composed primarily of wood fibers and recycled PVC.  The result is a dense, heavy, and weather- and stain-resistant deck board that won’t splinter, warp, rot, or split.

The appeal of composite decking is that it’s virtually maintenance-free.  It never needs to be sanded, scraped, refinished, or stained.  An occasional scrubbing with warm, soapy water will remove most dirt and grime.  A little diluted bleach can kill mold and mildew that grow in damp, dark areas of a deck.

Standard composite decking comes in limited colors—brown, gray, tan—and most will fade over time, especially where the deck is exposed to direct sunlight.  However, most manufacturers now offer a line of fade-resistant composites, which cost a bit more but retain their color much longer.

Composite decking comes in lengths of up to 16 feet and in many of the same sizes as PT decking, including 5/4 x 6 inch, 2 x 4, and 2 x 6.  Most products also have realistic-looking wood-grain patterns molded into their surfaces.  Prices vary, but expect to pay between $2.50 and $3.50 per linear foot for most standard-grade 5/4 x 6–inch composites.

PVC Decking

PVC decking—such as Azek Deck, Evolve, and Forever Deck—is made from 100 percent PVC (recycled and/or virgin) and contains no wood fibers or fillers.  It’s highly stain-resistant, doesn’t require finishing, and won’t ever crack, warp, or splinter.  PVC decking comes in many more sizes than other decking options, in some cases up to 12 inches wide and 20 feet long.

The downside of PVC decking as compared with the other options is that it’s designed as part of an overall system—therefore, it must be installed with strict adherence to manufacturer’s instructions.  This often requires purchasing special fasteners, fascia boards, and trim pieces.

Which Is the Best Decking Material: Wood or Composite?


By Tim Slamans of Slamans Construction              June 30, 2015

Here are the pros and cons of natural wood versus man-made composites for deck materials.

Right before spring starts, my company always gets a lot of calls from homeowners about building new decks.  When the conversation comes to the question of what materials to use, it comes down to one question: wood or composite?

The first thing to know about choosing a deck material is that all decks use treated lumber for the framing, which is the structural part of the deck that you don’t usually see unless you’re underneath it.  So the decision process usually involves only the materials that will make up the decking surface and railings.

Natural vs. composite decking materials

You have two main categories of deck materials to choose from: natural wood or manmade products – but there are lots of options within each of these categories.  The most popular wood products are treated lumber and cedar.  Other species of wood such as redwood and hardwoods like Ipe, jutoba and tigerwood are also used on decks, but not nearly as often.  Manmade deck material products include composites, PVC and vinyl from manufacturers such as Trex, Fiberon, Timber Tech and Azek.

The majority of decks built today are made of wood.  The main reason people choose wood is for the initial cost savings.  The main reason people choose composite or manmade deck materials is for the low maintenance required.

So what deck material is best for you?  There are numerous factors to evaluate before making a decision.  You’ll need to ask questions like: How will the deck be used?  Is it in a shaded area or a sunny one?  How long do you plan to live in your home?  Do you plan on doing your own deck maintenance or hiring a company to do it for you?  As you can see, the questions are endless.  Like most deck builders, I can’t recommend the right deck material without talking to you and answering these questions first.

Factoring in wood maintenance costs

Although the installation price for a composite is definitely going to be more than wood, the actual cost over time is a good deal closer.  This is because wood decks require more maintenance.  If you’re willing to do the resealing and repairs yourself, a wood deck will still be cheaper, but if you’re going to hire someone then it would be worthwhile to factor that future cost into your decision at the time when the deck is being installed.

Let’s say the same size treated lumber or cedar deck mentioned above costs $700 to stain the first year.  You’ll need to stain it every two years thereafter.  A stripping and sanding will be required every six years before you perform the annual deck stain, which will cost about $900 total.

If you’re maintaining your wood deck properly and hiring professionals to do so, I’d say that by the end of year eleven you will have spent more than $4,600 on maintenance, and you’ll still have a wood deck that may crack or splinter, whereas a deck with manmade materials will require little regular maintenance.

Although I tend to recommend composite decks, you need to decide for yourself what fits best for your home and situation.  The best way to do that is to talk with a knowledgeable deck building professional that can ask you the right questions and help you make the best decision.  Just be honest with yourself from the start about whether you’re going to do the maintenance yourself.

What to Know About Working with Composite Decking


By Roy Berendsohn and David Agrell       Mar 14, 2014 @ 10:30 AM

I’m thinking of replacing my wood deck with composite lumber because I’d like it to be maintenance-free.  I’ve never worked with this material before.  What can I expect?

People choose woodplastic composite (WPC) or even plastic lumber (PL) over wood because they want the finished project to resist rot, wood-eating insects, harsh sunlight, and mold and mildew, and they never want to paint it.  So, do these materials deliver?  In many respects, yes.  But are they maintenance-free?  No material is.  Though many of these products carry 25- to 50-year warranties that protect against things like rotting, splitting, peeling, and insect infestation, we’ve seen these decks fade, buckle, and harbor mildew in certain conditions especially the stuff that contains wood fibers.  But, generally speaking, WPC and PL decks don’t require the annual makeover that wood decks do, and most last for decades with little more work than soap and water rinses.  Expect to pay around $3 per linear foot for 1 x 6 decking material, which puts it somewhere between the cost of western red cedar and ipe lumber.

WPC and PL products usually contain a thermoplastic, such as polyethylene, that has been recycled from old plastic bottles and bags.  Composite lumbers add other materials such as wood flour, sawdust, or ground-up peanut shells.  They can be solid throughout, or they may have a hollow, ribbed center to reduce weight.  (Some solid-core products can weigh as much as 5 pounds per foot, which is three times the weight of cedar.)  High-end composite decking is often encased in a plastic shell that resists fading, staining, scratching, and mold.

It’s important to look at the manufacturer’s directions before installing this material.  When it gets warm, it expands more than wood along its length but less across its width.  The longer the piece of decking, the greater its expansion and the more you have to account for this when building your deck.  Check the product’s end-gap chart, which correlates the space needed between the ends of two decking pieces with the length of each piece, the temperature during installation, and the highest ambient temperature you expect in the deck area.  For example, a 12-foot-long piece of Bear Board PL installed at 60 degrees Fahrenheit could expand by as much as 1/8 inch on each end of the board, so you’ll need a 1/4-inch gap between the ends of two boards.  Blow this critical design detail and your decking could buckle on a hot day.

Keep in mind that, compared with wood, this stuff is bendy.  Don’t just assume it can span joists on 16-inch centers.  Some are engineered to work on 12-inch centers.  The flip side is that you can create curvy designs not possible with wood lumber.

You can use standard woodworking tools to cut, drill, and fasten this lumber, though we recommend carbide-tipped blades, which stay sharper longer.  Use a moderate feed pressure to avoid melting the plastic or jamming the cutting tool.  If the manufacturer recommends predrilling screw holes, do so.  Some lumber has grooves milled along its edges for installing hidden fasteners that allow the material to move with temperature changes.  You can also drive decking screws or stainless-steel trim-head screws through the top of the board, but be warned:  This allows moisture to seep into the wood fibers, which can lead to rotting.

Finally, most consumer-grade WPC and PL can’t be used structurally, such as for joists or corner posts.  For those you’ll need a specially engineered plastic lumber that has been fortified with fiberglass.  Make sure you use the material as the manufacturer intends or you’ll void its warranty.