Composite is a familiar term in the decking industry and likely something we’ve all heard of before. Composite decking rose in popularity throughout the 1990s as consumers sought a more maintenance free alternative to traditional pressure treated wood decking. Fast forward to today, and what was once an exciting new innovation, has now become a bit tarnished and outdated. As the market stands saturated with different composite options, many have taken note of an overall decline in quality as well as come pretty hefty drawbacks that have lead homeowners and builders alike searching for alternative decking materials.
Popularity of composite decking
It’s really not a surprise, given the limited options that were available at the time, that the composite decking segment grew as much as it did. The majority of homeowners were drawn to the idea of composite decking for one or more of these four main reasons:
- Low maintenance needs: Composite is moisture resistant and only requires basic cleaning (if using a capped composite board).
- Sustainability: Many manufacturers use recycled plastic in their composites. Plus with increased longevity, fewer repairs and replacements would theoretically be needed keeping old materials out of landfills for longer.
- Variety of options: Composite decking is offered in many different colors and wood grain patterns.
- Easy hidden fastening system: Some composites are available with side grooves to use a hidden fastening system, eliminating most visible fasteners (i.e. screw heads).
Looking at these selling features alone, a composite deck sounds great and for many it was, but not everything is always as it seems, making it important to also review the anti composite arguments to try to gain a more full picture perspective.
Inherent issues of composite decking
Despite having a few good advantages, composite decking also its disadvantages, some of which even negate its original benefits. These issues include:
- Fake wood appearance: While composite decking tries to mimic the natural beauty of real wood, the fact remains that achieving the same character just isn’t doable with plastic. Many homeowners dislike the plasticy look of even the most expensive composite decking options, which are often the closest to real wood beauty.
- Prone to scratches and dents: Composite decking scratches relatively easily. Dents and scratches from moving patio furniture, the family dog's nails or kids playing on the deck can all leave irreversible damage. Plus if you penetrate the board beyond its protective plastic cap, serious performance issues can occur if the composite core is exposed.
- Very hot surface in sunlight: One of the biggest complaints about composite decking is how hot it gets in the sun. Most composites are wrapped with a plastic coating to protect the composite core, however plastic gets hot when the sun hits it, making composite decking extremely unconfirmable to walk on. The darker the color, the hotter it will get, so bear this in mind.
- Very heavy but lacking strength: Composite decking is surprisingly heavy compared to classic wood decking, however that doesn’t exactly equate to it being stronger. In fact, compared to modified wood decking, composite is significantly weaker.
- May not be as eco-friendly as promised: Composite decking is often pushed hard as being a green material, however, what many eco-conscious homeowners don't realize is that composite decking has a significant carbon footprint due to its intensive manufacturing process. Plus when it comes to the end of your deck’s life, recycling or repurposing composite decking doesn’t always work out.
Composite decking is far from a perfect product. Although there are certainly homeowners that will find composite decking to be a fine material for their needs, its worth it to think about superior alternative to composite decking if beauty, durability and sustainability are important to you.
Modified wood beats the competition
(The Sound of Music, by Mareiner Holz)
Modified wood is arguably the best decking material on the market for homeowners, when it comes to composite decking alternatives. Even tropical hardwoods known for their density and durability can't quite check off all the boxes that modified wood can.
The major benefits of modified wood include:
- Ease of care: No decking material is truly "maintenance-free", but modified wood is about as close as you can get. Simple cleanings with water, and perhaps a gentle cleanser on tough spots, are all you need. Although composite is very similar in this aspect, remember that composite decking can't be sanded if staining or surface scratches occur, while modified wood can.
- A truly green product: Modified wood is harvested from responsibly managed forests and made of fast-growing sustainable wood species. The modification process uses a bio-based, non-toxic liquid, making it safe for your family and the environment. Furthermore, old modified wood can be disposed of just like any other natural, wood product. You won't be contributing to landfill pollution when you choose modified wood.
- Classic wood beauty: There is nothing more beautiful than a wood deck. Wood has a warm ambiance to it and makes for a very inviting entertainment or relaxation space. Modified wood decks also age to a beautiful, silver patina over time. Plus because modified wood is extremely strong, it won’t splinter like other real wood decking options do.
- Resistance to the elements: Modified wood is super dense and can handle all types of weather conditions. Despite being made of wood, it's both moisture- and pest-resistant. This material won't splinter, crack or peel. Exposure to intense sun will hasten the natural silvering, but won't harm the material. Plus, modified wood is cooler to the touch and more "barefoot-friendly" than composites. Keep in mind that you can also use modified wood in all aspects of deck design, including structural support, seating, siding, planters, benches and more - a benefit you won't have with composite decking.
- Cost vs value: Modified wood is perfectly priced considering all of the advantages it has. It offers as much strength as tropical hardwoods, but without the hefty price tag. The overall lifecycle costs of modified wood compared to composite decking and the impact on your home’s value make, modified wood the wiser investment.
All in all, modified wood outperforms composite decking in nearly all categories. Homeowners stuck between standard wood and composite would do well to opt for modified wood over either option. Not only is modified wood a highly attractive material, but its combination of longevity, overall resilience and convenient care needs should put it at the top of any list.