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Composite Decking Benefits Over Wood Decking

James Brueton

Created at: Nov 02, 2018

Last updated: Nov 02, 2018

Composite Decking Popular Technical

There’s been a bit of a buzz around the new composite decking technology that’s started appearing everywhere. So in this blog I’ll be explaining what it’s all about and why it could be a great choice for your outdoor space.

So what is composite decking?

Composite decking sometimes also referred to as Plastic decking and WPC decking is decking that is usually made out of a composition of wood and plastic, there are also different varieties such as decking made purely out of plastic. This plastic content gives the deck boards a very long lifespan without the need to treat or seal the decking over its life, the decking has on average a 1% water absorption rate. While the wood content allows the decking to retain that wonderful tactile feeling you get when touching wood.

How is it better than normal wood decking?

Composite decking can offer many benefits over traditional wood products, I will discuss the environmental benefits in a moment, but now I’ll highlight the stand out features. The no.1 question that anyone in the decking industry is asked is “how slippery the decking is in the wet?” (even though decking is rarely used in the rain!).  As each board can be essentially moulded to a specific shape and texture, the majority of products on offer have a ‘non-slip’ grain embedded in the board surface, making them extremely safe to walk on in the wet, with most boards having a ‘low slip potential’ based on the BS7976 - 2: 2002 Standard (although this high level of slip resistance is not offered by every manufacturer). Another safety feature of composite decking is that it doesn’t splinter, due to the granular composition this makes the boards both very tough and it will never create long piercing shards, this is great especially for families with young children.

Going beyond safety, the looks that can be achieved with composite decking can range from very sleek and modern to a warm natural appearance. The real benefit being that this look will remain the same year after year without the need to treat and re-stain the deck every spring, that job every deck owner dreads!

Real environmental benefits

If you look at both softwood and hardwood options, both require trees and habitats to be cleared, it’s not always that easy to ensure they come from sustainably managed forests. Hardwood of which is very difficult to truly have a sustainable source due to the usual long length of time required to grow trees of sufficient size, a lot are imported from the tropics which are currently being devastated by logging and farming. In addition, softwood initially needs chemical treating to ensure an extended life span, as well as both kinds needing annual treatment, where the chemicals can leech into the surroundings.

There are some composite decking manufactures that use virgin material in their composite decking and ‘green wash’ that they are environmentally friendly because you don’t need to use harmful chemicals treating standard wood every year……this low maintenance solution, however, is true of all composite decking. But the only real sustainable proposition is from composite decking that is made from recycled plastic and recycled wood. Using household plastic waste and reclaimed sawdust and offcuts, the mixture is ground down and combined under heat and pressure to form the decking products. This process does require energy, but by saving tonnes of waste from going into landfill and turning it into a long life product that can be recycled again is a fantastic solution.

There are even some companies that go even further by donating their proceeds to sustainable causes; you are actually helping to save the world by using this decking!

Is it easy to install?

I hear you say….. Yes! The material can be worked and cut with standard wood working tools and some manufacturers offer boards that come with ‘hidden fixings’. A groove is designed into side the edges of each board and a hidden clip uses this to hold the boards firmly down onto the joists under the deck. This reduces the need to perfectly line up all those surface screws, which also tend to collect a lot of dirt over time and become key points of wood degradation. This smart innovation, along with other complimentary accessories, makes the decking just as easy to take up as it is to put down.

There is one other consideration when you look to install a composite deck, there are also composite joists offered by some manufacturers. These are made with the same composition as the deck boards and thus have the same anti-rotting properties, which can extend the life of your deck even further.

How creative can you be with composite decking?

As you can work composite decking like wood, you can create just as complex designs, plus you have the added benefit that most composite boards come in varying colours. This means you can mix up the colours, perhaps using a different colour to highlight your deck features, such as edges and steps; it can be a great design detail.

So how much does it cost?

The big question. Due to the fact that these products never need to be treated the life cost becomes far less than traditional wood, even if it starts out higher. Most in fact tend to be cheaper than the expensive hardwood options, even having designed lifespans beyond wood products.

There are a variety of composite deck boards on the market and I’d like to go over the 3 main options available with their corresponding benefits and costs:

Firstly there is a structured type of board (also called honeycomb or hollow), this has a lattice structure looking at the cross section of the board, which helps keep the weight and thus the price down, all while retaining a very stiff and durable load bearing construction. The prices can vary from £25 to £45 per square meter (exc. Vat), and in this range we would always recommend getting a good quality board from a supplier that offers a long warranty on their products.

Structured composite deck board

The mid-priced option are solid boards with similar surface finishes as per above, which can be good for high traffic and heavier load areas. There are a few different varieties of these available, where some have harder wearing surfaces then others; usually you get what you pay for. The average cost range for these is between £40 and £60 per square meter (exc. Vat).

Solid composite deck board

Finally, there is a 'capped' solid board, which has an outer layer made with a higher plastic content and makes the board surface much harder wearing. These boards are highly engineered and styled to have a great feel and aesthetic, with the added durability benefit. The price range for these is more comparable to hardwood, between £50 and £90 per square meter (exc. Vat).

Capped solid composite deck board