Ultimate Composite Decking Guide - Home Stratosphere

Ultimate Composite Decking Guide

Here is an ultimate guide into all the things you need to know regarding Composite Decking that includes how to install them, how to choose the right one and where to install them.

This is a brand new composite decking at the back of the house.

When you think about outdoor spaces, the decking might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it can make or break your outdoor look if you choose poorly. Wood was considered the go-to decking material just a few decades ago. The decking industry has expanded since then and has developed some excellent alternatives, like composite decking.

Composite decking is an excellent solution if you are redoing or installing a new deck; you can choose between pressed, molded, and hollow with end caps. You can also choose different styles and colors. The best thing about composite decking is that it lasts for years.

I love how natural wood makes a deck look. Dark colors can make it look stylish and put together. You can make it look cozy and inviting with richer colors, and it gives an overall pleasing look. Composite decking gives you all this and so much more. Here is an ultimate composite decking guide to help you achieve a stunning deck.

Table of Contents

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What is Composite Decking?

This is a close look at the composite decking materials being installed by a man.

Composite decking is a mixture composed of plastic, wood, and a bonding agent. It allows manufacturers to achieve the best of both worlds, the look and feel of natural wood but with the added benefits of plastic.  The price and quality will depend on what type of composite decking you choose.

There are options that you can do yourself, and a DIY project will save you money on installation. It would be best if you kept in mind, it will take a skilled hand to install composite decking properly. There are a few different types of composite decking, such as:

Solid And Hollow Composite Decking

It is essential to know the differences between solid and hollow composite decking boards before making an informed decision. Here are the differences:

Hollow Composite Decking

A close look at a man drilling a hollow composite decking.

Hollow composite decking is decking designed with hollow cavities at the core and is a little more impervious to warping than the solid core composite decking boards. Hollow composite decking weighs less than its solid counterpart.

It’s more affordable than the solid composite, and running wires through it makes it a little more appealing to some homeowners.

There are a few drawbacks to this type of decking material; the hollow center means it is susceptible to water retention and dents easier than solid composite boards. After a while, they can make more of a sound when you walk on them.

They need end caps or facia sides and fasteners or plugs to finish the look and help keep as much moisture out of the center as possible.

Solid Composite Decking

This is a close look at the steps and patio that has solid composite decking.

Solid composite decking is solid core boards that look just like natural wood. They absorb sound and are much quieter than hollow core composite decking. They can, however, warp in extreme conditions with time.

Solid composite boards are easier to produce, and some manufactures only make solid composite decking boards. They are strong and don’t need facia plugs or fasteners like hollow composite decking boards.

Solid composite boards also don’t retain water and don’t need caps on the ends. It is a much better option for minimal maintenance decking.

Capped and Uncapped

Capped and uncapped composite decking has everything to do with the top coat of the decking. Here are the differences.

Uncapped

This is a close look at rain and dirt on the deck flooring.

Uncapped composite decking was the first type of composite decking. It became available in the late 1960s and was the hybrid decking material to combine recycled wood and plastic. The plastic and wood are bonded together to create a strong decking board.

The one thing that makes this board different than the capped composite decking boards is that it doesn’t have the top layer of protection that capped boards have. That means when the boards are exposed to the elements, they will deteriorate. It also has the likelihood of retaining moisture that can lead to mildew and mold growth, rotting, warping, and fading.

It has to be restained now and then, just like wood decking, making the maintenance and upkeep a pain on you and your wallet.

Capped

PANDAHOME 22 PCS Wood Plastic Composite Patio Deck Tiles, 12”x12” Interlocking Deck Tiles, Water Resistant for Indoor & Outdoor, 22 sq. ft - Mocha

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Capped composite decking has become more popular over the last few years. Capped composite decking is made of mixed recycled wood and plastic, just like uncapped composite decking, but has one massive advantage over uncapped composite decking; an extra layer of protection fused with the other decking elements production.

The extra layer of protection helps protect the decking boards as it has anti-oxidants, UV inhibitors and adds the color at just the right time to achieve the beautiful decking boards you end up buying.

Capped composite decking has the added benefits of being stain-resistant, water-resistant, and very low maintenance.

Grooved and Ungrooved

These are samples of grooved and ungrooved composite decking.

After deciding if you want to install capped or uncapped composite decking, you need to determine if you want grooved or ungrooved composite decking. Here are some thoughts on the differences:

Grooved

Grooved composite decking has a notch at the sides, it doesn’t change the overall aesthetics of the deck, but it does change the way you need to install it. The grooved sides have fasteners on the bottom, and you won’t see the screws. The ungrooved sides have to be fastened from the top.

Grooved sides look better and more natural because you don’t see the screws or fasteners, so many homeowners prefer the grooved sides.

Ungrooved

Ungrooved composite decking has no grooves on the side, which means it doesn’t have a raised edge and won’t have any gaps on the sides. However, you need to fasten it from the top, which could ruin a natural wood look.

Ungrooved composite decking is best for people who have issues going underneath the boards to fix something or loosen a fastener, as they are fastened from the top and not the bottom.

Considerations When Choosing A Type Of Composite

Choosing the correct type of composite decking to suit your needs can be overwhelming if you don’t have all the information. Here are some factors to look at before you decide.

Choose Composite Decking To Suit Your Budget

This is a close look at a man installing an ungrooved composite decking.

The most important thing to consider when choosing composite decking is what type of decking suits your budget and lasts longer. Aspects like color, quality, brand, and installation will be factors into the overall price of the decking.

For example, if you choose a higher quality decking that is grooved, it will cost more than a cheaper decking that is ungrooved. Because grooved decking has fasteners underneath the boards, it will be harder to install, thus more expensive.

The type of composite decking that will suit a tight budget will be the ones with limited colors, top fasteners, and a smooth finish.

Choosing The Right Composite Decking Brand

Arlai Wood Composite Decking, Deck Tiles, Interlocking Flooring Tiles, Patio & Flooring Pavers 30cm x 30cm/12”×12”, Pack of 4

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When you have your budget in mind, you need to start looking at brands; it will help you see what composite decking will be best for your needs while keeping the costs inside your budget.

You can still find affordable quality brands that will last longer than some of the very cheap boards you find in local stores.

Choose The Right Composite Decking For Your Climate

This is a sunny deck with light-tone materials on its deck.

It is imperative to keep your climate in mind when you choose your composite decking. For example, f you have rainy, primarily cold temperatures, you need to pick a grooved composite decking with capped sides or solid decking because hollow decking will build mold and mildew due to water retention. You can also look for a company that sands the shiny layer off the top. It will make your deck less slippery.

If you live in a hot and dry climate, you need decking lighter in color as the dark colors retain heat and will be very uncomfortable to walk on in the summer.

Choose The Location Of Your Composite Decking

This is a composite decking under construction on a flat grass lawn.

You need to ensure you pick the right location for your decking, keeping in mind that your site can interfere with the installation of your deck. For example, if you live in an area high on a hilltop and have to build the deck on the ground that goes downhill, this might be harder to install and increase costs.

Keep in mind the location also has to do with temperature. If you build the deck in a place with no shade and it gets hot in summer, you won’t be able to walk on your composite deck because the plastic in the deck gets extremely hot.

Keep Add-Ons In Mind When Choosing Your Composite Decking

Remember that you need to include any extras that you want to have installed with your composite decking in mind when working out your budget. Things like what type of fasteners you want, railings, decorative trim, balusters, caps, skirts, etc., will all cost extra, which could make your decking expensive.

Check Building Codes About Composite Decking

This is a large elevated deck with white wooden railings.

Before you choose what type of composite decking you want to install, please keep in mind that you must check the building codes in your area. Some areas have building codes that might influence the type and style of composite decking you are legally allowed to install as a deck.

Types of Composite Decking Material

This is a close look at various colorful wpc composite decking materials.

There are a few different types of composite decking that you can install; picking the type that is right for you and your needs that doesn’t go against your area’s building codes is the next hurdle you need to cross. There are three types of composite decking that you can choose from.

  • Polypropylene based: Composite decking that is polypropylene based has some wood fibers in the mix and is stronger than polyethylene-based composite because it contains less wood and won’t warp or cause mold easily.
  • Polyethelyne bases: Polyethelyne based composite decking is the standard that the first types of composite decking materials were made from. Polyethelene composite decking contains at least 50% wood shavings and 50% plastic.

Manufacturers have started to use polypropylene and non-wood plastics more and more because polyethylene has had issues with warping, rot, mildew, and mold in the past.

  • Non-wood Plastics: Non-wood plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) composite decking is the new standard most manufacturers want to implement in composite decking.

The shift is not only because it is more sustainable when recycled plastics are used but also because it has non of the setbacks the other composites with wood fibers have, such as staining, water retention, susceptibility to rot, and mold.

It is much stronger than the composites that contain wood fibers. It is, however, more expensive than the wood and plastic composite deckings.

Different Brands Of Composite Decking

This is a close look at a couple of composite decking materials.

The brand of composite decking you choose has a direct impact on the cost of your composite deck. The non-plastics are more expensive than the oil-based polyethylene or polypropylene counterparts.

Where they use recycled wood fibers, sawdust, and wood chips, the non-wood decking costs more as it is more complicated to manufacture. Here are some of the top-rated composite decking brands:

  • Veranda: This composite decking company uses different finishes on two of the boards’ sides. That gives the customer two different looks they can choose.
  • Correct deck is one of the eco-friendly companies that manufactures its composite decking with 80% recycled or reclaimed polypropylene and hard-wood fibers.

The CX line has a top coat of polypropylene that encases the composite boards. It gives the boards a coating that protects them from mold, mildew, and stains.

  • Cross Timbers: Cross Timbers is a type of decking manufacturer that uses oak wood and polypropylene in their composite decking. It makes for a stronger composite, and they produce boards that can span 24 inches on center, far more than any other company.
  • EON: EON composite decking boards are 100% plastic; they use UV inhibitors to help the boards resist fading and also use T-clips to fasten instead of screws and nails. It makes the boards look more stylish.
  • Trex: Trex composite decking makes their decking from reused and reclaimed plastic bags and reclaimed wood fibers and particles. They buy about 300 million pounds of reclaimed polyethylene and the same amount of reclaimed wood fibers each year to manufacture their grooved and solid boards.
  • TimberTech: TimberTech is 100% solid PVC composite decking. They manufacture their boards to look more like wood by molding the boards. It deepens the grooves and gives a more wood look and feel.

Pros And Cons Of Composite Decking

This is a close look at the composite decking and its fastener.

When considering different decking options, it is essential to look at the pros and cons of each. Here are some pros and cons of composite decking:

Pros Of Composite Decking

  • Easy and minimal maintenance is the most significant advantage of composite decking. It doesn’t need sanding and staining every year like wood, and you clean it with water and soap every few months.

It doesn’t stain like wood decking, and you can clean up spills much easier because of the plastic outer coating that protects the decking from stains and fading.

  • The hidden fasteners are a great benefit to the overall aesthetic look of the boards. They are also easier to keep clean as the dirt doesn’t build up like the top fasteners.
  • One massive advantage of composite decking is the water resistance. Water retention in wooden boards leads to mold and mildew that damages and warps your boards. On the other hand, composite decking has no such problems due to the plastic content and makes your boards last longer.
  • Composite decking comes in so many different colors, and some companies have as many as 30 different shades. TimberTech even has a whitewashed color to enhance a stylish look.

Cons To Composite Decking

  • Composite decking does, unfortunately, cost up to 4 times what pressure-treated wood costs. Because of this, you can contact some manufacturers and hear about limited colors in a specific range, specials, and even entry-level decking options.
  • The color you pick is permanent, and you should try to choose a color that you will still love in 25 years.
  • Composite decking isn’t meant to be structural at all. You still need a wood or metal substructure as support to keep your deck solid.
  • Composite decking needs special fasteners to secure them. You can’t use regular screws and nails on them, and this costs extra.
  • Composite decking is not easy to repair. It is scratch-resistant, but that’s no guarantee accidents won’t happen. You might have a hard time redoing the finish on the board and end up having to replace it. So always buy a few extra boards just in case.

Tips For DIY Installation Of Composite Decking

This is a man installing a composite decking with a drill.

When installing your perfect deck, some general tips can help you achieve the best look when choosing, buying, and installing your composite deck.

  • Remember that you need to check the building codes in your county for building a deck and that your deck base or substructure must also comply with the building codes in place.
  • It would help if you let the boards acclimate for at least two weeks before you install them. Ensure you place them on a hard-level surface. It helps with expansion and can significantly affect the overall installation of your composite decking.
  • Ensure that the fasteners are strong enough to carry the weight of the decking you choose; for example, if you are redoing an old wood deck with composite decking, the old fasteners might not be strong enough, and you might need to buy new fasteners.
  • The spacing of the joints of the boards has to be correct. The joints are the wooden pieces that give support to your decking. If it is too far apart, it will wobble and bounce; if it’s too close together, it won’t allow the boards to expand or contract, leading to warping. 
  •  Remember that staying safe is a top priority in any DIY project, and you need to ensure you wear the proper personal protective gear before embarking on any DIY project.
  • It would be best to use a sealant on the cut or rough edges, and it needs to be water-based, not oil-based. It will ensure your decking stays water-resistant.
  • It is crucial to check if you have pipes or wires and cables running under where your deck will be. Because you need to build a base or substructure, you need to know if there are cables and water pipes to avoid.

You can call your local utility company and make sure you don’t have any cables or pipes to worry about, cutting, hitting, or breaking.

  • When cutting the boards to fit your deck, use sharp blades with carbide tips to ensure you get a clean cut and don’t waste any composite boards.
  • You need to choose screws made especially for composite decking, or the boards might bend or mushroom. Test the screws out on scrap or sample pieces of decking before you use them.
  • Your deck has to have proper airflow. You have to build a substructure that has a frame for the boards to have adequate airflow. Adequate airflow will help the boards get rid of excess water.

FAQs on Composite Decking

With so many types, colors, and installation ideas, people have many questions about composite decking. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about composite decking.

How Long is Composite Decking Supposed to Last?

Most of the composite decking manufacturers give warranties of 10-25 years. The longevity of composite decking is due to the mix between wood fibers and plastic. It is resistant to mold, wood rot, warping, and termite damage. Some manufacturers use UV inhibitors that make the decking stain-resistant and fade-resistant.

Is Composite Decking Easy to Install?

Composite decking is easier to install than traditional wood decking. It was created with the customers in mind and will save a lot of money on installation.

Does Composite Decking Need a Lot of Maintenance?

The great thing about composite decking is that you don’t have a ton of maintenance to do. You have to clean off debris now and then and wash with soap and water at least twice a year.

Do I Need to Paint or Stain Composite Decking?

Because the composite decking has a dye added to it that will last for as long as your deck does, if you want to paint it, you will have to do regular repainting and maintenance, just like wood.

Does Installing Composite Decking Need Specialized Tools?

When working with composite decking, you won’t need specialized tools. Because composite decking cuts like wood and takes nails and screws like wood, you only need woodworking tools to install composite decking.

Conclusion

Composite decking has become much more popular than wood decking material. I like the solid polypropylene and wood decking with a special coating to protect it and PVC decking made from reclaimed plastic. These are long-lasting, but they are much more eco-friendly than a lot of other decking materials. They give you a stylish look, and you don’t need tons of maintenance.

Resources:

The Spruce: Decking Brands You Need to Know

Trex Composite Decks

Family Handyman: How to Choose Composite Decking

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