Composite Vs. Natural Timber Decking: Pros & Cons
As you plan your new dream deck, one of the crucial choices you’ll need to make is what type of decking product to use. Do you stick with traditional timber, or take a leap forward and opt for the increasingly popular composite timber decking?
Up until the early 90s, timber was the only decking solution, but, nowadays, customers have a plethora of options to choose from. The warm and natural look of genuine wood, which has always attracted homeowners, is no longer an exclusive timber advantage. Thanks to research and development in the composite market, we now have composite materials which look and feel like natural timber. NewTechWood, for example, features multi-chromatic colours, entirely emulating the rich natural look of timber and even variations of colour hues found in natural timbers.
Both decking materials come with a range of options and have their own benefits and drawbacks. It’s good that the decking world develops and homeowners have a better choice of different materials, but the question is: how do you narrow down the search for an ideal decking material?
The best piece of advice is to compare the features and benefits of all timber and composite timber products and identify the product which offers the optimal value for money.
To help you make an educated decision about what’s best for you and your home, we’ve created this guide, comparing the most crucial decking features.
Look and feel
Homeowners are accustomed to timber, a traditional decking material with a rustic and warm appeal. While early generation composite decking tended to look artificial—more like plastic—third-generation composite materials much more closely resemble real timber deck boards. Some of them, like NewTechWood, even feature an embossed grain pattern and colour variation, so no two boards are alike.
On the flip side, composite decking will maintain the same look and colour for longer, with no ongoing maintenance. So, if you’re after a hassle-free deck, composite is the obvious choice.
Some composite decking materials have UV and fade protection, meaning the deck will look the same year after year.
You can, of course, keep your natural timber deck looking good, but that includes regular maintenance (sanding, oiling and painting) at least twice per year. Some homeowners prefer to spend their spare time enjoying the deck, rather than working on it (or paying professionals to do regular maintenance).
Timber decking can last for a long time if it’s well maintained. You can replace certain deck sections relatively easily, or simply sand them, but this all requires regular upkeep with associated costs.
Unlike timber, which will only last only if it’s carefully looked after, composite decking can last around 20-30 years with almost no maintenance. Most composite decking brands just need to be cleaned regularly, and, best of all, there is no need to treat or stain it to prevent moisture and its consequences.
When it comes to maintenance, composite timber certainly wins the race—unlike a timber deck, you can “set and forget” your composite deck.
One of the most prominent advantages of composite timber materials is that they require no ongoing maintenance. Occasional sweeping or washing is all you need to keep the boards looking immaculate.
Timber decking, on the other hand, must be painted, stained, and sealed regularly to defend against the elements and extend its life.
Moisture and mould
One of the critical issues with timber decking is that boards readily absorb water. As a result, timber decking is susceptible to warping, splintering, cracking, and rotting—even when stains, sealers or paint are applied regularly.
By contrast, high-performing composite materials from the third generation of composites are fully capped around all four sides. Advanced manufacturer technology, such as UltraShield, offers 360-degree complete protection around all four sides of the board, including the tiny area of curvature and groove area.
The result is a fully capped board, which provides core protection and resistance to moisture and mould. This means composite decking boards can even be installed around pools and other wet areas.
Deck boards that are capped also offer maximum protection against staining.
While timber decking will eventually splinter during its life span, composite decking is made with small wood fibres co-extruded in plastic so that it won’t splinter. This is especially important for walking on the deck barefoot and for the safety of children and pets.
Unlike most wood decking, composite decking is not prone to damage from termites and other wood-destroying insects.
However, with both decking options, natural timber framing is required for the installation. So, even if you’re building a composite timber deck, you still need to think about protecting your timber frame from termites.
Timber decking has an advantage over composites when it comes to summer weather, as it is slightly less hot in the direct sun than composite timber decking.
There is no such thing as an ideal material. Although the plastic finish on composite timber boards provides almost perfect product core protection against the weather, UV and moisture, they become slightly hotter in the full sun.
Although timber decking can come from sustainably sourced timber, composite decking is the more environmentally friendly product. This is because it is usually made from waste timber and recycled plastic.
This can really have a positive influence on minimising carbon footprint. For example, through NewTechWood alone, approximately 5.5 million kilograms of plastic is saved each month from being buried in landfill.
Composite timber also prevents living trees from being cut down to manufacture timber boards.
Additionally, composite decking doesn’t require staining or sealing, therefore eliminating the application of fossil-fuel-based chemical stains and sealants.
As price is one of the key criteria when choosing a decking material, the lower initial purchase cost of traditional timber decking is considered a benefit.
The cost of timber decking boards depends on the type of wood: softwood decking is cheaper than hardwood decking.
However, composite usually ends up paying for itself within 2-3 years, when including the cost of ongoing maintenance—let alone the working hours required.
However, be aware that not all composite materials are created equal. The lower quality composite decking often won’t look as natural as some of the higher quality brands. The lower quality products also typically have a shorter lifespan. Opt for higher quality composite materials, which will look and feel more natural, require next-to-no maintenance and last longer.
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Value for money
After you deliberate on all the benefits and drawbacks of both materials, don’t simply make your decision based on the shelf price. Take into consideration the best value for money. Upfront savings don’t equal a cheaper deck!
We agree that the rich, natural look of timber decking is stunning. Painting and staining the timber regularly will add to the upkeep and labour costs, making it costly in the long-run—and exhausting for owners.
Composite decking requires very little maintenance—meaning you have more time for enjoyment during the weekends.
If you need a decking material that looks and feels precisely like timber but without the drawbacks and upkeep, contact our friendly team.