At first glance, all composite decking is the same.
A mixture of plastic with filler material designed to give you many years of deck enjoyment with little maintenance.
But if you look closer, there are many types of material options with composite decking. And with each different material blend creates unique strengths and weaknesses.
Common Material of Composite Decking
One material that all composite decking has in common is plastic. The element that provides creates the low maintenance characteristic we love about composite decking.
Most of the plastic is recycled material. Coming from used milk cartons, liquid laundry detergent, or plastic bags are just a few items that could end up in your composite decking.
The type of plastic used will vary by brand, but the most common are.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Not an exhaustive list but here are a few companies and the type of plastic they use.
Armadillo, Fiberon and MoistureShield use High-Density Polyethylene. Deckorators’ cap is made from HDPE.
Trex uses Low-density polyethylene in their composite blend.
TimberTech Azek is a pure Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) containing no wood fibres, but Fortress Apex is PVC blended with bamboo fibres. The number of companies making a pure PVC deck board is increasing with its long durability.
Moving from plastic, let’s look at materials that are blended with the plastic in making composite. Generally, the blend will be equal parts of plastic and filler, but with some decking, the filler can be as much as 70% or as little as 40%.
Wood Base Composite Decking
The most common composite decking and the one we are all most familiar with because of brands like Trex, Fiberon and TimberTech, which are at the forefront of composite decking.
Wood is an excellent fill material being readily available and our familiarity with. For years all decks were wood. It just makes sense to include wood when creating a lower maintenance decking.
But what does wood composite bring to your deck?
- Price (Compared to other Low Maintenance Decking)
Compared to other composite decking, wood is the lowest. Still not as cheap as actual pressure-treated wood decking but will generally cost less than other low-maintenance decking.
Because it was one of the first on the market, it is also the most readily available. Almost every building supply store will carry some version of wood composite decking, often Trex.
- Short Warranties
Most wood composites will come with a 25-year warranty. A good length of time for decking but short compared to other composite decking not made from wood. Many non-wood have LIFETIME warranties.
Fiberon’s Concordia and MoistureShield have similar length warranties for their wood-based composites, but they are the exceptions, not the norm.
Decking gets hot. Wood-based composites are some of the worst offenders. If you go with wood composites, have some sandals to slip on in the summer. The decking will get hot in the sun.
For a more in-depth discussion about wood composite decking, click the link.
PVC-Based Composite Decking
After wood composite PVC decking is the most common low-maintenance decking.
Some big players are TimberTech Azek, Fiberon’s Promenade, and Paramount. But there are over a dozen other companies making PVC decking.
Most PVC are capped with an additional layer of polymer, but Zuri and Clubhouse PVC decking are capped with acrylic, a harder material with increased durability.
The single largest advantage of PVC decking compared to most composite decking is no organic material. Ensuring that your decking will never rot because there is nothing in the decking to absorb water or feed fungi. The 100% non-organic material will last a lifetime.
But there are more reasons to consider PVC decking for your deck. The top 2 are
- High slip-resistant
If slip resistance on your deck is essential, PVC is a good choice. Has some of the highest slip resistance ratings among composite decking.
Another good thing about PVC decking is its warranties. Often 50 years, including staining, fading and structural. With some limitations, but it promises to last a long time. And if it doesn’t, they will pay you to replace it.
But there are also reasons not to love PVC decking. The top 2 are.
- High initial cost
- Unstable with expansion and contraction from heat
Most PVC decking will cost more than $5 a lineal foot. Yes, it will last a lifetime and never need to be replaced, but the initial outlay of cash is big.
Of all the composite decking, PVC will expand and contract the most. Requiring larger gaps at the end of boards and more adjustments for movement. Finishing details like picture framing the decking with mitre joints should be reconsidered. They will open up. They need to open up and will never look as good as the first day you installed them.
The learn more about PVC composite decking, click the link.
Bamboo-Based Composite Decking
Bamboo composite decking is similar to wood composites but trades wood fibres for bamboo.
Not nearly as common as wood composites, but several companies manufacture this unique composite decking.
CaliBamboo and Lamboo are blended with HDPE. Where Fortress blends the bamboo fibres with PVC.
Bamboo is more environmentally sustainable than trees, replacing itself in 4 to 5 years. Much shorter than wood, often needing 60+ years to regrow.
Bamboo has excellent mechanical properties making it more robust and less receptive to water. Making your decking that much more durable.
Some of the biggest drawbacks with bamboo composites are.
With fewer companies selling bamboo composite decking, it can be harder to find. Unlike wood composite, which almost every building sup[ply store will sell some variety of, with bamboo you will need to shop around to find.
Along with being harder to buy, it will also cost you more. At least more than most wood-based composites which are more common.
To learn even more about bamboo base composite decking, click the link.
Mineral-Based Composite Decking
If you have heard of mineral-based composite, it was probably Deckorators. One of the early innovators and still the dominant brand of mineral-based composites. But the list of mineral composite decking is growing.
What sets minerals apart from other composites is the use of a non-organic filler, rock. It will sometimes be called fibreglass or minerals, but either way, it does not absorb water and increase the strength and stability of the decking.
Some of the top pros of mineral composite decking are.
- Minimal expansion and contraction
- Strength-to-weight ratio
Unlike PVC, which constantly moves with every change in temperature, which wood composite also does. Mineral composite has almost no movement from temperature change.
This opens up possibilities for inlays, borders, mitre cuts and other decking features.
“The possibilities are wide open because the gaps are not.”
Despite being made from rock, they are lighter than many composite boards. But this weight loss is not a loss of strength but is actually stronger than wood composite.
If you want strong decking that is light, consider mineral-based.
Availability is the biggest drawback of mineral-based composites. Like bamboo, you will need to plan to shop around. Deckorators is a bigger composite brand increasing the likelihood of it being in stock at your favourite building supply store but often, they will only stock the more familiar wood-based composites.
To learn more about mineral-based composite decking, click the link.
Rice Hulls Based Composite Decking
Replacing wood in composite decking with rice hulls has some advantages.
Relatively new as decking material, Resysta introduced rice hull composite in 2014. But Resysta is not the only manufacturer of rice hull decking.
Rice hulls as a composite filler have similar advantages to bamboo. Both are of the grass family and rapidly replace themselves. One of the advantages of rice hulls over bamboo is rice is grown in North America for food consumption, and the rice hulls are a waste of this vital activity. Rice Husk composite decking seeks to take a waste product and make something useful to be enjoyed.
But it’s not only its environmental benefits, but rice hull composite has other advantages.
- Resistance to Water
- Lighter than WBC
Water is always a challenge for decking. Especially in a rainy location or on docks or surrounding a pool. Because water increases the rot’s potential and rate, which is an advantage of rice hulls, they don’t absorb water.
Let it rain. Let water pour all over your rice hull composite deck. The boards will not absorb moisture; therefore, they will not rot.
Another advantage is weight. Rice hulls are lighter than wood, making the decking lighter. Making moving the decking and construction easier.
- Unnatural Decking Appearance
I have limited experience working with rice hull decking, thus my limited con list. But one thing is appearance. Many wood composites and PVC boards are incredibly close to looking like exotic woods. Raising the appearance of your deck.
Currently, most rice hulls decking doesn’t have the same level of beauty.
They look more like the early generations of wood composites which were clearly not wood planks. Which may be fine. Many of us have decks for a place to enjoy the outdoors with friends and set up a few chairs, not a fashion statement.
If appearance is foremost for you, you may want to take a pass on rice-hull composite decking.
But if you are curious about the potential of rice hull-based composite decking, click the link for more.