When building a deck, there are two popular decking options, wood and composite. Here we are going to look at the cost factor of each. Determining which one is cheaper, both initially and over the life of your deck.
Composite decking initially will cost more than wood decking, generally in the range of 3 to 6 times compared to pressure-treated decking. Over the life of your deck, composite decking has lower maintenance costs, and longevity makes it a more cost-effective long-term option.
But before asserting that wood is cheaper, there are some more factors to consider.
One is the composite decking brands. There is a great deal of difference in price between composites.
There is also seasonality and maintenance to be considered when comparing the price of wood vs composite decking.
We will get into this to determine which will save you more money, wood or composite decking.
Is Composite Decking Cheaper than Wood in Initial Price?
Typically, composite decking will be more costly than wood decking in terms of your initial investment.
How much more will depend on the type of wood decking, you are comparing with. And, of course, which composite decking. I have a full price breakdown of composite decking. If you want to compare, click the link.
But for sake of easy comparison, Entry level is between $2 and $3 a lineal foot. This includes Trex Enhance, Fiberon GoodLife and Armadillo Lifestyles just to name a few. At that price, the boards are scalloped, and you have limits in the depth of colours.
The majority of composite is in the $3 to $6 range. For this, you get the higher-end boards of TimberTech, Fiberon, and many more. Including Deckorators Mineral Base Composite, which is in a league of its own.
On the higher end, you even get a good choice of PVC decking.
Believe it or not. Wolf’s PVC decking can often be bought for less than $4 a lineal foot. A fantastic price for PVC decking.
But how does that all compare with wood?
The base level, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this is 5/4×5.5″ pressure-treated decking. If you buy for the right place for less than a buck afoot. That’s right less, easily half of even the most economical composite decking.
Even traditional 2×6 decking can be less than $1 a lineal foot at the right time.
If you are looking for the beauty of wood, cedar is an excellent choice. At under $3 a linear foot, it is competitive with composite. Especially the budget boards.
Composite fasteners are more expensive than Camo screws for cedar. But it can be more a personal taste thing than a budget.
Redwood can vary in price but expect between the $2 to $5 range. Which is again lower than most composites except for the budget lines.
If you install the most durable wood decking Ipe, budget $6 a lineal foot. At that price, most composites are similar in cost or even less. Except for Ipe, if installed correctly, it will outlast most composite decking, even PVC.
So maybe it’s not so easy. Wood will cost you less.
But comparing equals, budget wood will cost less than budget composite.
Most composite will cost more than wood, but it really depends on which composite and wood you are comparing.
Seasonal Price Variation of Decking
But be warned about wood decking. It is a seasonal product, and prices can shoot up quickly as we all saw in 2021. Peaking around $1 711 per thousand feet.
But this was not just a 2021 event. You can expect just like gas prices come summertime when demand jumps, so will price. When the weather is perfect for building a deck. When the mercury rises, so will the prices.
With the base price so high wood decking similarly skyrocket in price.
Why Does Composite Decking Cost More than Natural Wood?
The number 1 reason for the added expense of composite decking is down to the manufacturing process. Composite decking boards are made from a mixture of wood and recycled plastics, which need to be blended.
The process of blending composite boards calls for specialist machinery and workmanship. There are different types of composite materials available, and some will require more work than others, so they will be more costly to purchase. The most expensive composites have been produced to look and feel as close to natural wood as possible.
On the other hand, most natural wood boards simply need to be sawn or cut to size and possibly finished before being sold to the customer.
Is Composite Decking Cheaper than Wood Long Term?
Here is where we get to the interesting part of the conversation and where buyers who think with the bigger picture in mind can really benefit.
Although the initial costs for composite decking are often far higher than natural wood, they can actually be much cheaper in the long run. The composite materials take far less maintenance than wood decking, and they last much longer.
Because wood is a natural, living material, it needs to be treated, stained and sealed to protect it against the weather. The process of preserving the wood needs to be done regularly and will still succumb to rotting over the years.
If diligent maintenance takes place, a natural lumber deck still might only last around 15 years. A composite deck will last at least 25 years. Most quality brands offer a warranty at least that long. Fiberon’s Concordia collection is warrantied for 50-years.
Few wood decks will last that long. Except for Ipe, of course.
Recouping the initial cost of composite decking purely from a longevity standpoint, and that’s without the additional maintenance of the wood one.
Not only do composite decks stay structurally sound for longer, but they are also far more resistant to chips, scratches, and warping, so they will stay looking great for a greater period as well.
This is especially true when compared to cedar decking.
Is Composite Decking Worth the Additional Cost?
We have just seen how composite decking can prove to be cheaper than natural wood over the long term due to increased life and lower maintenance costs.
So, is composite decking cheaper than wood? No, but there are more factors to consider that will make your buying decision less about the price.
Here is a list of some of the critical points you need to keep in mind when deciding between wood and composite materials for your decking:
Fortunately, both types of material are easy to work with, and composite decks don’t require any specialist to install. One advantage of composite materials in the workability area is that they can be more easily worked and formed into curves, opening your options for more exciting features.
The downside for composites is they will likely be more expensive than wood should you wish to add benches or railings to your deck.
An obvious drawback to a wooden deck is the potential for splintering, making them hazardous for people to walk on with bare feet and for children to play on. Manufacturers produce composite boards from fibres inside a plastic casing, so there is no chance of splintering.
3. Aesthetic appeal
In most cases, people opt for natural lumber decking because they love the naturally elegant look of the timber.
In the early days, composite boards couldn’t compete with wood’s natural beauty, but the finishing has come a long way, and there is a lot of choice for customers. Materials like cellular PVC have been developed to look and even feel very similar to wood and are very pleasant to work with.
As I touched upon earlier in the article, wooden decks can be prone to warping and weather damage. You will have to purchase the equipment for maintenance and take the time to apply them throughout your decking’s lifecycle if you want to keep it looking healthy.
You need to think about how much effort you might have to put in to keep your wooden decking looking at its best.
4. Environmental impact
Of course, I can’t mention the benefits of composite decking without touching on one of the biggest factors for many homeowners: ensuring their decking is sustainable and doesn’t harm the environment.
If you purchase your timber from a responsible retailer, you can rest assured they produce it in an environmentally friendly way. The manufacturing of composite boards can also be highly sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The wood fibres used for composite boards generally come from recycled sources, and most manufacturers produce their plastic from recycled materials. Every composite deck diverts waste away from the landfill.
For a deeper discussion of the value of composite compared to the cost, click the link.