When choosing between composite Trex and Pressure-treated wood decking, there are several things to consider. Things like appearance, durability, price, maintenance and warranty.
The advantages of Trex over Pressure treated decking are appearance, low maintenance and warranty. Pressure treated decking is better for a lower initial price and structural strength.
That being said, we should delve into the details a little more to determine whether pressure treated or Trex decking is right for you.
Starting with an introduction to pressure treated and Trex decking to understand them a little better. Who are they, and where did they come from?
A Brief Introduction to Trex
Trex was one of the first innovators of composite decking, inventing and manufacturing their first board in 1996. This single colour board was patent in 1998, and they have since developed four lines and 20 colours of decking. One of their original big pushes was to take material that was otherwise headed to the landfill and innovate a useful product. They are still a huge player in the recycling industry.
“To enhance the lives of people by engineering what’s next in outdoor living.”Trex
The primary benefit of their decking is its long life and low maintenance compared to traditional wood decking.
A Brief Introduction to Pressure Treated Decking
Compared to Trex, pressure treated decking is the old, traditional decking. But in the larger scope of construction, our current process of preventing wood from rotting, particularly decking, is relatively new.
Humans have been treating wood for over 4 000 years. A.J. Wallis-Taylor, in his book The Preservation of Wood, reports on how the ancient Egyptians were treating wood to prevent rotting.
In 1945 the more familiar green wood was introduced in which wood was treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) a waterborne preservative. Becoming popular in the 1970s in residential construction. Coinciding with the increased popularity of decks across North America.
December 31, 2003, the look and treatment of decking changed again. As lumber companies voluntary stopped treating decking with CCA because of its potential leaching of arsenic, replacing it with ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary).
“I remember this not as a change in treatment and safety but when decking went from green to brown. I thought it was just a nice colour change, but there was much more going on.”
The single most considerable benefit, alkaline copper, is not easily absorbed by the body. Minimizing the potential of harmful reactions to contact or slow poisoning as the body absorbs the decking treatment.
Further transforming treated decking was the introduction of 5/4 decking, replacing the once-standard 2×6. A thinner board, only 1” reduced decking costs with more pronounced radius edges, improving their appearance.
I discuss the pros and cons of both more fuller in another article, Comparing 5/4 Decking With 2×6 Deck Boards, Pros and Cons, if you want to learn more about the difference between the two.
In choosing between the two let’s compare using four categories, appearance, durability, maintenance and cost.
Trex vs Pressure-treated – Appearance
Trex has 20 colours which can be grouped into blonde, red, brown and grey. Giving you some options in the look of your decking.
|Trex Decking Line||Number of Colours||Decking Profile|
Trex composite decking is arranged into Best [Transcend], Better [Select, Enhance Natural] and Good [Enhance Basic]. With the same core and capping, the main difference is the aesthetic appearance of the cap.
The Enhance Basic has a more subdued appearance with solid colours. The higher-end lines have more colour variation and streaking. Giving the decking a more natural appearance.
Trex’s Select is embossed with a cathedral wood grain pattern. Both increasing traction and appearance.
Transcend has a more natural-looking wood pattern with more distinct grains and distinct colouring. Also, the more durable and scratch-resistant of Trex’s decking.
“Transcend decking’s deep wood-grain pattern and luxury colors create a premium, ageless look that leave other composites in the dust.”Trex
Regardless of the decking line, they all are made from 95% recycled material, equal in warranty.
Unlike Cedar decking, treated decking does not have the appeal of the beauty of wood grains and variations.
The dark colour of the treatment limits your view. The wood has still has grains patterns, but it looks more like Trex’s Enhance Basic line, with a single colour. Even Trex’s Enhance Naturals have more colour and variation than treated decking.
Staining treated decking will improve the appearance of the decking while increasing its life. Even adding some variation between boards as the stain is absorbed differently between boards and brush strokes.
Overall, in appearance. Treated decking is comparable to the entry lines of Trex. If you move up in price to Select or Transcend, the appearance of Trex increases considerably. Making Trex the better-looking decking.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the better-looking boards will cost you three to four times more than treated decking but without the annual maintenance.
Trex vs Pressure Treated – Durability
Decks are built to be enjoyed, not just to be seen. Durable decking is valuable decking. Decking that wears well under constant foot traffic, the occasional pulling of chairs and spilling of ketchup, grease and beer on the deck. Not that you intend to, but accidents happen. The decking must hold up against all life throws at or drops on it.
Decking Staining Comparison
For the accidental spills, Trex’s polymer cap protects like few other things. Making that spills can easily be wiped up without staining or damaging the deck.
Pressure treated, on the other hand, is receptive to staining, from accidental grease drippings to splashes from your wine glass. It will all stain-treated decking.
The level of staining is dependent of a few things.
The more recently the deck has been stained. The intentional stain, not the one spilled. Stain deuterates, therefore newer will resist better. Also, stain seals the wood against moisture. Slowing the absorption of the spill, giving you a few more seconds to clean off the decking before staining.
Also, the brown colour of the decking can hide the stain. The spill creating only a darker spot on the deck, not an ugly stain. The decking is still stained but can be overlooked more than on other wood decking.
Treated decking can be sanding and re-stained to minimize accidental staining, but if deeper than the wood’s surface will leave a permanent mark. With no remedy except for replacement.
Another difference between pressure treated and Trex is damage from shoes to chairs.
Pressure treated decking, unlike Trex, which has consistent material strength except for its cap. Transcend being a more durable cap than the other lines. Treated decking may include many different types of wood. For consistency, we will use Ponderosa Pine, the most common treated wood in Canada and Northern US.
Comparing Decking Hardness
The harder the material, the less it will be indented.
Trex is not consistent in resisting scratches, but all Trex decking is harder than treated decking. A rock on the bottom of your shoe will leave a mark sooner on treated decking than Trex.
The core of Trex is firmer than pine, allow more pressure without indenting the decking.
Trex decking can be indented but much less than treated decking.
On the rare occasion, you will actually test the decking’s ability not to break. With both, it will take a lot of force to break the boards, especially when supported with joist at 16″ o.c., which is required.
But how much can you pack unto the deck before the boards break under the weight? How heavy of furniture is too much?
But to give us a number to compare, we will turn to Modulus of Elasticity (MOE).
One of the weaknesses of composite decking is strength.Almost every installation instruction warns that composite decking is not structural. Every end board needs blocking.
This is clear when comparing the stiffness of treated decking and Trex. How much pressure can be applied before they snap?
Unlike Trex, pressure treated decking is strong enough to be considered a structural material. Yes, the thinner the board, the less weight the board can support. Hence why 5/4 decking needs to be supported with joists every 16” (400mm), but still, it is stronger than composite.
Decking Resistance to Becoming Deformed
How much pressure can the decking withstand before becoming deformed?
Not only is pine stiffer than Trex, but it also takes more to deform.
There is a little difference between pressure treated and Trex for deforming. With treated, we are looking to see how much weight will crush the wood fibres. Destroying their cohesion.
With Trex being plastic base, we are testing have much pressure will deform the decking. How much weight can be applied before the decking will not bounce back to its original shape.
Slightly different in testing but revealing how much stronger pressure treated is. Treated wood decking will take six times the weight of Trex to crush.
Making pressure treated one strong decking.
Trex vs Pressure Treated – Pricing
Pricing is always a tricky one, constantly changing from region to region, fluctuating with the season. In fact, just crossing the street at times can save you a few hundred on a deck. But this should give you a sense of the cost of pressure treated and Trex decking. At least in comparison to each other.
Unlike Trex, seasonality plays a significant role in the price of treated decking. Winter is often the best time to buy wood decking as it least expensive in the off-season. As the mercury rises in the summer, so does the price of decking.
|Pressure Treated Decking Line||Lineal Price|
|5/4×6 [1”x5.5”]||$1.00 – 1.75|
|2×6 [1 ½”x 5 ½”]||$1.75 – 2.25|
The chart shows why 5/4 decking has become so popular for decking. It is just cheaper. The improved appearance is just a bonus. Fifty percent less material but reducing cost by even more.
It should be noted when comparing Trex and treated decking that all Trex decking is less than 1”. Their select line is only 7/8” (22mm) thick. Plus, both Enhance lines are scalloped, which is a creative way of reducing material without reducing thickness.
|Trex Decking Lines||Lineal Price|
|Transcend||$4.15 – 4.50|
|Select||$2.65 – 3.10|
|Enhance Natural||$2.05 – 2.50|
|Enhance Basics||$1.85 – $2.20|
Trex’s premier line, Transcend, is under $5 a lineal foot, but the cost quickly drops from there. Till reaching Enhance Basics, one of the lowest price composites deckings with a 25-year warranty.
“Priced to put the pressure on treated lumber.”Trex Enhance® Basics
Compared to 2×6, Enhance is comparable. Except, of course, you’re getting a thinker board with treated decking.
There are other costs associated with installing composite decking, which are not covered here. Learn more by clicking here.
Depending on when you buy it, 5/4 pressure treated will cost less.
At least initially.
This brings us to maintenance. There is a significant difference in maintenance cost between treated and Trex decking.
Trex vs Pressure Treated – Maintenance
This is probably the determining line between Trex and treated decking, Maintenance. It is the reason that Trex was invented and the most distinguishing difference between the two.
With Trex, there is minimal maintenance. Largely cleaning, especially removing gunk between boards. This can be down either with a bucket and broom or a power washer set low enough not to damage the decking. Both ways will make short work of maintaining a Trex deck. Returning the vibrant colours and looks you first installed.
Treated decking must be cleaned, along with annual staining and repairs of any damaged decking. That said, except for scratching, Pine is less likely to be damaged than Trex. And scratches can be annually sanded out before staining the decking.
Not only is more annual work involved with maintaining a pressure treated deck it will cost you more than a Trex. Depending on if you do the work or hire someone else to.
Hiring someone to stain your treated deck can cost you as much as installing the decking in the first place. With the average cost to stain a deck being between $2-4 a square foot.
Doing the work yourself will reduce cost a little, to as low as $50 to a few hundred depending on your deck’s size. But remember that you will need to schedule time on a warm but not too hot day to do the work.
If you love working on your deck, treated is great. If not, low-maintenance Trex may be a better option.
Trex vs Pressure Treated – Warranty
Trex is warrantied for 25-years.
A universal 25 years on all their decking line from Transcend to Enhance Basic. It doesn’t matter what you pay for it. It is covered for 25-years.
Trex decking is all pro-rated. The first 10-years are fully covered, with 100% replacement for the failure of the product. Then diminishing by 10% every three years.
Trex is not only warrantied for 25 years but includes labour for a portion of the time.
This is a new development in composite decking warranties. The labour to install decking is often as much or more than the cost for the material. Covering labour makes sure you are not on the hook for labour if the decking fails. Increasing the value of the warranty substantially.
Trex steps their warranty based on the contractor doing the work.
- TrexPro 1 Year
- TrexPro Gold 3 Years
- TrexPro Platinum 5 Years
Trex goes into much more detail of what differs the companies. Simply put, the better the company, the more training and experienced the installer, the longer the warranty.
As a deck contractor, I like the idea of offering a 5-year warranty, supporting Trex’s approach. It just makes sense to have more faith in a more established company than one just starting out. A company with a good track record will do a better job, reducing the chances of failure.
Pressure Treated Decking
Unlike Trex which is only made by Trex, pressure treated decking is made by many different companies. Meaning there are many different warranties and levels of protection. We will use Prowood which Home Depot sells, but this is not a universal warranty. Lowes sells EcoLife treated decking with a slightly different warranty. But check your manufacture’s warranty for exact comparison.
Prowood has Lifetime Limited Warranty for pressure treated decking against rot, fungal decay, and termite damage. To be clear, this does not include fading or staining, which are included with Trex decking.
There are some interesting exclusions from the warranty.
- All cuts and drill holes need to be brushed with endcoat preservative.
- Any boards that have been cut lengthwise or surface.
- Any damage to the wood such as raised grain, splitting, checking, twisting, warping, shrinkage, swelling, or any other physical property of the wood.
In short, your decking is only warranted against rotting. If anything else happens to it, that’s not covered. On top of that, except for minor cutting, everything else voids the warranty. Largely, it’s the treatment they are warranting not the decking.
Unlike Trex, there is no coverage for cost of replacement or removal.
Another important note is under deck ventilation. Often overlooked but is critical for the health of a deck, is ventilation. The air under a deck can become humid if not ventilated, causing rot. To be fair, composite decking also should have ventilation.
Trex has the better warranty, not in length but what is included. Or more specifically, what is not excluded.
Trex is warrantied against breaking, fading or staining.
Pressure treated against rot.
With Trex, if you cannot use your deck, you can make a warranty claim and expect replacement. Many things could make your deck undesirable with pressure treated decking but are not covered under the warranty.
Trex vs Pressure Treated – Which Is Better for You?
Now for the hard part, choosing which decking will be right for you for the next 25 or more years. Wow, that’s a long time!
Comparing Trex vs Pressure treated decking for
I think of these five categories, Trex is the best choice.
But this depends a lot on what you value most and your use of your deck.
Pressure treated is more durable except for scratches and initially will cost less. But the benefits of pressure treated wood end here.
Trex composite decking requires less maintenance. Providing more time for relaxing on the deck and more money to entertain friends on your deck.
Trex includes more things in their warranty. Promising that you will have fewer problems with your deck. Fewer problems, equalling less stress. That’s a good thing.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I think Trex has come along way in improving its appearance than when it first appeared in 1996. It has it own unique look, creating a beautiful outdoor floor.
Price is the biggest hurdle for Trex. When your contemplating building a deck, the price tag for Trex will be bigger than pressure treated. The spread has shrunk recently with the introduction of Enhance Basics but is still more. But decks are not like a summer vacation, used once never to be enjoyed again. You may pay more initially for a Trex deck but a few times staining pressure treated, and you will wonder why you didn’t just pay a little more for Trex. Less work, less yearly costs.
Earlier I gave durability to pressure treated decking. But this is subject to what will damage your decking. In most cases, it will not be falling bowling balls or overweighted chairs. The most common damage to decking, is scratches. If this is a concern, Transcend will scratch less.
This is why overall, Trex decking is worth the extra initial cost. Because over the life of your deck, it will be worth it.