Which Decking is Better? Treated Wood vs Composite


When deciding between treated 5/4 wood or composite decking, there are several things to consider. Characteristics of each decking that makes it advantageous for your deck or not. A quick comparison between composite decking a treated decking is.

Composite decking will last longer, require less maintenance, and overall perform better but cost significantly more than 5/4 treated decking. 5/4 treated wood decking is more economical but requires more maintenance than composite decking and is limited in design.

That’s a concise comparison between the two deckings, but the details explain much more. Details that will help select the right decking.

It is not as easy to say if you want a cheap deck for less than ten years, use treated decking. But if you plan to enjoy the deck longer, spend the extra money and install composite decking. But the length of time you plan to use the deck does play a significant role in choosing between the two boards.

Before going further in comparing the two decking options, we must first define the decking.

Composite decking is a hybrid of wood and plastic formed into deck boards, often with a hard polymer cap protecting and enhancing the decking’s appearance. There are some exceptions, like DecoratorsOpens in a new tab., a mineral-based composite with less potential for water damage or rot.

Composite decking should not include lines like Azek, which is 100% synthetic capped polymer material (PVC). Often grouped together in conversation but is a different product with different advantages and disadvantages, making a direct comparison between boards difficult. But at its core, is not a composite material as it is singular in composure.

The two largest manufactures of composite decking are TrexOpens in a new tab. and Timbertech Azek. Decorators, FiberonOpens in a new tab., MoistureShield and Armadillo are also significant producers of composite decking.

5/4 Treated Decking is Spruce, Pine or Fir wood milled to 1″ (25mm) thick with a slightly rounded smoothing out the decking edges, treated with Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ) to prevent fungi and rot of the wood decking.  Traditionally treated decking was treated with Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) but is less common since 2004, with the industry voluntarily discounting the use for residential application.

Manufacture by Taiga Products, Wolmanized® and MicroPro SiennaOpens in a new tab., just to name a few. Slight variation in treatment and look but overall, the same product. To the point where I have mixed together brands before while installing treated decking. Something I would never do with composite.

Now let’s get to comparing the two decking options in detail.

Cost; Treated Vs Composite Decking

Price is one of the great divides between these two decking options. Treated decking is around $2, and the closest comparison in composite is Trex Basic line at $5 a square foot.  With most composite deckingOpens in a new tab. being more around $8 to $10 range but can be even more.

On top of the decking, board price is the cost of fasteners. Treated 5/4 decking can for as little as $0.35 a square foot using Camo edge fasteners, providing a lovely smooth decking without screw heads or dimples on the boards.

Trex hidden fasteners will cost around a dollar a square foot, but the ones used for TimbertechOpens in a new tab. and many other composite boards are closer to two dollars a square foot. Adding to the cost of composite decking. You can Camo or other fasteners with many composites, but often it will not perform as well as the hidden fasteners designed for the specific composite decking.

Cost of fasteners for a 12′ by 12′ deck

Camo edge screws$51
Composite Hidden Fasteners$230

In short, expect to pay at least three times more for composite decking than treated decking. Which raises the question, why would you use composite decking instead of treated?

Maintenance: Composite Vs Treated Wood Decking

The difference in maintenance is often the determining factor between the two. If you are tired of weekends sanding and staining your deck or don’t want to hire someone ever again. Composite decking is for you. Not cheap but low maintenance.

Composite decking with its hard polymer cap and plastic-covered wood core requires little maintenance. It will not rot, mold or absorb water with little fading. Except for regular cleaning, you will need to do no extra work with a composite deck as they require no additional staining, sanding or sealing.

More time to enjoy on your deck, not working on your deck.”

Composite decks actual become cheaper over time, without the cost of yearly maintenance. Often somewhere between eight and ten years, what ever you saved in buying wood decking will have been spent in maintenance. Some stains last longer, extending the time between required staining to as much as three years.  But even with these, by fifteen years, a composite deck will be cheaper than wood.

Deck Life: Composite Vs Treated Decking

How long you plan to use the deck may help you decide which decking is best for you. As we see with maintenance, even if you have to pay some to stain your deck regularly, wood decking will cost less than composite until after fifteen years. So, if you only plan to use the deck for less than ten years, wood decking may be a better choice. Even if you have to pay someone to sand and stain the deck.

If you do the work yourself, this time is extended even further. A bucket of quality stain costing around $80 every three years extends a wood deck’s life considerably at a minimal cost. Taking almost forty years before the wood deck will cost as much as a composite one. But that only counts if you do the work. If you are good with thirteen weekends sanding and staining the deck, wood is an excellent, economical choice.

Decking Warranty: Treated Wood Vs Composite Decking

But the cost of staining is only one consideration. The expected life of the decking, as reflected in the warranty, makes a difference. There is a point that staining and care will not be of value anymore, and replacement is necessary.

Treated wood decking is a hard one to nail down for warranty and life span. The more you care for the decking, the longer it will last. Which puts the onus on you, the homeowner. Regular cleaning and staining will extent the deck’s life. Still, Wolmanized® wood decking comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty if properly installed. A bold conditional claim of the life of wood decking.

I think it would be better to base exterior wood life expectancy on experience. The average wood deck will last between 15 and 25 years, depending on condition and sealing. The more regularly the decking is stain or seal, the longer it will last. Along with good construction practise like ventilationOpens in a new tab. under the deck and 6″ (150mm) distance between the ground and the decking.

 Synthetic material like composite decking is a little clearer of warranty. Most quality composite decking has a 25-years warranty. TimberTech composite deckingOpens in a new tab. adds a few more years, giving you a full 30-year guarantee.

Under the right conditions and the proper care, both wood and composite, will last 25 years. A good long time, outlasting most of our deck plans. But under harsher conditions or if you are consistent with care, composite with its built in care will outlasting treated decking. By as much as three times. Making composite a better choice.

Decking Appearance: Treated Wood Vs Composite Decking

This is a little harder to quantify. Which looks better? Wood or Composite. The ironic thing is, the better the composite finishes, the more they brag it looks like wood. With many composite boards having wood names, all to add to the illusion of wood.

TimberTechOpens in a new tab., in particular, has tried very hard to imitate the look of wood. Claiming with many boards if placed behind a sheet of glass, you can not distinguish between a stained wood board and composite one. With the added advantage that its look and colour will still be healthy many years from now. Which cannot be said for wood decking.

“Capture the essence of nature with the artisanal TimberTech PRO Legacy Collection. These boards feature a complex blend of hues, natural board-to-board colour variation, and a hand-scraped texture that offers Old World charm. Just as every tree found in nature is unique, every deck board in the Legacy Collection is too, so you can create a one-of-a-kind deck.”

TOpens in a new tab.imberTech

Of all the creators of composite decking, TimberTech seems to lean most into emphasizing their decking appearance. This shows up in how they describe their decking, how it is displayed and most importantly, on your deck.

I am not saying that other brands do not have great looking decking. They do. But as a whole, TimberTech decking fits well using words like

  • Cathedral wood grain pattern
  • Vivid and elegant blend of colours 
  • Reclaimed wood
  • Complex
  • Rugged wood grain pattern

Having built many decks using TimberTechOpens in a new tab. decking, and these are fitting words to describe them.

They, along with many other companies, have more subdued board designs. Decking with a simple design and appearance. But many composite deck boards stand alone in appearance. Making selecting composite deckingOpens in a new tab. for appearance sake only, justifiable. It is that good looking. All the years of low maintenance enjoyment is icing on the cake.

Composite decking designs are not for everyone. 

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

Both treated and composite decking have their own unique beauty and charm. For some the natural brown stained woods accents their home perfectly. The variety of colours from Sea Salt Gray to Mocha and or something between will complement their homes for years to come. With a distinct unfading beauty that only composite decking can bring. 

Whatever you choose, take the time to see what decking will look best with your home. What is fitting for your house? Some houses are much more suited to a calmer, less eye-popping decking provided by the subtle earth tone of treated decking, but some cry out to be noticed. Design the deck to blend in with the architecture of the house.  If that an edgy composite design or something more subdued, or traditional wood decking. Match the decking to its surroundings and the look you are looking for.  

Durability; Treated Wood Vs Composite Decking

When comparing durability between the two, composite outperforms wood in all categories.

 5/4″ Treated DeckingComposite Decking
Colour-FastLowHigh
Mould/Mildew ResistanceLowHigh
Scratch ResistanceMed lowMed high
Resistance to StainingLowHigh
Resistance to BurnsMedLow

The one redeeming characteristic of wood decking is the ability to repair. Wood decking may fade but can be re-stained, returning it to its original colour or something new. Scratches, stains or burns can all be sand out of wood decking.

Something that cannot be done with composite. For minor scratches, composite can be repaired with heat, but care must be taken as not to damage the decking by overheating or burning the decking.  Which composite is least resistant to, fire and heat.

The ability to repair is another contrasting point between the two decking boards. Where composite is created very durable resistant to damage, but if it does get damaged. It often must be replaced.

Where wood decking is easier to damage, it is also easier to repair.

Composite is durable by design, but treated wood decking can be repaired easier if damaged.  

Performance; Treated Wood Vs Composite Decking

Finally, when weighing between decking options, all decking must pass the barefoot test. How will the decking feel under your bare feet? In the summer heat, when you toss of the sandals and stroll across the deck.

 5/4″ Treated WoodComposite
Splinter FreeNoYes
Heat DissipationMedHigh
Slip ResistantMedMed-Low

Now to discredit the very chart I created. These are very broad strokes, group a wide variety of decking into one category, in particular composite decking. With everyone, there is an exception. A deck board that is not hot has excellent traction or is even prone to chipping with rough edges.

Quick comparison:

  • Wood decking is cooler, equal in traction as composite decking, but you may get slivers in your feet.
  • Composite decking is hotter in the sun, provides equal grip without slivers compared to treated wood decking.

Now for a few composite exceptions. Be warned as I write this. We are gearing up in anticipation for the new lines being released for the next building season. As you read this, I am confident that this is not an exhaustive list and that there are new composite decking boards to consider.

Splinters

Regarding splinter, it is almost zero chance you will get a splinter from composite because of how the product is made. I have cut myself on freshly cut board. The cap has the potential to be sharp but a sliver, highly unlikely.

With treated wood decking, I never consider a wood deck complete till it is sanded. If you regularly sand the decking before staining, the chances of splinter are reduced. As with everything wood, with enough TLC, it performs very well. It is mostly from neglect that splinters form on wood decking.

Hot on Your Feet

All decking is hot, wood, composite, aluminum. The mere fact of a flat reflective surface makes it hot from the sun’s rays. Concrete may take longer to heat up, thus feeling cool, but once it burns more than decking because of the amount of heat.

The difference between composite and wood for decking is not the heat, but how fast it transfers. Composite transfers almost instantly. As your foot touches the decking, it becomes instantly hot.

There are a few boards that transfer less or hold less heat. First, PVC decking is not compositeOpens in a new tab., but if you are in the market for synthetic decking, it is a beautiful choice for appearances and being cooler. TimberTech marks their Harvest Collection as cooler boards.

Another option within composite is the colour selection. As my kids are learning in elementary school, lighter colours are cooler than dark ones. To the point where they believe if your T-shirt is black, you will be warm out in the snow. Not that easy, but similar.   Almost all light colour boards will be cooler to the touch than their darker counterpart, even within the same decking line. TimberTech White Wash Cedar is explicitly designed to reduce the heat by lighting the board’s colour.

MoistureShieldOpens in a new tab. has gone even further and has formulated some of the boards with CoolDeck® Technology promising to reduce heat absorption by up to 35% by up to 35%. Cathedral Stone, Mochaccino and Cold Brew, to name a few from the Vision line. Going right to the heart of the issue, the core of the decking to reduce heat.

Slip Resistant

How slippery decking is often is a question of how clean it is. Both wood and composite decking will provide better grip if clean from slim, moss and mildew. Cleaning these and the dirt off the decking will increase traction.

For composite, the design of the surface is critical. Boards with an embossed texture often presented as wood grain will grip your feet better, keeping you on your feet.  MoistureShield and TimberTech claim to have high levels of slip resistance. When rated by CCMC, they do not score as well as claimed. But for composite boards, they have better grip than most.

You need to feel individual deck lines to find ones with good grip. The greater the texture, the more your fingernails get caught in the grooves, the better. More generous texture increases friction translating into traction on the decking.

The Terrain collection from TimberTech is an excellent composite group with good traction.

Conclusion of comparing Treated Wood and Composite Decking

Thank you for coming along with me, in this long comparison of decking options. I hope you are better educated on which decking is best for you and your deck.

There are a number of other things we have not considered, environmental impact, construction requirements, and return on investment at the time of sale. But I believe these are the most important for choosing between composite and wood decking. The rest can be accommodated for or are a different conversation that preludes shopping for decking.

Yes, cost and maintenance are the most significant deciding factor between the two. But there is more to choosing decking than how much it will cost, and will I need to take care of it. Important yes, but we must look at the whole of the decking and what it offers to know which is best. Which decking will give you years of enjoyment?

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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