A Complete Guide to Composite Decking

From costs to cleaning, here’s everything you need to know about composite decking.

Composite lumber is popular for any backyard living space. When used on a deck, composite decking is low-maintenance, durable, and eco-friendly. This manufactured material comes in a wide variety of materials and finishes to suit any home design. Timber and decking experts break down the benefits, average costs, cleaning, and maintenance considerations for anyone thinking of making a switch to composite decking

What Is Composite Decking? 

Composite decking is made of artificial materials rather than real timber. Pat Noonan, owner of Deck And Basement Company in Minneapolis, explains composite decking is an umbrella term that includes materials manufactured with an engineered mix of ingredients that blend wood fibers with inorganic materials, like plastic and bonding agents. Jamie Penney, outdoor design expert and CEO of TheBackyardPros, adds that composite decking is usually made from 100% polymer or organic wood and plastic. Although composite decking is artificial, many of the matters are recycled.

There are several types of composite decking options available that offer a range of benefits. Composite decking is more durable than traditional wood decking. It won’t splinter, crack, or peel as it ages. Composite decking requires much less maintenance because the materials never need to be stained, sanded, or sealed. Noonan also says composite decking is fade-resistant, stain-resistant, and moisture-resistant. This means there’s no mold, mildew, or rot. The composite decking material is usually covered by a protective warranty from the manufacturer. If wood tends to warp and degrade in the outdoor climate around your home, then composite decking might be an ideal choice.

If you think you’ll have the same setup for many years to come, composite decking is an ideal building material. If you’d like to change the finishes, shape, or features over time, maybe not.

composite deck with plant on it

Getty Images/ronstik

How Much Does Composite Decking Cost?

The cost of composite decking can vary since materials within the product can also vary. Penney highlights that composite decking is much cheaper than a wooden deck. The latter usually costs $40 per square foot, while a composite deck usually costs $13 per square foot. Based on the national average, deck size is 16 by 20 square feet, according to Noonan, a composite deck of that size would cost roughly $4100 - $4500. However, William Branham, co-owner of HOU Concrete Contractors, says that some composite decking can cost as low as $3 to $5 per square foot.

Material costs are only one component of the total cost of a deck project. Noonan says the pricing materials may also vary based on region and the product you select for your deck. Experts say that labor, the substructure condition where the deck will be installed, the grade of your backyard, the cost of permits, and any design enhancements, such as railings or lights, will also add to the overall cost of any deck project. 

What Are Some Cleaning and Maintenance Considerations for Composite Decking?

A real benefit of composite decking is they don’t require much maintenance. Penney says all you need to do is dab soapy water on the deck with a cloth. If there are any stains, he recommends using a toothbrush for a deeper clean. 

Branham says to avoid harsh chemicals or power washing when cleaning a composite deck because it can damage the material. Sweeping the deck with a soft-bristled brush and, again, using a mild soap and water solution can be effective in removing dirt or stains. “For best results, follow the manufacturer’s care instructions,” Branham says.

Noonan adds that manufactured decking materials don’t need sanding and or annual sealings. A good cleaning and inspection once a year should do the job. Otherwise, all the deck requires is a simple scrubbing and rinsing as needed. The low-maintenance qualities of composite decking can also help save time and money over the long run. 

What Are Some Installation Considerations for Composite Decking?

Installing a composite deck is an easy way to extend an indoor space to the outdoors. Noonan adds that because decks are commonly connected to homes, you may need a permit to make these structural alterations. The first step is to contact your local building authority to ensure the project follows their specific guidelines and that you obtain any permits required for construction. 

While composite decking is low-maintenance, it is not impervious to weather and natural disasters. “If you live in a fire zone,” Noonan says, “it’s also essential you choose fire-resistant decking to help protect your home and family in the event of a wildfire.” Composite decking is less susceptible to fire than many types of wood, but homes in fire-prone areas should be protected with fire-resistant products or upgrades.

Also, Branham says homeowners should consider their home’s location and its foundation before installing a composite deck. “In some cases, composite decking can be installed directly on the ground; however, homes in colder climates may require an elevated foundation to prevent the material from freezing and cracking,” he notes. He also recommends considering wind speeds in your area, as high winds can cause materials to lift and shift over time.

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