If you’re considering building a deck on your property, one of the single most important choices you can make is the type of material to use for the project. The two most popular decking materials by far are natural hardwood (such as Ipe or Teak decking) and composite boards. While composite decking certainly has its strong points, manufacturers of composite boards may have created a false impression of the material’s true capabilities. In fact, certain composite decking manufacturers have actually been parties in class action law suits in which a multitude of unhappy customers filed claims against them stating that their materials were defective and unsatisfactory. While the following facts probably aren’t applicable to every individual brand, they should help to provide you with a general idea of the many hidden drawbacks to composite decking:
1. They contain wood (but not good wood).
Many homeowners do very little research about their decking materials, so it often surprises them to learn that composite decking boards still contain the wood to which they are supposedly superior and are designed to replace. A mix of plastic (often old bottles or bags) and wood pulp, composite decks are therefore not the completely wood-free product that many people believe them to be. What’s more, the wood pulp that is used in composite decks is often made from very low grade wood, wood that has not been approved for outdoor use at all. Tree bark, pine fibers, and spruce fibers are all examples of types of wood that have been found in composite decks’ wood pulp. Because these types of wood are not suitable for exterior applications, this means…
2. They’re still susceptible to mold.
That’s right: mold. Despite the fact that many composite deck manufacturers market their products as being mold-free, this simply is not the case. Not only are composite decks susceptible to mold on the surface, but due to the nature of the small wood fibers, mold can also grow within the boards themselves, which poses an enormous risk to structural integrity. Furthermore, this mold growth can cause the surface of the deck to become extremely slippery when it becomes wet, something which could pose a huge hazard to homeowners. To combat this mold growth, the composite decking manufacturing companies have offered two solutions (and we say “solutions” with extreme hesitance.):
First, you can spray your deck with bleach. This is generally an undesirable course of action, however, because not only is bleach toxic to your yard and pets, but because it is highly corrosive to composite decking materials, the chemical can also damage the deck in terms of appearance, stability, and safety. Not only that, but bleach is a temporary solution, so the mold will almost certainly reappear with a vengeance.
The second solution that the composite decking companies have offered to the “slippery when wet” mold problem is to manufacture composite boards with ridges and grooves for better traction. However, this solution is just as inadequate as the first, because, although these grooves do serve to improve traction on the moldy deck, the grooved pattern actually provides an ideal environment for mold growth, meaning the mold will appear faster and will be harder to remove. As an added drawback, the grooves make traffic wearing patterns nearly impossible to hide.
3. They aren’t really maintenance-free.
Composite decks’ strongest marketing point is that they are supposedly maintenance free, but, as exhibited above, this simply isn’t true. In addition to harboring damaging mold, untreated composite decks are also susceptible to fading, as well as staining. The problem of fading was so widespread that it was actually included as one of the official grievances in the class action lawsuit (mentioned above) filed against the world’s largest composite decking manufacturer. So yes, composite decks are maintenance free- but only if you don’t mind having a crummy deck.
Again, while these drawbacks are probably not applicable to every composite deck, they are prevalent enough that a multitude of complaints have been filed about them. Furthermore, because composite board, unlike wood boards, are manufactured and synthetic, there is no guarantee that every board is of consistent quality. And with most of the claims made by the composite companies having been proven false time and time again, who’s to say what part of their marketing campaign (if any) really is trustworthy? Wood, on the other hand, has been used for centuries upon centuries and is a time-tested and consistently reliable decking material.
Learn more about real wood decking options: