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Would You Rather: Real Wood vs. Composite Decking

July 28, 2014  —  Written by Julia Marcum 

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Our actual back-backyard is pretty small. We are anxious to get the fence finished in the next couple days because we know that will help define a larger backyard for our family that will include our expansive side yards, but as for the back–this is what we’re working with:

IMG_9442

Womp, womp. That scalloped fence belongs to a neighbor, btw. We have french doors leading out to this area from the living area in the great room. When we were thinking about what to do with this back area, we knew a large deck would be perfect. Trying to make use of a small grass area seemed pointless since we have so much grass elsewhere.

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What we didn’t have was an outdoor entertaining space and converting this small patch into that   is something that makes us giddy. Outdoor lounging and eating is something we haven’t really had before. In our chats about the deck plans, we keep getting stuck on the detail of composite decking vs. wood decking.

wood-vs-composite

When we polled you for the half bath vs. pantry–you had so much insight. It gave us the courage to definitely ditch the 4th bathroom and make room for some big plans. So let’s hear from you again–would you rather composite decking or real wood decking and why? Or maybe you have had to make the same choice. We’d love to hear your experience!

decking photo credit: here and here

What do you think?

  1. Judith says:

    I have no deck and no opinion one way or the other. But since I’ve seen ipe mentioned a few times in the comments, here’s a blog where a couple has built a garage surrounding as well as fence out of it. They’ve just finished it (the garage, the fence was a bit earlier this year), and also talk about considerations of oiling vs. letting it age etc. Maybe you’re interested:

    http://afirepoleinthediningroom.com/2014/07/10/ipe-wrapped-garage/

    There are more posts in this year’s archive. On the fence-posts (ha!) they also showed how the pre-routed part for assembly works.

  2. Shauna says:

    I think the wood looks so much nicer than the other one, in my area a lot of people also go for stone which looks awesome too! The only thing I say for wood though is that it can be so slippery when it gets wet, which in Ireland is 99% of the year though I hope you have much better weather there :-)

  3. RLB says:

    We struggled with this decision too 2 years ago and decided to go with ipe wood (aka, brazilian ironwood). It’s as dense as can be. A piece of ipe is at least twice as heavy as pressure treated wood. The is an extra cost, but it’s worth it because you don’t have the plastic look and feel of a composite, and you don’t the maintenance issues with other wood. Ipe is insect proof, fire resistant and is so soft underfoot that I often find myself lying down on our deck!

    We chose to apply and ipe oil to keep it looking dark/rich, but I’ve seen pictures ipe decks left bare and it grays so nicely. This wood needs no treatment at all if you choose to have none.

    Ipe probably costs 25% more than pressure-treated pine, and your deck builder will probably up-charge for the labor because it wears out saw blades very quickly and is tough to screw into. We used hidden fasteners — the ipe boards come with a routed edge to accept these types of clips.

    Good luck!

  4. Lauren says:

    Just bought our first house in the PNW and our wood deck is shot. We got some structural upgrades done through our contract, but before winter hits, we will probably have to put in some serious love. (And money.) I know nothing of composite, other than a big expense. I think real wood is seriously beautiful, but as others have mentioned, factor in cost of maintenance and care in your estimates. But it’s a family thing. We just chose laminate floors over real wood because it makes way more sense in our neighborhood (selling in a few years) and with a dog and a soon to be toddler. Go with what works best for your family.

  5. Ann says:

    I just finished stripping and staining our 25 year old deck (pressure treated lumber). It is back breaking work! If I had the choice to rebuild it I would combine it with composite. Wood for the structure and the deck floor and stairs and composite for the spindles, rails and lattice. The only parts we have replaced are the tops of the handrails and the lattice underneath. We do restain every 3 or so years. I stripped it this time to change the color.

  6. Hilary says:

    We redid our deck last summer and definitely went with composite. As someone else said, there are so many yard things to take care of in the summer that we didn’t want to add sealing or staining a deck to the list.
    We bought our decking from a local lumber yard. They always have some composite boards that get delivered in a less than perfect condition – maybe there is a large scuff or the tannins were bleeding through more than was acceptable. They sell those boards for 60% off the regular price. We went to the yard and had a look at the “rejects” and thought they actually looked fine. Plus the brand we bought was reversible – both sides were finished the same. So even if there was a funny spot on one side we could flip it over and usually the other side was fine. Anyway, we finished our deck with all “rejects” and I really don’t think anyone would know unless we tell them. We bought a few more boards than we needed just in case some looked too damaged, but didn’t end up needing any of the extras. Something to look into if you decide to go with composite.
    Also, we used a light sand coloured composite and I don’t notice that it is too hot to walk on. And the deck is in the direct afternoon sum.

  7. Christine says:

    Composite all the way. I LOVE the look of real hardwood, but it’s so much maintenance and the warping from rain and snow is just too much work. Composite does get hot, but to get around this we built a trellis to cover our deck in the mean time and are working on creating a “covered” outdoor patio!

  8. Mel says:

    I think it really depends on your weather in general and also the micro-climate of your deck area. I live in the Pacific Northwest and there are shady parts of our yard that are always damp even in hottest July; a wooden deck would rot in a hot second, unless it was specially treated for rot and mold, or of an expensive hardwood like ipe…and then you’re getting into it costing just as much as composite but being more maitenance and hassle. Composite is designed to be anti-slip and you don’t have to worry about splinters, which is great for kiddos, but it does get really hot if that part of your yard gets full sun in the afternoons, and it looks kinda…plasticky. The composite-vs-wood debate is why we eventually went with a brick paver patio.

  9. Dawn says:

    We put on a cedar deck about 10 years ago. Without yearly maintenance (sealer) (my husband kept saying cedar doesn’t need it- “it’s natural”) many of our boards are disintegrating on the ends and will need to be replaced. I really wish we had gone for composite. Cedar is a lot of up keep. And we have big decks. Ugh.

  10. Stephanie says:

    We just had our deck redone this summer. Our contractor recommended composite wood but as soon as he found out we had dogs, it was a no go. Dogs will scratch the surface over time.
    That’s my two cents,
    Stephanie

  11. Laura says:

    Long story short – if you get high quality wood, it is easier to maintain than if you purchase bargain wood. You’ll want to be careful with the ice and snow you get in the winter, as it may slowly warp and damage the deck. High quality wood and high quality structure will make this last longer.
    It already wins the aesthetic vote in my book.

  12. Lisa says:

    My sister went with composite. Sorry, it is just ugly, ugly, ugly and peachy orange. It just made the whole front of the house look tacky.

  13. Jennifer R. says:

    Even if I preferred the look, and I don’t, the cost of stain is negligible next to the large upfront cost for composite. Staining yourself may cost you $100 every 3 years. If you let it go an extra year it is not a big deal. As others said you can decide to change stain colors and it is easier to replace worn pieces. I am thinking since that area is relatively shaded you will not have a hard time with upkeep at all.

    I feel like real wood has more authenticity. Composite decking looks like a children’s playhouse to me even when done very well. After a few years the finish of the composite fades and you can not rejuvenate it. The plus is no splinters in little feet though! But it is mostly up to personal taste. I am very particular with finishes feeling a certain way and feeling real. But this may not bother you if you chose faux wood tile and a vinyl fence. Composite exists because there are people who really love it!

  14. Beth says:

    Composite! Seriously, the maintenance on a wood deck is more than I can handle. We have 4 little kids and a larger backyard, and it seems like we can’t ever keep up on all the exterior work of our house, so anything and everything I can do to make it easier on myself, I’m ALL about it! You guys may have it down to a better science, but 3 toddlers (our oldest can occupy herself somewhat) + yard work every weekend = I want to cry when we have to add deck maintenance (or pressure washing/maintaining our cedar siding, for that matter) to our to-do list. I’d much rather be playing t-ball or pushing my kids in a swing……

  15. Maria says:

    If money were no object, I would say composite in a heartbeat for the sole reason of minimum upkeep. However, as others have mentioned, I don’t think it is worth the cost, and I feel like you could change up the look of a wood deck with different stains or even paint if you really wanted to.

  16. Colleen says:

    If you do go for a wood deck, be sure to put in for a higher quality wood that is easier to condition and care for, over a cheap lumber with stain. My childhood home has a cheap lumber deck, which requires staining two – three coats every other year, with touch-ups in between (keep in mind this is a 23 ft by 15 ft deck with spindles every 5 inches and 17 steps down into the backyard, I imagine yours would be smaller). There was also the issue of splinters, even with the regular care. While composite is nice long term, it is pricey, and I find that I am more drawn to the look and feel of actual wood rather than the composite in person (in pictures, it could go either way). Be sure to put in something that you love and will want to take care of and keep, rather than just throwing something together because of all of our votes. Your family should be able to enjoy the space!

  17. chrissie lynn says:

    This country girl says go with real wood, there’s enough plastic (and its subsequent toxins) in the world!

  18. Kathryn says:

    If looks is what you’re going for, then wood is the way to go. I know people talk about rot and splintering but I know lots of decks that, if built properly, have none of those problems. Sure you have to restain it every so often, but it’s only slightly a pain in the butt to do.
    I find composite just to fakey looking. But maybe the styles are getting better now. Oh, and they get super hot in the heat so no barefeet on it in the summer. Although I think your area is pretty shaded so that shouldn’t be an issue.

  19. Stacy T says:

    Hands down – composite. We replaced our rotting cedar deck that needed restaining every other year due to our pacific NW rain with Timbertech XLM 4 years ago. We looked at Azec also but Timbertech was cheaper. Now we only need to pressure wash yearly and it looks fantastic. Our is PVC and has no organic parts so there’s no way it can grow moss on it. Worth every penny and it’s well used and loved.

  20. Amy says:

    We have a redwood deck in SoCal (i.e. no weather conditions to worry about) and it is a pain to maintain, not to mention expensive. Although you don’t have the problem of termites, our deck gets eaten alive which adds to the whole maintenance issue. It’s beautiful when cleaned and stained but that only lasts a few months out of the year until we need to power wash and re-seal certain spots. Our friends who live in Chicago (i.e. lots of weather) have a composite deck and it’s beautiful! One day, when budget allows and the wood deck is on its last leg, we will swap our deck to composite vs. wood.

  21. Janell says:

    We have a composite deck and LOVE it. I powerwash it every couple years and it looks brand new (it’s over 10 years old) – I love not having to worry about slivers in kid’s feet. I’ve heard people caution against how hot composite can get, but ours is a very light color and actually stays cooler that our concrete patio.

  22. Meghan says:

    We chose wood, based on cost; if it were in the budget I definitely would have gone composite. The staining (and re-staining for maintenance) is a huge pain. As well, we went with a dark stain, which was a mistake. It gets quite hot (sandals are a must) and when you re-stain, the chipped areas are basically impossible to cover seamlessly. Team composite!

  23. Allison says:

    Up until recently, I thought I’d prefer a composite deck to a wooden one, since it wouldn’t require as much maintenance. I just learned that some composite materials can grow mold easily! My friends used whatever composite material is at the home improvement stores, and they have mold issues 3 years later. I’d be curious to see your research on the different composite brands, though.

    Would you consider stone or decorative cement options?

  24. Jackie says:

    If the benefit of composite (and the thus the reason for the added costs) is the low level of maintenance it requires, then I think you should choose wood and allocate those funds to the other projects in your home.

    You are two young homeowners that have more skill and interest in home projects than the average homeowner (hence your blog) and are more than capable of taking care of the interim updates a wood deck would require -you’re in the prime of your life to do projects exactly like re-staining a deck.

    My parents had a wood deck in their old home that they had to refinish every couple years- my Dad really enjoyed it. When they relocated and got a composite deck in their new home it made sense because they were then in their 60s and couldn’t accommodate any back-breaking deck repair or refinishing like they used to. Now my Dad enjoys power-washing instead. If this is your forever home – you should get the composite deck in 15-20 years to serve you through the remainder of your time in that home.

    If you’re not sure whether this would be your forever home, you should still opt for wood instead as the benefit of the cost would be serving the owner that comes in after you. Although one could argue that the composite deck would increase the value of your home – you have to make sure that that doesn’t put you into home value category that is more than what is actually reasonable for the value of homes in your neighborhood from a future selling standpoint. If your home is reassessed post-composite deck, you’ll be paying taxes for a house value that you actually won’t be able to sell if for – again putting more of the benefit of the cost to the future owners of the home than to you.

    To summarize – in addition to evaluating the performance of deck options and scoping out the amount of maintenance, I would also contact some realtors for your area and evaluate what seems to be most prevalent for the neighborhood.

    • Jackie says:

      One other point I forgot to mention. I would see if you’re able to survey the performance of the decks in your neighborhood from the recent flood. Were any completely destroyed? If so, what were they made of? Was it decks and patios of all types?

      Also, would a deck be covered in your homeowner’s policy? (Might be a part of Coverage D where garages, pool houses, etc. are listed or it is a part of Coverage A and is considered part of the building). I would see where the deck would fall and if you’d get any increase to your premiums as a result of the deck and if there is a difference in what the premium increase would be if a wood deck vs. composite.

  25. Julie says:

    Just something to research, but I know a number of people who have composite decks and wasps are very attracted to them. Maybe wasps like all types of decks, I am not sure, just something to be aware of.

  26. Cindy says:

    Such great insight in these comments. We are putting in a deck soon, so I’ll be following this discussion closely!

  27. Mallory says:

    We had to make this same decision a couple years ago and because of cost decided on wood, (it would have doubled the entire budget). Now that we’re on the other side, and a couple weeks out from having to stain for the second time, I would definitely say composite! The natural wood is nice, and it’s not our forever home so putting the money into composite wasn’t smart, but it weathers so quickly. The deck is something to enjoy, you shouldn’t have to dread maintaining it!

  28. Haley says:

    I vote wood decking! If it was going to be bigger I would think it would be more of a debate in my mind, but it doesn’t seem like it will be too big and the maintenance isn’t too difficult.

  29. Jordan says:

    I was in the natural wood camp allllll the way for a long time… Until we bought a house where the previous owners had installed composite. I was literally upset that they had spent the money on it because I knew it would be something that would bother me. BUT, then I lived with it. I’m telling you, it so so so nice to never have to worry about the deck. Our old deck was wood and beautiful for a year (or two, if we pushed it) but the maintenance was a chore we dreaded every year (it was roughly 20’x15′). We’re on our second summer with the composite that is about 8 years old. One deck is covered, the other open, and both look awesome! We have wrought iron railings that dresses it up, as well. I wouldn’t ever go back!

  30. Jeanna says:

    Oh my gosh, composite for sure. I have a huge wrap around deck on the house that is wood. We have been here for years, and I STILL have issues with sap every summer. I don’t know how the previous owners prepped the wood before painting/staining, but I have scraped, used a special sealer for knots applied twice, used a special primer that was supposed to stop bleed through ,you name it. The porch needs to be painted about every 2 years, and that is a huge job that my husband refuses to help with. I hate walking out there in the summer having to dodge another area of sap that is coming through. :( I love the look of the wrap around porch, but all the maintenance is such a headache! Never again!

  31. Pat says:

    Natural is the best. Great look for the natural wood. Plastic is plactic.

  32. Kimberly says:

    I would do patio pavers…not a deck.

    • Claire says:

      Agreed… is there a reason you must (or want to) do a deck and not a patio? Seems like you might have an odd transition at the neighbor’s fenceline with a raised deck.

      • Julia says:

        I really REALLY pushed for a paver patio or limestone, even brick! But, we have a lot of Quaking Aspens in our yard (and our neighbors) and the roots are poking up quite a bit in our backyard. We talked to a lanscaping company and they said they could remove the roots, but there is no guarantee the tree won’t die. Eeeks! So, that’s how we settled on a ground-level deck. There will be lots of plants and privacy shrubs around the perimeter, so hopefully the transition won’t be too weird.

  33. Michele says:

    We just replaced an old deck that was here when we bought the house and had the same dilemma. I tend to think in terms of spending extra up front only when it makes sense to do so. In this case I would invest in composite only if you prefer it and it’s what you want. If this is not your ‘forever home’ that large cash outlay will never pay off for you because at the end of the day to a buyer it’s just a deck and they’re not going to pay more because you chose a composite material for it. You have to do what makes sense long term for you.
    (Composite decking mfg also stopped using the “maintenance free” language in their advertising after lawsuits. Those of us who own homes know that NO part of any home is maintenance free!)

  34. STEPHANIE says:

    We have done a lot of high end houses in my firm and the majority of them use the composite decking or Ipe (which is super expensive and gets really hot!) There are some really great composites out that that are actually made of wood and environmentally friendly. Look into Geolam or Resysta if you go that route. The stuff they sell at the Depot looks as cheap as it is. But my parents have a wood deck that is…33 years old and has never been stained…so as long as you do that right it will last too!

  35. I’m in the natural wood camp. I just love the look more, but realize upkeep might be annoying in the long run.

  36. Meg says:

    Composite all the way! The up front cost is shocking. But, after 3 years of springtime hail storms, blistering hot summers and winters filled with ice storms and snow, our deck still looks brand new. The only upkeep is sweeping up pine needles before company comes over. Just be sure to put drain pans under any potted plants. I had a potted rosemary bush without one and now there is a slight ring/stain left from the pot. I’m sure that could happen to any deck regardless of material, though. Good luck shopping around and making your decision!

  37. Jessica says:

    Wood is beautiful, but only for a season or two. If not properly maintained, the boards will warp, lift, buckle, splinter, and need replacement more often than you will have time for. And maintaining them is time consuming. MIL has a composite deck, and it still looks perfect 10 years later.

  38. Kelly says:

    Composite will be take-your-breath-away expensive, but it WILL last forever with no maintenance, and you’ll never have to pick splinters out of your kids’ feet (or your own)!

  39. Courtney says:

    Wood decks are beautiful but a LOT of maintenance. Unfortunately, our home’s previous owners did not take care of it (you have to seal it every year) so we have to replace it at some point. We’re having the same dilemma, but if we can afford it I think we’ll go with composite!

  40. Hilary says:

    I have no personal experience with the purchasing, installation, or maintenance of either of these. But my friends have composite wood for their deck, and it gets so hot that you absolutely CAN NOT walk on it with your bare feet in the summer. The dogs can’t get across it without yelping either. The composite looks so nice, but the temperature is something I would keep in mind if it gets sunny/hot where you are!

    • Katharine says:

      I second the concern of how hot composite gets. If your deck will get sun, it’s something to consider. Other than that, I think it just comes down to how you feel about up-front cost vs. maintenance.

      • Kaylin says:

        I have some of both – the composite does get unbearably hot, but if you never plan to walk barefoot or sit directly on it that’s not too big a deal. The wood, on the other hand, is a lot of work and it’s slippery when wet, which I hate. IMO, the only benefit to wood is that it looks prettier.

      • Tiffany says:

        Wondering if an outdoor rug would help with this? Just a thought. Slightly biased as a composite owner, we power wash every year and done. My neighbors have a wood deck they treat every year or so and it looks great. Matter of preference.

  41. Jennie says:

    My parents have a 5 year old composite deck that still looks fabulous and brand new, and our two year old wood deck is already in need of a face lift (it gets beat on pretty hard from the elements).

  42. Cami says:

    Composite will cost more, but you will spend less money and time on the maintence in future years. If you plan on being there a long time I would choose the composite.
    Cami

    • Liz says:

      Even though composite is nice, I don’t think it’s worth the cost. Especially since it looks like your deck area is rather protected from the sun. Giving your deck a coat of stain every 2-3 years is all it needs to keep looking like new and you’ll have the flexibility of being able to stain it different colors down the road if you’re tastes change or want a different look. My parents have a 20+ year old wood deck that looks great because they take the time to stain every couple years.

      Composite doesn’t need regular maintenance, but over time it does fade and there’s no way to give it a quick facelift like staining a wood deck once that happens. There’s also a certain level of character to real wood that you just don’t get from composite! You could do a compromise and do steps/railing in composite since railings are a pain to stain and steps get a lot of wear. We have black metal balusters on our deck and they look great.

      • Brittany says:

        In our research last summer, we came to the same conclusion as Liz. We did put in white aluminum railings that are fully maintenance free, so we didn’t have to worry about that being a pain to restain.

    • Felicity says:

      Yup, what Cami said.

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