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Composite vs. Natural Wood: An Honest Comparison for Outdoor Decks

molinopremierdeck9One of the biggest decisions you’ll make about your new deck is which surface material to use. The materials you choose will have a dramatic impact on the cost, maintenance levels, and the overall look of the structure.

Before you choose a specific type of material, you’ll have to decide between the two main categories: Wood and composite. Within the wood category, you have another choice: natural wood or pressure-treated (PT) wood. In this post, however, we’ll be comparing natural wood and composite.

The reality is, there are advantages and disadvantage to each. When making this decision, ask yourself these questions: How much am I willing to spend upfront? How much money and time do I want to spend on maintenance? What is the look I’m going for? Here are some other important things to consider as you choose between composite and natural wood for your new outdoor deck project.

Natural wood

Many people choose natural wood because it’s cheaper than composite—at least initially. Wood decks are usually more inexpensive to build, yet they typically require more maintenance. If you plan to do the resealing and repairs yourself, you’ll save money as time passes. If you plan to hire a pro, take the annual cost of maintenance into account. Most professionals recommend staining the surface once in the beginning, then again every two years. Additionally, every six years the surface should stripped and sanded before staining.

In terms of variety, there are many types of natural wood to choose from. The most common is cedar. Redwood (another softwood) is also popular. Both contain oils and tannins that make them naturally resistant to rotting, insects, and decay. They don’t have the chemicals and preservatives that composite materials have.

Popular tropical hardwoods for outdoor decks include ipe, tigerwood, and jutoba. These are very dense and, like softwoods, they’re resistant to insects and decay. However, they are more difficult to install and can be costlier than softwoods.

Composite

The main reason people choose composite deck surfacing is because it requires less maintenance every year. That said, composite is often more expensive to build. Quality composite material usually runs between $32 and $45 per square foot, installed. This is slightly more than cedar (which costs between $24 and $45 per square foot) and redwood (about $30 per square foot).

Composite is made from wood fibers and recycled plastic. Common materials used include composite, vinyl, and PVC. Manufacturers of composite materials include Trex, Timber Tech, and CorrectDeck. Composite materials are weather-resistant and stain-resistant. They’re desirable because they’re tough. They won’t rot, splinter, or warp.

One of the downsides of composite decks is that they can get very hot. As such, qualified deck builders often recommend using wood in climates with especially hot summers.

The right material for you

For some, natural wood is a better choice; for others, composite is the way to go. It depends on how much you can spend on installation and maintenance, how much maintenance you’re willing to do, the look you’re going for, and even the climate you live in. When in doubt, it never hurts to consult a pro deck builder—especially if you can get information and consultations for free in your area.

Good luck with your new deck! Feel free to leave questions or comments below.