Wood and Composite Decking Review: Pros and Cons

Is Wood and Composite Decking Right for You?

A large wooden deck surrounded by plantlife

volgariver / Getty Images

Wood or composite decking—or something else? Like any major home purchase, decking materials vary in looks, durability, and cost. Start your research by becoming familiar with types of authentic and synthetic decking. Also, you might want to use certain types of lumber or decking for structural parts of your deck project, and other decking timber for surfaces and railings—the parts on which you will walk and actually see.

Learn about the materials most widely used to construct a residential deck, from railings to floorboards, including the pros and cons of each type.

  • 01 of 05

    Natural Wooden Planks

    A sturdy wooden deck

    strathroy/Getty Images

    Wood is the original and traditional material used for decks. The Atlantic City boardwalk—the first oceanside wood boardwalk in the United States—was made of wood, and, according to some studies, wood continues to be the top choice for most residential homeowners' deck projects. Hardwoods—all woods, really—should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

    Tip

    Many softer woods (pine, fir, and spruce, for example) are susceptible to rot. Over time, even cedar and redwood can rot unless well maintained.

    Hardwood floors have a natural warmth and feel, and some types of woods (mainly softwoods) can be an inexpensive decking material. Some types, include ipé, can be expensive, though, and wood must be maintained and well cared for to prevent splitting, cracking, and discoloration.

    Pros
    • Authentic and natural

    • Some types are inexpensive

    Cons
    • Can be expensive

    • Requires regular maintenance

  • 02 of 05

    Wood-Polymer Composite

    Blue planks of plastic and wood composite material

    Perry Mastrovito/Getty Images

    Also known as composite, wood alternatives, or synthetic decking, wood-polymer composite has quickly become the fastest-growing decking material for residential use in the past dozen years.

    Tip

    Composite decking in darker shades can get very hot when exposed to the sun, which might make walking on it barefoot slightly painful.

    Composite decking is an environmentally friendly lumber alternative that combines plastic and wood fiber.

    Pros
    • Weather-resistant

    • Stain-resistant

    • Won't splinter or rot

    • Low-maintenance

    • Variety of colors

    Cons
    • Can look fake

    • Can be slippery

    • Not resistant to mold and mildew

    • Shows signs of age and decay

    • Can sag and bend more than wood

  • 03 of 05

    Pressure-Treated Wood

    New Zealand Villa Home Exterior
    LazingBee / Getty Images

    Less durable woods, like Southern pine and Western fir, are treated with preservatives. This makes them more resistant to the elements, rot, and insects.

    Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a wood preservative containing chromium, copper, and arsenic. Starting in the 1940s, CCA was used to make pressure-treated lumber. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified CCA as a restricted-use product. Since 2003, the pressure-treated wood industry discontinued the use of CCA for residential use. Arsenic-free alternatives include ACQ, borates and copper azole.

    Pros
    • Inexpensive

    • Durable and resistant to the elements, rot, and insects

    Cons
    • Unnatural color

    • Warps or bends easily

    • Contains chemical preservatives

  • 04 of 05

    Plastic

    Plastic decking colors
    American Plastic Lumber, Inc.

    High-density plastic lumber (PL) is made from recycled polyethylene (ReHDPE) plastic. That means your old milk, water, and juice containers and detergent and shampoo bottles may be recycled into the plastic lumber that is used to construct your deck.

    Pros
    • Weather-resistant

    • Doesn't need to be stained

    • Easy to clean

    Cons
    • Requires more substructure than wood decking

    • Colors and textures don't always resemble wood

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Aluminum

    An uninstalled aluminum decking plank

    Amazon

    There are lots of good reasons why aluminum is a near-perfect decking material: it's weather resistant and won't rot or decay. Have you ever heard of termites drilling their collective way through an aluminum structure? It doesn't burn, either. It's too bad aluminum is so expensive. Looks-wise, you really won't mistake aluminum for a plank of teak or redwood.

    Pros
    • Durable

    • Slip-resistant

    • Fireproof

    • Recyclable

    Cons
    • Expensive

    • Lacks the traditional appearance of wood

    • Gets hot in the sun