With natural lumber supplies dwindling—especially for the types of lumber with natural resistance to decay and pests, such as redwood, cedar, and tea—composite decking is becoming an increasingly popular choice for decks and other outdoor structures.
So-called composite decking comes in several forms, ranging from solid PVC plastic, to solid composites using 100 percent recycled plastics, to products that blend plastics and natural wood or bamboo fibers. There are two types of manufacturing processes used: compression molding that creates solid planks, and extrusion processes that forms planks by pressing raw materials through shaping molds. Some synthetic/composite lumber is hollow, requiring end-caps to cover the ends of boards, while others are dense, solid boards that are cut and fitted in much the same fashion as ordinary lumber. It's important to note that although much composite lumber is denser and heavier than natural wood lumber, it does not have the structural strength of wood, and is typically used only for surface decking or visible railing parts, not for structural components.
Made of materials that include recycled and new plastic, bamboo, and wood fibers, these synthetic or composite decking products have evolved as an important alternative where green or eco-conscious materials are desired, such as in LEED-qualified or certified construction.
Here are eight popular brands of composite lumber for decks and other outdoor construction projects.
01 of 08
Trex composite decking is made from reclaimed plastic and wood materials. Most of these raw materials come from recovered plastic grocery bags, plastic film, and waste wood fiber. Trex buys approximately 300 million pounds of used polyethylene and an equal amount of hardwood sawdust each year. Both solid planks and tongue-and-groove planks are available.
Trex decking is a compression-molded product, sometimes with an added extruded outer shell. The planks are solid material, and are normally finished with end caps or trim boards covering the ends. Some product lines are attached to underlying structural framing with hidden fasteners, while others are nailed or screwed down through the top face. Trex offers limited warranty of 25 years, which is fairly standard for the composite decking industry.
Company history: The company formed in 1996 through the buyout of a division of Mobil Corporation and went public in 1999. Trex is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, with manufacturing facilities in Fernley, Nevada, and Winchester, Virginia. It is available in more than 42 countries.
Available products include surface decking, deck framing elements, drainage components, outdoor lighting, fencing, trim, pergolas, outdoor storage, collections, accessory hardware, and Trex Outdoor Furniture. Trex offers one of the largest selections of outdoor composite lumber and products of any manufacturer; products are easily obtained almost anywhere.
02 of 08
TimberTech products are made from a solid PVC compound touted as being highly resistant to stains, scratches, splits, mold, and mildew. Although made from 100 percent PVC materials, the surface decking products feature an extremely realistic wood appearance. Railing products include both solid PVC and some composite materials. TimberTech AZEK products are high-quality, premium lines, perhaps the best (and most expensive) of all the composite decking manufacturers, with a limited warranty of 50 years. Additional product lines include TimberTech Pro (with 30-year warranties) and TimberTech Edge (25-year warranties).
Decking boards are solid molded PVC through the entire thickness with an extra-durable cap coating on the exposed surfaces. Planks can be installed either with hidden fasteners or by driving nails or screws through the faces. End grain is usually covered with matching fascia boards.
Company history: Previously an independent company, TimberTech now comprises the Outdoor Living division of the AZEK corporation, headquartered in Chicago with multiple U.S. manufacturing plants. Over the last few years, AZEK has acquired a number of smaller composite decking manufacturers, making it now one of the largest suppliers.
Products available include surface decking, railing, porch, trim, and molding components, and lighting and hardware accessories. The decking boards are available in narrow, standard, and wide board widths. This is one of the broadest product lines, with more than 40 colors and textures available across the various product lines.
03 of 08
Cali-Bamboo products use a material known as BamDeck Composite, which is made from 60 percent recycled bamboo fibers and 40 percent recycled plastics. Another product line is TruOrganics, made entirely from recycled wood fibers. The product lines offers nine different installation looks with three different colors and four surface texture choices: wood grain, flat/ ridged, matte/ flat, and ridged. The materials are termite-resistant, weather-tested, and LEED qualified.
BamDeck planks are formed by extrusion and have hollow cores. They can be installed either by driving screws or nails through the faces of the boards or with hidden fasteners. Ends of planks are normally covered with matching fascia boards.
Company history: Cali-Bamboo was started by two University of Maryland graduates inspired by the bamboo they worked with while on an extended post-grad surfing vacation in Hawaii. The company is headquartered in San Diego California and now offers a wide range of products in addition to decking.
Available products: In addition to the BamDeck and TruOrganics surface decking planks, CaliBamboo also makes fencing, plywood, poles, edging, flooring, and paneling products.
04 of 08
The Dura-Life decking and railing product lines include the Siesta collection of decking planks in four wood grain tones and four solid landscape colors. The decking is a blend of polypropylene (about 20 percent), recycled wood and plastic (about 25 percent), and hardwood flour (about 55 percent) that forms a material that is highly resistant to stains and damage.
Dura-Life planks are formed by extrusion, with a co-extruded polypropylene outer shell covering an extruded composite core. The surface decking planks are normally installed with hidden fastener strips, with the ends covered by matching fascia boards.
Company history: Founded in 1886, GAF has grown to become North America's largest manufacturer of commercial and residential roofing. In 2010, GAF announced the DuralLife line of decking, railing, dock, and porch products. It was the first manufacturer of polypropylene-based composite decking. Corporate headquarters are in Parsippany, New Jersey, with most manufacturing occurring in Biddeford, Maine.
Available products include decking and railing components, docks, porch products, and boardwalks. The decking boards use a hidden fastening system that eliminates face nails or screws. The decking carries a 25-year warranty.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Envision Composite Lumber
Envision Composite Lumber manufactures solid decking made from a compression-molded process, which uses lots of heat and pressure to squeeze out air pockets. This makes for very dense and heavy decking boards with deeply textured surfaces. This "lumber" is made entirely from recycled plastics, with no natural wood fibers. The decking boards come with a 25-year limited warranty.
Envision decking planks are formed by compression molding, creating solid boards. The more expensive product lines include a high-quality shell layer tightly bonded to the core composite layer. Depending on the product line, they can be installed either by driving screws or nails through the top face, or by a hidden fastener system. Ends can be left uncovered, or can be covered by matching fascia boards.
Company history: Envision composite decking is made by TAMKO, which first opened its doors in 1944 with a single asphalt shingle line in Joplin, Missouri. In 1999, TAMKO entered the plastic composite decking business.
Products available include the high-end Distinction, Inspiration, Expression, and EverGrain lines. Decking planks, railings, fasteners, and other hardware are available for each line. Several wood tones and gray colors are available in each product line.
06 of 08
Fiberon company makes surface decking, railing components, and fencing products that feature a solid PVC "Permatek" outer shell bonded to a wood composite core. Several "good," "better," "best" product lines are available, each offering various shades of wood tone and gray decking planks. The best lines offer more realistic wood grain textures and are more resistant to fading. All products carry a 25-year limited warranty.
Fiberon decking planks are formed by compression molding with a surface capping applied to three or four sides. They can be installed with face-driven fasteners or by a hidden fastening system. Ends are usually covered with matching fascia boards.
Company history: Fiberon started in North Carolina as a manufacturer of wood-plastic composite decking in 1997. In 2008, Fiberon and Sensibuilt joined their assets and brands to become a major player in the alternative decking market.
Products available include decking boards in seven different "good-better-best" lines, with three to five different color/textures available in each line. The best product lines are solid planks, while the "good" product lines feature scalloped bottoms. Other products include railing and fencing components, fasteners, and composite cladding/fascia boards.
07 of 08
EverNew by CertainTeed is a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, offering railing, decking, and porch systems. The EverNew line includes materials that are either solid vinyl or a blend of PVC vinyl and wood flour. CertainTeed is better known for siding and other building materials, but the decking products are an increasingly important offering. Railing products are somewhat better regarded than the solid vinyl decking materials.
Decking boards are hollow extruded planks that are attached with hidden fasteners, with ends covered by caps. This is a lighter-weight product than the other solid, compression-molded decking offered by several other companies.
Company history: Sait-Gobain is located in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and employs approximately 15,000 people in North America. The company began in 1904 when Illinois entrepreneur George M. Brown started the General Roofing Manufacturing Company, a predecessor of the CertainTeed Corporation.
Products available include solid vinyl extruded decking planks in three different colors (gray, white, and almond) and an UnderShield Water Diversion System that allows catches and diverts water falling through the deck to create dry, secure area beneath the deck. Also available are posts, rails, and balusters for deck railings, as well as fascia trim boards.
08 of 08
Lumberock Premium Decking offers a line of solid planks and tongue-and-groove products made from a combination of plastics and mineral materials. Because no organic materials are used, there is less susceptibility to mold and mildew. These products are virtually immune to damage from water and salt.
Lumberock decking planks are extruded solid material. Installation is typically done by nailing or screwing down through the top faces. No specialty hidden fasteners are available.
Company history: Formed in 2000 and located northwest of Chicago, Illinois, Lumberock is a relatively small manufacturer whose products are available in a limited number of outlets.
Products available include decking boards in 12 different solid colors with a basic wood texture surface, plus a small selection of railing components and fascia boards.