Choosing Your Best Composite Deck
Composite are materials made from a mix of components that can add significant longevity and appeal to your outdoor deck. Since their arrival on the market, a number of new manufacturers have added to the technology and beauty and expanded selections giving Owners myriad options to enrich their experience and add value to their home.
First brought to market in 1996, Trex Company, Inc. virtually invented the market for composite decking. Their original material, still available today, has proved the test of time by holding up under harsh conditions in different climates across the country.
Today, there are a host of companies providing excellent composite decking, including a few of our favorites, below. As the competition has grown, new technologies in composite blends have added resilience and beauty to the market and have solved some of the problems homeowners faced with early composites.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the key considerations when selecting for your new deck, and recommend some products that we have found provide the best performance and style for the money.
Decking Material - PVC vs. Composite
PVC decking refers to decking that is made of 100% engineered polymer material — that means absolutely no wood filler in the core or cap that can compromise performance. This material is lighter in weight and is 100% recyclable when it reaches the end of its life. Becuase it contains no organic material, it is even more water-resistent than composites, making it virtually impervious to mold, mildew, or insect damage. PVC used to get a bad rap for warping and getting hot under foot in the Summer sun. New technology, particularly in the TimberTech Azek line, has reduced or eliminated these problems.
Composite decking refers to boards made of a mix of recycled wood and plastic fibers. Many types of composite decking are encapsulated in a 100% polymer cap to protect them from moisture. Composite decking is highly durable, tends to provide superior traction when wet, and is usually a more economical choice relative to other material options. Its composite mixture includes wood fibers, which can lead to mold, mildew and insect damage in some climates, but our climate is dry enough that this shouldn't pose any problems.
Deck Fastening Systems Traditional wood decks are screwed down through the top of the decking material. Composites are often installed the same way, but composites also offer a sleek alternative with grooved deck boards and specialty fasteners that hide the screws from view.
In general, there are two approaches to fastening composite decks:
Face-screwing through the top of the board:
Composite deck boards required specialty screws that recess neatly below the surface. Along with color-matched screws, manufacturers also make available matching screw hole plugs that fill in the screw hole and sit flush to the surface of the board. While still visible, screw holes are far less obvious with the added benefit that they won’t collect dirt and debris. Nearly every brand today makes a grooved board option listed above offer screws in matching colors as well as plugs made from the same decking material which are inserted into the screw hole flush to the deck surface. I've attached a photo for reference.
Hidden fasteners & ‘Grooved’ Boards the boards.
A unique alternative to face-fastening, hidden fasteners attach directly to the deck framing between the boards rather then penetrating through the material itself. This eliminates any sign of fasteners on the surface of the deck for an exceptionally clean look. Attaching your new deck with hidden fasteners will require grooved deck boards. The groove is simply a small dato cut along the edge of the board which receives the metal or plastic fastener clip. Once the fastener is screwed to the joist, boards slide onto either side of the clip, which also serve to evenly space the boards. Tighten the screw and the clips hug the boards down along their length for a secure, evenly spaced fit. We love this method for its clean aesthetic, consistent spacing, and the freedom of movement it allows as the deck boards expand/contract with the weather.
Layout & Design
There are as many layouts and designs as there are creative people to dream them up. The classic picture frame, diagonal runs, and herringbone are the styles we most often install, but there is virtually no limit to what can be done. We encourage you to do some searching online to get your creative juices flowing and if you’re feeling really inspired, pull out pencil and paper and start sketching your ideas.
Customizing your new deck also includes deciding on the size and location of steps, a handrail design, and lighting options which can include overhead lighting, track and perimeter lights and even flush-mounted surface lights that shine upward from the deck.
Colors & Textures
Options for composite deck board colors and textures have come a long way since the 90’s. From decking made to look like the teak deck boards on a sailboat; to multi-tone, wire brushed finishes that resemble real rough-sawn lumber, there is a color, grain pattern and surface texture out there for every taste. Pricing tends to follow these options, so be on the lookout for supplier deals and keep in mind that even monotone composites will look great once installed.
Our Favorite Brands
As noted above, there has been a proliferation of new manufacturers hitting the market in recent years, many offering unique designs and surface finishes with excellent quality, backed by strong manufacturer warranties. Having installed many of these over the years, there are four that have really stood out for us:
A top of the line manufacturer, TimberTech’s Azek composite decking has maintained itself as a leading innovator in new composites. They offer seven unique lines, each with a host of color and texture options. In recent years, TimberTech added PVC decking to their lineup, and advances in materials technology has answered many of the problems early composites faced, reducing warpage and excessive heat build-up endemic to early plastics and PVCs.
TimberTech Azek is widely available at most local suppliers and is backed by a 50 year fade and stain warranty and limited lifetime product warranty on their Advanced PVC line of decking.
Another top manufacturer, also offers selections in both traditional composite and PVC. We often recommend Fiberon and TimberTech in tandem, where color and texture may be the deciding factor.
Aslo widely available, Fiberon is easy to source locally and comes with competitive warranties for all their product lines.
Fiberon is also committed to sustainable manufacturing practices, relying heavily on recycled materials and repurposing 98% of their manufacturing waste back into the production cycle to literally reuse every scrap of wood and plastic that hits the factory floor.
As the original manufacturer of composite decking, the name Trex is synonymous with composite decking. In recent years Trex seems to have fallen out of fabor with many of the contractors we work with as they’ve done less to keep up with some of the more recent advances in materials technology. Still, we have found Trex to be a solid option among traditional composites, and being the most widely available, it is easy to source across their product lines.
Trex warrants their products against fading and defects for up to 50 years. Trex representatives are available for questions and warranty concerns and will even visit your home to help with specific concerns.
Sylvanix is relatively new to the market and has been available across the US since 2011. As a new competitor in an already packed market, we have found Sylvanix to be a bit more price competitive while still offering an excellent and innovative product. As with TimberTech, Fiberon, and Trex, Sylvanix offers several product lines to capture varying tastes and budgets, including a unique teak boat deck profile and a brushed finish.
We recommend their Elite Collection, which includes very realistic colors and textures as well as their one-of-a-kind brushed finish that provides a distinctly realistic look. Sylvanix claims this finish can also be renewed with light wire brushing to buff out scuffs and drag marks. We have had some success with this approach where drag marks from furniture has left lines across the finished deck. On the other hand, the soft brushed finish seems prone to such marks as it collects impressions more readily than its smoother-surfaced cousins. We are still on the fence about this one, but believe it has serious potential and is certainly worth exploring.
A Note on Framing
Many existing decks are surfaced in 2x4 or 2x6 ‘dimensional’ lumber, meaning the deck boards are 1-1/2” thick. Most composites on the other hand, are between 7/8” and 1” thick. If you are replacing your existing decking with composite, pay special attention to areas where this difference may cause problems, such as under existing rail posts, at door thresholds, and areas where the decking tucks under siding. If your existing deck boards are thicker than the new material, you may need to adjust for the difference in finished height.
Where necessary, our solution has been the addition of treated lumber ‘furring’ strips placed along the length of the existing deck joists. Finished with black joist tape over the top further protects the joists and also darkens the space between deck boards, hiding the light-colored deck joists and blending with the hidden fasteners, making for a clean finished look.
If you have any questions about composite decking including design and product recommendations, please don't hesitate to reach out. Planning for a new deck is a process. Consultations are free and we’re here to help.