Enhance Decks with Wood-Plastic Composite Decking and Railing
By Brent Gwatney
Few things in life beat having a cold one on your deck while chicken wings and pork chops sizzle on the barbecue and hickory smoke fills the air. What other part of the home invites relaxation or forget-about-work partying with friends like the deck?
For many of us, the design and construction of our decks is also a source of pride—especially for do-it-yourselfers or those who had a close hand in the project with a professional contractor. But if it’s a small starter deck that came with the house or is showing its age with faded and splintered boards, it may not be the outdoor retreat of your dreams.
In the past few decades, options for decking materials have exploded. Beyond redwood and pressure-treated wood, homeowners and builders can now select from a range of exotic hardwoods, plastics, metals and wood-plastic composites. Home-improvement enthusiasts seem to enjoy debating these materials’ various merits almost as much as bragging about who has the most powerful lawn-mower or best tool collection.
For higher-performance decks, wood-plastic composites are often a good choice. They resist splintering, splitting, twisting and cracking, and are typically anticipated to last two to three times longer than wood decking. A wide range of colors and styles are available to help create simple patterns or complex layouts and in-lays, along with complementary railing and fascia.
Composite decking materials machine easily, can readily be bent for curved features, and install with standard tools (See “Installing and Maintaining Composite Decking”). For die-hard wood fans, some modern composites also resemble wood decking remarkably well, with realistic grain patterns, textures and color streaking reminiscent of tropical hardwoods.
A multitude of companies manufacture composite decking with new ones coming and going all the time, so quality varies greatly. Some brands have had problems with a variety of field failures, such as excessive fading, moisture absorption or delamination, which has led some people to think twice about composites. With a little homework, though, it is simple to find high-quality composites that offer many advantages as a decking material. Factors to consider when choosing among brands include performance, looks and green features.
Manufacturers combine polyethylene plastic and wood fiber—along with pigments, stabilizers, and in some cases, mold and UV protectants—to form wood-plastic composite decking. The wood fibers provide strength and stiffness, while the plastic serves as a binding agent.