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Composite Decking Guide

The differences between composite, uPVC and timber decking

There’s no feeling quite like relaxing on your deck – drink in hand, and the sunshine beating down. Or how about firing up the barbecue and chilling the drinks ready for your guests to arrive? Either way, a newly laid deck is a thing of beauty and can pretty much improve any property – though there are big decisions to be made before you can start cracking open the first beer or pouring that glass of wine. It all starts with the type of material you want under your feet.

The fundamental decision that new decking owners should research and consider is whether to build with traditional timber materials and or invest in the modern alternative of composite decking. The decision is an important one, and a personal one, and there’s certainly pros and cons for both – so let’s take a closer look at which material ultimately wins out.

Wood composite is a combination of wood and recycled plastic designed in such a way to look and feel like beautifully pristine timber but without the need for maintenance. Up close, you may be able to decipher that the decking you’re standing on is indeed not real timber – though many can’t! – however, to the untrained eye they appear as immaculate wooden boards. It’s also far more eco-friendly than timber alternatives which are becoming incredibly important for both deck builders, and clients.

Composite decking fares excellently in all conditions, making it the premier choice for many customers across the globe – whether it’s the relentless heat of western and southern Europe, the icy winters of North America or indeed the windswept seafront properties of New Zealand and Australia, composite is more UV resistant and protects against rot, and mould. Climates with dramatic variations in temperature, such as the U.S often struggle with traditional timber decking – particularly the ‘warping’ of the boards – though composite is designed so that it remains structurally sound in all-weather types.

Timber has been the traditional choice for countless decks across the globe for many years though one element that means homeowners are increasingly looking towards composite decking is the maintenance or lack thereof. Many would suggest the single greatest advantage of composite decking boards is that they don’t require oiling, varnishing, staining or painting – a constant worry for timber decking owners who find that the timber needs some attention most years. With composite decking, the time saved in labour costs over a lifetime is huge and all that’s required to clean the boards is a good old fashioned bucket of warm soapy water and half an hour to spare! Those with pressure washers will find the cleaning job even easier.

So we know that composite products have a more impressive finish. They’re more eco-friendly and require less maintenance than timber. So far so good right? But what about the countless number of blogs and articles that tell you composite decking is more expensive than timber and that those on a budget should probably opt for traditional materials?

Of course, wood will offer a lower initial cost when purchasing your decking materials. After leaving the timber yard your wallet is likely to remain a little heavier than it would be after visiting your local composite retailer – but that only tells half the story and initial cost isn’t necessarily the best way to consider the overall value. The total cost of your timber or composite deck should be calculated based on how much it’s going to cost you over its lifespan. Now, most homeowners that invest in a deck – perhaps for entertaining or relaxing in the garden – will consider it a long-term purchase. They want something that will last and will most likely build gardens around it. So with that in mind, the total cost should be considered in terms of how much the deck will cost you per year, over its lifespan. Traditional timber decking will most likely come with higher maintenance requirements that are not attached to more modern composite alternatives. Stains paints glosses and the cost of sanding can be pricey and having to make multiple purchases could see costs skyrocket in the long-term. Couple that with the fact that a composite deck purchased from a reputable retailer will likely last 25 years or more whereas a timber deck will typically last less than 15 years and suddenly that initial saving at the timber yard doesn’t seem as much of a good deal does it?

Homeowners would consider long term costs and invest in reliability, durability and peace of mind with structures such as new fencing, driveways or even garages, so cutting costs on decking is not recommended, especially when considering how many decks are used once built.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not just timber that is seen as a cheaper alternative to composite. uPVC (polyvinyl chloride) decking has been on the rise in recent years and whereas it shares the same advantages in its initial costs, it can be considered – like timber – a false economy when compared with composite.

As mentioned, composite is manufactured using a high percentage of recycled content, whereas uPVC quite simply doesn’t. Though it’s made from 100% plastic and therefore has some advantages in terms of water absorption and rot, it does not have the flexibility of fitting that deck builders enjoy with the addition of wood fibres with composite. uPVC cannot be routed and requires special tools to bend and shape. There’s also the problem of expansion and unlike composite, purely plastic decking can change size quite dramatically as a result of extreme temperatures.

So there you have it. A comparison of composite, timber, and uPVC materials for your new decking project. Put simply, all have their advantages and drawbacks though something that is relatively clear is that only one provides the longevity and durability that not only reflects its initial price but ultimately pays for itself, and that’s composite.

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