The Problems with Composite Decking

By Scott Sidler April 23, 2018

the problems with composite deckingThere are a lot of options for decking today. It’s not like the old days where you had to simply choose between different species of wood. Today, there are still all of the wood options of yesterday, but now there are scores of different composite decking options.

If you been a reader of my blog for any amount of time, you’re probably thinking “Oh now, here he goes again bemoaning another modern product.” Well, I want to tell you that that is not the case. I don’t have problems with new products, only subpar ones.

Sadly, most composite decking falls into that category. It has been improving slowly over the years with the introduction of capped products and other upgrades, but still, the reports from consumers and contractors are not promising. Take a look at some of the websites where homeowners have posted their reviews, and you’ll read 1 and 2 star reviews all day long.

The Problems With Composite Decking

There are a multitude of problems with composite decking that show up all too often to be just a stray issue for a hard to please homeowner. The accounts of issues are repeated with a frightening regularity and sameness throughout the threads of complaints. Below are some of the issues that crop up most often.

Mold

Especially prevalent on older and uncapped composited decking, mold shows up quickly and is more difficult to eradicate than you’d expect. The mold seems to grow heavily not just on the surface, but inside the rough texture of uncapped decking. It seems to come on strong and takes constant effort to keep the decking clear of it, especially for a self-proclaimed “no maintenance” product.

Color Fading

Everybody knows color fades in the sun, but composite decking companies seem to be oblivious to what their products are really capable of. Some composite decking has faded so quickly in just a couple of seasons that replacements boards stand out like a sore thumb. Just like the mold, this issue is unpredictable and hard to understand which decking will have problems and which will not.

Warping & Shrinking

It’s not wood, so it shouldn’t be expanding and moving the same, right? Right! It actually moves more AND more unexpectedly than wood decks. Some composite decking won’t move a bit and others have been found to shrink, swell, warp, twist, bow, and any other word you want to use in amounts unheard of, even with wood. Again, it seems completely random when this happens, but it happens often enough that you should know about it.

Weakening

This one has been the issue that I encounter most- composite decking boards that feel like a trampoline when you walk on them. They have gotten so spongey that they sag from one board to the next making your decking like a mini rollercoaster. I notice this issue showing up after a decade or more of use, but it certainly shows up and when it does it usually makes the deck unusable. Check out the video below to see how springy these boards can really get!

What To Do?

For now, I’d say the best way to avoid problems with composite decking are to avoid it altogether and stick with wood. You may be one of the lucky ones who installs composite decking and gets away with it, or you may end up constantly on the phone trying to persuade them into the honoring their warranty, which is extremely hard to do.

Sure, wood has issues of its own, but it’s nothing that will take me by surprise. And if it needs a replacement piece, it’s as easy as swinging by the local lumber yard rather than trying to track down a model that has been discontinued 2 years ago from a supplier halfway across the country. As for me, I’m sticking with wood. How about you?

Composite decking has come a long way since it first came out, but it’s not there yet. Someday, the industry may be able to create a consistent long-lasting product that lives up to the claims, but right now, they can’t seem to make it work. When they can make a product that is consistently better than wood, then I’ll be in line for it, but until then I’m sticking with a reliable option like wood. How about you?

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22 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking”

  1. I live in the Rocky Mnt’s where the weather gets extreme. We’re getting ready to replace our wood wrap around decking with Compostie or Vinyl wrap (contractor suggested vinyl). But with NO knowledge of either I’m reaching out for information. I’ve been reading about http://fortressdeck.com. Is anyone familiar with this one or have suggestions? We are retiring and really don’t want the hassle of maintaining a wooden deck anymore. TIA

  2. We used the mid-level Fiberon (Flagstaff) with the lifetime guarantee. The underpinnings of the deck were no more than 16″ apart and it was installed properly with space between the board ends. In less than 6 months, the boards warped. I contacted Fiberon and they wanted details. I sent them (pictures, specs, etc) and they have not replied. Good thing I purchased with AMEX. I am going to make them replace it or refund me for the cost of the product as it was not cheap! #hellhathnofury

  3. I agree that there is much less appeal these days with composites especially here with bay area decking. Although the composite decks are less maintenance initially the problems are abundant sand customer service from the largest suppliers is quite poor. I am a deck builder of 20+ years and i have certainly seen the shift back towards wood even the quality of wood is also being challenged

  4. We had a new dock built with azak last September. It is so bad with dirt/ mold stains that won’t even come off with a pressure washers. Any suggestions? Second guessing not going with wood….

  5. We moved into a house that has 3 decks made out of composite. We have the worst trouble with the one that gets direct morning sun. Tons of warping and now uneven to walk on. Gets extremely hot. Is there a solution to warped boards?

  6. There is a “newer” composite decking that does not have the challenges of the older generations of composites – it is less hot than other composites to walk on, less slippery, stronger, lighter and more stable. It has a 25 year warranty that includes removal and replacement. It is DecKorators Vault and Frontier decking. This deck material has been around for over 10 years and is growing in acceptance. It has no wood chips inside it to mold or mildew or rot. It does not have the expansion problems of PVC. It is so strong, you can swing a sledge hammer at it several times, HARD AS YOU CAN, and it will NOT break! AND, it doesn’t get brittle or weaker in freezing weather, and can be in ground contact or submerged in snow or water. This stuff is amazing!

  7. 100% recycled plastic deck anyone?! Hi, I am over in the UK and have just taken delivery of my deck. I was put off composite after some research… my understanding being that composite means your deck is a mix of wood “flour” and plastic… sounds like a mixture of MDF and plastic so of course the rot and is going to get in eventually. The answer for me was to go 100% recycled plastic. This was by a company called GovaDeck and whilst the price was eye-watering when compared to pressure treated softwood I’m hoping for zero maintenance once installed. Grey seemed to be the only available colour that looked decent, so it’s quite modern looking.

    I can keep you posted maybe after a cold season, I would also be interested to know if anyone else has any thoughts on/experience of using this material. Thanks

  8. Kyle, now that we are in the summer months what is your feedback as temps change in regards to warping and are you able to use the deck without shoes? Love the idea but with my Colorado sun I am concerned about mostly about how hot it gets.

    1. Hi Danielle,
      We’ve had a couple people comment/write us before and say that they had bad experiences with burns on their feet on composite decking 🙁 we wish this wasn’t the case. We would much rather have our theory/opinion proved wrong than hear that people are getting hurt.
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  9. We have verenda decking in back yard. Worse choice we could have made when it comes to decking. It literally burned the bottom of my granddaughhters feet. I called Home Depot and they told me to call Veranda. Called Veranda and there response was to wear shoes. .
    Feel this material should be banned from all stores. Please if anyone knows how to correct this problem please let me know.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Oh my goodness, we are SO sorry to hear that. Stories like this make us so sad. There are a lot of reasons we believe original materials are better, and stories like this make us wish that they didn’t prove our point because people are getting hurt.
      Best of luck to you in the future and thanks for reading our blog and joining the discussion.
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  10. I had composite wood on my dock for over 15 years now. Love it. Yes it would get hot in the summer on bear feet but just splashed water on it. Little heavy but loved it.

  11. Our17 year-old trex deck has changed color yet remains solid on 12″ on-center joists without warping or maintainance issues. I call BS on detractors comments about this superlative product. When all else fails, read the instructions.

  12. Replaced wood with composite about 10 years ago. We got mold spots after a year or so. Fortunately we were able to eradicate the black mold spots using Olympic deck cleaner combined with scrubbing and pressure washing. Not a material recommended by Trex. It seems like the issue has gotten better in recent years, in that I haven’t had to clean or scrub as much. Originally we had to do this twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. While there has been some color fading, I consider it moderate. I have a question for anyone with some information. Is it advisable to use a waterproofing material like Thompson’s. We just cleaned it this year and I thought that might help make future cleaning easier.

  13. I was going to replace my old wood front porch with this stuff. I thought, “No painting!” “No maintenance!”.I guess this is not the answer…..Thanks for saving me a ton of money.

  14. It is so tempting to use composite….and vinyl siding…and vinyl windows…and spray foam. The amount of plastic/petroleum products that are on/in houses these days is quite astounding.

  15. A few years back I lived in a condo building that had some composite decking as part of a walkway. Only a few years after installation there was extreme warping to the point that it was a tripping hazard.

  16. Wow, thank you for posting this!

    I’ve built a couple of redwood decks at our houses and was seriously thinking of using Trex for the next house. I too was sold on the “No/low maintenance” aspect of using it. Now I see that’s really not the case at all.

    Looks like I’ll be sticking with Redwood and stain every couple of years!

  17. I just installed composite (Trex Transcend) on by deck as part of a major rehab (new wood on about 1/2 the framing plus getting up to code). I agree that the cheap and middle tier stuff can be garbage, but I think you should look again at some of the higher end products offered these days. They probably don’t save any money (damn it was like 3x wood price), but it is convenient not having to shovel spring snow off the deck every other day (snow in the spring melts then piles again then melts, causing anaerobic rot on wood, even pressure treated).

    We’ll see how well it holds up fading-wise. At least I have good shade 3/4 of the day.

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