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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120 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking”

  1. I live in an old (1905) house in Iowa with a large wrap around porch. Part of the porch needs to be replaced and we are trying to find a composite porch floor (not decking). I’d like to get away from the paint maintenance. I can’t seem to find any customer feedback on the products available. We are considering Deckorators Porch Flooring. Information from seller is it has only been installed at one house within the last month. Installer said it installed fine, but I’m not so worried about the install, but lifetime performance. It will be a substantial expense, so I would like to find the right product. Have you seen the performance of Deckorators? Any other ideas?

  2. I think this author minimizes the upkeep required with wood decks. I just had a fairly old cedar deck replaced with a good composite and I am thrilled with it. Over the past 5-6 years, the cedar deck required ever increasing maintenance and attention and was starting to rot in places. Even with the replacement of boards, it never really looked good. Every summer it also required treatments to keep carpenter bees away. I loved that deck when first installed, but good riddance.

  3. I am a high end deck builder in the KC Metro Area, KCWeekendWarriors you can look at our facebook page or website. This blog is a perfect example of how social media can destroy the reputation of a product or company. While there are many differences with composite decking some can be mitigated with proper installation and others are just how that product responds to weather. In most of the circumstances we come across with clients wanting to fix or replace composite decking they had installed more than not it wasn’t installed right. That doesn’t fix some of the design issues with products like Fiberon which only caps the top and sides of the board and before they cut the groove. This defeats the purpose of cap and will cause the board to swell over time. Doesn’t mean they make a bad product you just need to be aware of what will happen. If you are not comfortable with what you know or have been told about a product you are interested in I implore you to find someone who knows what they are talking about, who has experience with the products and years of installation. High end composite is not cheap but it responds well and can be backed by reputable companies. Do your research, Azek for example has a 50 year warranty on their decking but you need to know what it the warranties cover. More than happy to answer questions anyone has.

    1. We are building a ramp for elderly and handicap accessibility to the beach on the Florida east coast. It will slope and have three flat spaces as the ramp slopes down. Do you have a recommendation for what material we should and should not use?

  4. I am a deck builder in Kansas City and previously in Va been doing it for 30 years. I’ve seen them all come and go. We primarily use high end Azek and haven’t had a single call back for any deck we have built. No problems with it. It’s not cheap at about 12 a square foot but it’s obviously better than many of the other products mentioned here.

    Envision is a low end product at a high price. It will fade stain and mold dont care what anyone says.

    More than happy to answer questions about many products if anyone wants to know more.

  5. I used Trex Enhanced. Their medium grade capped composite decking. It’s been 4 yrs and is holding up well. It is installed below two huge locust trees so I have been very disciplined about scrubbing it three times a season and blowing all the tiny locust leaves and debris every couple days during fall, and doing a longer cleaning of all the gaps between boards once the leaves are all down. Overall less work and a much nicer look then the painted wood the original owner had on the deck.

    1. If it’s a brand not popular or well known I would stay away from it for many of the same reasons people are posting about. Find a brand that has been around and that lumber yards carry. They are generally supplying large volumes of product that do the best in the industry.

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