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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151 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking”

  1. Aluminum decking! Yep, it’s a thing, and it’s completely awesome!
    So glad we went with it instead of bothering with composite. Wahoo Decks has great products and have always been a pleasure to work with.

  2. I bought a remodeled house which the builder put composite decking. I’ve talked to lots of distributors and nobody knows what brand it is. The problem I’m having is it turns moldy constantly it’s cracking and it flakes off in strange circular type patterns. What can I do? Can it be painted over with an epoxy or something to save it?

  3. Hi Scott, we are getting bids from local home improvement contractors on building a 14 x 16’ deck. Are you familiar with Wolf Serenity deck boards? Do you know how the quality would compare with Trex? Trex seems to be much more expensive. Thanks for your opinion.

  4. Has anyone had experience with NewTechWood on a deck? Plan on installing 800 sq. feet deck in the Dallas, Tex. Area.

  5. Does anyone have experience with TimberTech AZEK Vintage Collection or TimberTech Pro Legacy being used in desert/extreme heat/high sun areas?

  6. I’m replacing a 24 x 18 ft elevated deck (12 ft ) that has 16 inch joists. I would like to use the Azek PVC product, but cannot afford to redo the joists to 12 inches to avoid a spongy surface which I have previously experienced. My wife loves the deep wood grain pattern of the Envision Inspiration Collection which would provide a firmer surface, but it is only 3/4 capped and does not have a fade or stain warranty. I have previous experience with TimberTech (TT) replacing 2 decks under warranty. Their Pro Legacy and Reserve Collection is fully caped with the new Reserve surface having a slightly deeper pattern. Considering the requirements listed above: 1) does the Envision Inspiration product’s unique process and 3/4 capping provide a strong board that will not flare, 2) wouldn’t the TT top 2 collections be a safer choice considering the more specific call out of the warranty, or 3) do you have some other recommendations.

  7. Deckorators Decking boards use a sapped polypropylene/calcium carbonate core making it pretty much water proof. It’s got minimal expansion and contraction and is basically bulletproof stuff. Recommended
    Dave Fraser is correct in saying that a lot of the composite boards on the market have improved remarkably over the last few years. The thing letting a lot of them down is the installation. They do have their idiosyncrasies and if you don’t know what they are it can make or break your decks future. Expansion/contraction is the main one and the need to cut the boards lengths to compensate for the ambient temperature of the boards. Hard to understand for the average builder or DIY weekend builder.
    Get a dedicated decking company or builder to build your deck!!!!!! This will save you issues in the long run

    1. I used Trex Transcend to replace old treated boards which had lots of weakened spots from essentially cracking and falling apart. I used the old 16″ center joists, covered the joist tops before installing and left all the proper gaps, used trex hidden fasteners too. This will be third year, love the deck, no fading and looks as good as the day I installed. Only issue I found was the boards sag between the last 2 joists at the end of the board so I am going to go under and add a joist between the joists so it’ll be 8″ centers at the end of all trex boards. Otherwise, extremely pleased in NE West Virginia.

  8. I used an professional deck contractor to build a 24′ x 16″deck using Menards best composite decking. The very first rain after it was completed, I found that nearly every length of decking would retain the rain water for several days until it would evaporate. I called Menards who put so many costly conditions for replacement by them, I am looking for alternatives to avoid the water retention. I am afraid that the deck as it presently is, will prematurely decay without some intervention.

    1. I hate to be frank but Menards highest end decking is probably still average if not less than average at best. There is an entire line of very very low end composite decking that you can buy in the range of $2 -$2.50 a square foot. I can assure that level of composite decking actually may be worse than wood itself. I say that with some sarcasm but what you are experiencing doesn’t sound like there best composite. Maybe it was the best they stocked. What you have though is a loose grain composite core which actually is like a sponge. It will soak up the water and retain it until the board is warm of enough for it to evaporate from.

      You may be able to seal that composite core, yes I mean with an oil based preservative like TWP or something like that. Some decking providers will even indicate that sealing is ok. If you can’t find it directly written anywhere on the product you could try calling the manufacturer, not menards. Otherwise get a sample piece and just try it. That might give you some peace of mind for a little while.

      Replacing the product may be the only other option if sealing doesn’t work.

      Adam

  9. Eric

    I would not use a composite capped product near that much water. The core is made of a polymer, plastic wood and other stuff that by nature will swell if exposed to regular moisture. AZEK not Timbertech and other companies make a solid PVC product that will weather far better. In fact it should be nearly impervious to water as it is PVC. Lowes can special order AZEK they now have a display of their material at our stores here in KC. If not check with your local lumber yard they normally carry it. I can help find you a distributor in your area if you want to email me your info at [email protected] also more than happy to speak with you on phone if you need some help. Just send me a number you can be reached at in the same email.

    Thanks

    Adam

    1. thanks a bunch for your reply and advice – I greatly appreciate it! I’ll definitely look into the PVC decking that you suggest!

  10. Mr. Becker,
    I am considering composite for decking my dock on the lake here in Central Alabama – lots of sun, and a good bit of rain. I like what i read about Veranda Capped Decking Composite Decking Board, available through our local Home Depot. Have you had experience with this product – I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this.

    1. Eric, I didn’t see your comment here. Did we speak over my email? If not I would not used a capped product near a dock. It’s core is still susceptible to swell especially in an environment where it might be constantly wet. I would shop solid PVC decking. Any brand would work if it were solid PVC, we are just experienced with the AZEK material which I know is quite good. Let me know how else I can help.

      Ada

      1. Adam, you sent me some excellent info earlier, I may have been remiss in thanking you:

        Adam Becker commented on The Problems with Composite Decking.
        There 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 […]
        Eric I would not use a composite capped product near that much water. The core is made of a polymer, plastic wood and other stuff that by nature will swell if exposed to regular moisture. AZEK not Timbertech and other companies make a solid PVC product that will weather far better. In fact it should be nearly impervious to water as it is PVC. Lowes can special order AZEK they now have a display of their material at our stores here in KC. If not check with your local lumber yard they normally carry it. I can help find you a distributor in your area if you want to email me your info at [email protected] also more than happy to speak with you on phone if you need some help. Just send me a number you can be reached at in the same email.
        Thanks
        Adam

  11. Curious if anyone has installed the Timbertech tongue and groove porch boards. We have an enclosed porch, not heated or cooled, that we’re considering putting it in.

    1. Beautiful product and the end result really does look good. Anxious to hear if you did or are still looking at options.

  12. I’m having a new house built and it’ll have a rectangular 12’x32′ deck, so I’d really not want to have to seal & stain that every year or two. Composite is the only way I’m willing to go, for that reason. All that said, if choosing between MoistureShield, Fiberon, Trex & Azek, what one would you recommend? Some say they get a third less hot than regular composite, some say they’re less slippery…
    I’m probably over-worrying, but we’re retiring in the Pacific Northwest, so I worry about it being slippery when wet, too hot in the sun, moldy in the winter, not durable enough & all that jazz. When I’m on my pension I don’t want to be replacing expensive composite then. Do I just spin the wheel & pick whatever company’s most expensive product line?
    Thanks for any advice you can give.

  13. I’m always skeptical about new materials. I try each one under average conditions. The composite stuff has performed well under most conditions. My disclaimer however is to stick with wood don’t kid yourself on the maintenance. Wood takes some, as does the composite.
    Maintained properly, wood will last longer. Never stain! Never paint! (Pressure treated). Use a sealer like Thompson’s or other. When you need to re-apply, never pressure wash! Just lightly sand and re apply. PRESSURE WASHING WILL RUIN A PRESSURE TREATED DECK! And, one final thing. Always maintain adequate ventilation under the framing. That’s critical.

  14. My Fiberon deck is a couple years old. It has warped between each joist ( 16″ ). Also the mitered corners are spreading ( shrinking).
    The builder refuses to address this. How do I address this with Fiberon? 2years and it is a mess. I spent too much to put up with that.

  15. Living in mtn town, Prescott AZ. Rain, snow and lots of sun throughout the year. Would you recommend composite or PVC decking for 2nd story deck?

  16. I am a high end deck builder in San Diego, CA (Fraser Decks And Patio Covers). What he is saying about composite decking used to be true, but it is no longer remotely accurate. Azek decking, TimberTech decking, and Trex decking have solved most of these issues. 8-10 years ago fading was a major problem, but the newer, higher end boards do not fade much (it’s literally part of their warranties). Mold is not an issue with Azek decking as the product is all PVC. TimberTech and Trex can have this issue if not installed correctly, but it is extremely rare. The major issue with composite decking is contractors not knowing the products and not understanding how to install them properly. If installed correctly you should have a maintenance free deck for 25-30 years. Also, if you use a reputable installer they will have a labor and material warranty through the manufacturers…so if something does go wrong you pay nothing out of pocket. Deck building has become a niche specialty because the details matter so much if you want a long lasting, quality deck. I advise you to only use an actual deck builder and not just a general contractor who says he can install decks. If your installer is not a Gold or Platinum rated installer by the manufacturer you should hire someone else. Almost all problems with composite decking are due to installer error.

    1. I said this earlier in my comment, get a proper deck builder to build your deck, the guys who build with composites will steer you in the right direction with what to use and they’ll do a top job of laying it.

  17. Adam, What kind of railing do you use when you install a second story deck with Azek? Also, is there a specific name for the high end Azek you mentioned? Any tips regarding the limitations of Azek’s limited warranty that your customers may have concerns about?

    1. We would use Fortress metal railing posts and inserts in that 2nd story situation. You could still use a wooden post if you wanted to it just needs to be secured properly with screws and blocking so it doesn’t wiggle loose. The vintage collection is AZEKS high end. What you are buying is the appearance, the high end product is made with the same material as the low end. All three come with a 50 year warranty.

      We have not had a call back for any of AZEK decks. The biggest concern would be staining by natural elements, that is not covered under the warranty. It’s only a surface stain and trying to remove it right away may not work. For me it comes right off if it sits there through a few rain storms.

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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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