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The Problems with Composite Decking

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 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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175 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking

  1. We (my wife and I) purchased our current home, as new, nearly 18 years ago. It came with a deck that was made with early type (uncapped?) composite decking. The spindles and posts were also made of the same material. The home builder was so impressed by the product (at that time) he wished that he had used it for the large deck, he had recently built, on his own home. I was excited about having something touted as being “maintenance free.” Over the years I have power washed it to keep the vegetation (moss? algae?) at bay. Mind you, I was never really told how to maintain it (or that power washing was possibly bad for it). For the most part it has held up well and we have enjoyed the deck.

    This spring, as I was looking around it, I noticed some sagging. The railings are showing signs of fatigue as well. For 18 years, I would say it has served us well but, not really knowing how long it was supposed to last, makes it difficult to assess if we really got our money’s worth? I would like to think we have but just not sure.

    At this juncture, we’re considering replacing the deck with a 3-seasons room and just utilize the concrete patio, next to it, when we want to be outdoors.

  2. I read this because during the past three years my composite deck boards have swelled and warped to the point they are affecting the vinyl fencing around the deck, to say nothing of the risk of tripping when I walk on it. When I purchased the house over five years ago, it looked great, with enough space between the boards for water to go through. I am trying to figure out if there’s anything to be done besides having the entire thing replaced! Could just cover with a thick carpet, but I may sell next spring, and want to get it resolved. Any advice welcome!
    Looks like the 25-year warranty was only good for original owner – looking into that, but I doubt it will do any good.

  3. I’m surprised by a lot of these comments. Most of these products are not very well performing. Azek is OK. They actually got in a lot of trouble and settled a major lawsuit just a couple years ago for marketing their product as PVC. It’s not a true PVC deck product and many customers had issues around 10-15 years. So they created their own term called Armor Alloy Technology. It is NOT a true PVC product. Many people in these comments are wrong and spreading false information.

    Cellular PVC decking with an ASA capstock is the best decking in the entire vinyl deck industry. Vekadeck is the best vinyl deck board in the entire industry. Veka invented Cellular PVC decking years ago, and in recent years they’ve beefed it up and added an ASA (acrylic) capstock to it to further help resist fading.
    You cannot go to any lumber yard or store and order Veka. It’s only available to the biggest and best deck companies in the country. Veka comes to you, you don’t go to them. I assume no one in the form has to ability to buy Vekadeck or else I’d see it mentioned. There’s probably 1-2 companies per state that can carry it. In NY there’s only 1 I believe, Upstate. Vekadeck has the most intense Wood grain texture out of any deck board. Nothing compares to it in the entire market. I wish it was more widely available but Veka is a super picky company about who they’ll let install their products.

    Wolf PVC decking is very good too. It’s 100 percent PVC and it’s equipped with an ASA capstock as well. It’s not as good as Vekadeck. Even though it’s the PVC and ASA, it’s what’s in the mix of the product. All vinyl is not created equal! They have a nice wood grain texture but not as pronounced but still nice. They have a lot of super nice colors. It’s a good board, I’d place it up there in like the top 3 you can buy.

    There’s a couple others out there. There was a product called Clubhouse decking that was awesome. They ended up getting bought out to a company in Canada and downsized a lot. Just didn’t have enough funding to keep up.

    Fiberon, trex, Timbertech composites are all horrible. Don’t be fooled by the contractors on here saying it’s not what it used to be. It is. They rebrand their boards every other year. They have good better and bests. New names every year and ground breaking technology every year. It’s a bunch of crap. They’re cheap and don’t last. Inside is wood fillers and recycled milk jugs, garbage bags etc. outside is a cheap “vinyl” capstock. It rots from the inside out. Read between the lines of the warranty too. It won’t cover any of it due to weather conditions. These are the only products most contractors can get so of course they’re going to say they’re good.

    Only wholesale big box store product that is even somewhat decent and at least better than any of the others, is Timbertech Azek. It’s not a true PVC deck board however it is Vinyl. They call it Armor Allow Technology.. whatever that means. Check their lawsuit 3 years ago.

    Do your research to anyone who’s reading and I hope this helps. Please don’t make an expensive mistake and listen to the contractor whos limited to these composite products.

  4. The key to success is to use the proper product for what you are trying to do. The big box stores sell mid level products — “it’s the best we sell” . Has no relevance to the overall market.

    What may work on a properly built deck in a dry area — may not at the beach (hot) or on a ground level deck in a moist area. They are not universal products … some of the composite products will not work with typical 16″ spacing when replacing a wood deck — especially one that’s not firm to begin with. If you are doing a composite — read the specifications and installation instructions.

    I’m in the mid-atlantic and have replaced both of my decks — beach and suburbs – with Zuri. It’s expensive. Both at one time were cedar — over PT frame. Even buying the best cedar and finishing both sides — 10 years it was a mess. I tried the better PT decking boards — ugly. I took off the PT after 4 years and put down the Zuri … down about 5 years now. It’s strong enough to span the 16″ on a very solid structure.

    Alternative to wood building products have a place .. I’m restoring and adding to an old stone building in PA …. in a damp area they can be the best option ….. also, if fire is a concern.

    Pick carefully … people think they are a cheaper way to go … this is not always the case.

  5. Holy smokes…this article is full of misinformation. If this was written 12 years ago, some points would be valid. Otherwise this is very misleading and straight up false on most points with any decent brand. The picture you posted with it is low quality, Chinese imported junk.

    If the article was to say there are a lot of cheap, garbage composites out there…I would agree. But there’s also a lot of high quality options that don’t do the things you say. Then there are PVC options and inorganic composite options like Deckorators that simply outperform everything. But to paint the whole category as bad is absolutely false. There are bad brands of products in every building material category…doesn’t mean the whole category is junk.

    1. Certainly doesn’t mean the whole category is junk, but trying to discern which company is making the good products is difficult since they all claim to be making quality, lasting composite decking. If you’ve founds some winners here then share them with us. For me, I’m not comfortable trusting the same companies who told us 20 years ago that their product was foolproof and failed that now they’ve REALLY made it foolproof. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

      1. Have you ever dealt with Weardeck? I have to span 24 inch centers on my deck and they seem to be the only company that will certify a 120 per square foot at that span. It is a fiberglass composite but I cannot find much information on them.

  6. I am looking at replacing my 10 x 16 wood deck with Fiberon Concordia in a shade called Cinnabar. What can you tell me about this product……pros and cons?

  7. I am so happy to have read about this topic: Composite decking. I have an enormous, old, pressure treated wood deck and have been thinking to myself for years now that if only I could afford one of those no maintenance newfangled decks. There is actually nothing wrong with my current deck, it’s as strong as ever, even after 36 years! I think I will keep it, for now.

  8. I am an retiring lady looking to redo the wood surface of my 24×16 deck in Miami with Fiberon Goodlife weekender composite decking boards. I need a good looking low maintenance and durable surface. Is this a good choice?? How do I know if a contractor is knowledgeable?? Please help!
    Marie

  9. 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.

    1. I went the same way, extruded aluminum and removed my TREX. There was nothing wrong with the Trex but it was not properly shielding the area below the deck from water penetration. I installed Nexan decking designed for resistance to penetration and found that I removed over 1,000 lbs from the weight of the deck, found that it was actually cooler to walk on, and was able to hold less than 1/8″ width variation over a 16′ span. Yes, it’s can be scratched with something that scratches but there is a touch-up kit that quickly repairs the surface.

  10. 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?

    1. When did you purchase the home and was the deck recently done. If there is mold, you will have a problem with virtually all warranties. I had a 500 plus sq foot deck under construction and the delivered boards from TimberTech had mold, irregular finish plus the finish was flaking off where the pattern was irregular. The rep refused to come on site. I returned all the uncut boards to the lumber yard for credit. There are serious inherent design problems with the composite decking product. Buyer beware. I am in the process of switching over to aluminum boards which are more expensive. As my father used to say, quality remains long after the price is forgotten. [email protected]

  11. 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.

    1. Don’t buy it. I only had mine for six years and the boards have warped. My deck is ugly now and no one is helping me be compensated for this crap decking. No joke!

      1. Are you sure you mean wolf? Wolf is a PVC product with an ASA capstock. It’s one of the best PVC deck boards available and it doesn’t rot, mold, mildew or warp. Are you talking about trex in this?

        Carol.. wolf is a very good product. I’m actually surprised you got quotes with trex being more expensive. Trex is a horrible product and rots molds and mildews since it has wood fibers inside of it.

        VEKADECK is the best deck board in the entire vinyl decking industry. It’s very difficult to get and they only offer their products to the top decking companies in the country. If you can find that, it’s your best option.

        Wolf decking is probably top 3. It’s a very good deck board.

    2. Carol.. wolf is a very good product. I’m actually surprised you got quotes with trex being more expensive. Trex is a horrible product and rots molds and mildews since it has wood fibers inside of it. Look up consumer affairs and read all the horrible reviews about trex.

      VEKADECK is the best deck board in the entire vinyl decking industry. It’s very difficult to get and they only offer their products to the top decking companies in the country. If you can find that, it’s your best option.

      Wolf decking is probably top 3. It’s a very good deck board.

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

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

    1. Many contractors use this from the forums I’ve seen. I’m looking at Fibero , however. They have a few “best” brands, and I’m considering their Concordia Symmetry line. Do not buy Trex! Do not buy anything w a 10 yr warranty. These aren’t cheap but we are doing them ourselves and using out own hardware. If you find Aztech for a good deal, snag it, but Fiberon seems to be the go to now. Good luck.

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