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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5 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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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