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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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180 thoughts on “The Problems with Composite Decking

  1. My Azek deck was installed in 2008. Within a couple of years, it was fading. The rails were chaulking.
    Azek representative told me to have it cleaned and apply a Deck Max brightener. It looked much better.
    However, the problem came back the next year. It’s getting worse although I keep having it cleaned followed by the brightener. It costs between $600 – $800. to have it done. A sizable annual cost to maintain this ‘nearly maintenance free’ deck.
    Is there any info on problems with 2008 Azek decking?

  2. I have a trex deck from 2008. It has been fine till now. We are getting some warping and bad drainage. I have had some success drilling some driange holes about 1/4.

    It has helped but not very nice looking! Don’t know about a warranty contractor went out of business.

    1. You can but I would recommend it. That is a lot of board to board surface area that is not going to dry out well and promote dry rot.

  3. Trex deck just installed. Two weeks later white areas appearing. Can be scrubed and washed off. Reappears later after drying. What is it?

  4. My 30 year old CCA treated southern pine deck is still going strong. The biggest issue I have is that the deck screws are rusting to the point that some of them are just 1/2 inch long. Oil based stains applied every year or two seem to work best.

  5. We had the first generation Trex. It was a pitiful product. I pulled it out and made a walkway over a small stream we have and also used it on a dock over the pond. There it is fine.

    We put in a new Trex deck two years ago. It is capped … the best level of “board” they have. It’s been terrific.

  6. I have several decks so for me it’s more about maintenance and then aesthetics! I’ve narrowed it down to Timbertech
    (Tropical collection) but does anyone have any experience with Zuri decking?

    1. Zuri is a new product line and without taking away from the way it looks hasn’t been around long enough to know how it is going to respond. That mid grade TimberTech product is nice but you get a better product in the Azek PVC line. TimberTech is the parent company of Azek and the composite core line which is heavier and has a less year warranty. Still a nice product though.

  7. I’m with you all – in the middle of a build – needing to decide on a decking product. I thought this part would be easy. Now I’m confused as to which direction to go.

    1. Building with Azek and Timbertech for the past 8 years here in KC. I am only pushing their products because we have had zero calls back for any deck we have built with it. We have had problems with Trex, Evergrain who owns Envision both are core products with no cap and they will mold, stain, swell and get very hot.

  8. We should have chosen wood. I regret our choice of composite decking for the following reasons (we installed Envision, about 6 months ago)”

    1. Every time the weather heats up, the fascia, made of Envision fascia planks, bends outward, warping and presenting a safety hazard to anyone who might catch a toe on our stairs. The fascia shrinks and expands daily, leaving a gap so large between the stairs and the fascia that one can easily fall after tripping on the gap.
    2. The color, after only 6 short months, has faded significantly, so much so that our painted risers are now much darker than the rest of the stairs. Even painted wood does better than this.
    3. Anything—and I mean, literally anything—that falls on the Envision decking stains it. We have water stains, pollen stains, rain stains, sugar water stains from hummingbird feeders, footprints, and many other unidentifiable marks that cannot be erased, cleaned, or made to appear less offensive. Even the plastic protective bottoms of our chairs have made stains. Is there anything at all that can be put on this product without making a mark? I don’t think so.
    4. The product is excessively slippery, even when not wet. It is, quite frankly, a hazard on stairs. I have to warn everyone to be careful on our stairs.
    5. The product looks like plastic, not wood.
    6. The company does not stand behind its products.

  9. Here’s my take on composite decking. We installed Envision about 6 months ago.

    1. Every time the weather heats up, the fascia, made of Envision fascia planks, bends outward, warping and presenting a safety hazard to anyone who might catch a toe on our stairs. The fascia shrinks and expands daily, leaving a gap so large between the stairs and the fascia that one can easily fall after tripping on the gap.
    2. The color, after only 6 short months, has faded significantly, so much so that our painted risers are now much darker than the rest of the stairs. Even painted wood does better than this.
    3. Anything—and I mean, literally anything—that falls on the Envision decking stains it. We have water stains, pollen stains, rain stains, sugar water stains from hummingbird feeders, footprints, and many other unidentifiable marks that cannot be erased, cleaned, or made to appear less offensive. Even the plastic protective bottoms of our chairs have made stains. Is there anything at all that can be put on this product without making a mark? I don’t think so.
    4. The product is excessively slippery, even when not wet. It is, quite frankly, a hazard on stairs. I have to warn everyone to be careful on our stairs.
    5. The product looks like plastic, not wood.
    6. The company will exploit any loophole to avoid claims against the product. I can only conclude that this company does not stand behind its products.

  10. 1. Every time the weather heats up, the fascia, made of Envision fascia planks, bends outward, warping and presenting a safety hazard to anyone who might catch a toe on our stairs. The fascia shrinks and expands daily, leaving a gap so large between the stairs and the fascia that one can easily fall after tripping on the gap.
    2. The color, after only 6 short months, has faded significantly, so much so that our painted risers are now much darker than the rest of the stairs. Even painted wood does better than this.
    3. Anything—and I mean, literally anything—that falls on the Envision decking stains it. We have water stains, pollen stains, rain stains, sugar water stains from hummingbird feeders, footprints, and many other unidentifiable marks that cannot be erased, cleaned, or made to appear less offensive. Even the plastic protective bottoms of our chairs have made stains. Is there anything at all that can be put on this product without making a mark? I don’t think so.
    4. The product is excessively slippery, even when not wet. It is, quite frankly, a hazard on stairs. I have to warn everyone to be careful on our stairs.
    5. The product looks like plastic, not wood.
    6. The company will exploit any loophole to avoid claims against the product. I can only conclude that this company does not stand behind its products.

  11. Me too! I have contractors coming out tomorrow and the next day to give me estimates. I had hoped to go Trex becuase my current deck which is wood , teh boards are cracking and splitting and I get tired of staining every year. But now reading all these posts, I am having second thoughts. How much have you all been quoted to build your Trex deck?

    1. Hi
      I am in the UK and am having problems with TREX. When the sun is hottest the deck heats up so you can’t stand on it bare foot. My granddaughter sat on the deck and quickly jumped up as it burned the back of her legs.
      It’s slippery when wet and doesn’t really look like wood.
      Mine is warped at one end and although I’ve put extra clips in to secure it that hasn’t helped.
      It looks great from a distance.
      I hope this helps.

    2. I’d stay away from trex and look any of the Azek lines. If you are replacing just the decking I’d assume twice material as a bench mark depending how they install it.

      We would also charge a removal fee of the existing product and a dumpster or dump fee.

  12. I installed Trex decking twelve years ago and other than a slight mold issue which cleans up easily with a pressure washer we have had no problems, we are in Alberta Canada.

    So to summarize Trex deck built on pressure treated and painted framework, Aluminum railing, the deck is 5feet off the ground on steel piles, on the north side of the house and is 20 X 25′ with stairs made of trex runners on steel stringers, the gap between the trex is 1/4″.
    The stairs are slippery when wet or snow covered, I put outdoor carpet on them to make them safer.

  13. We have now had 2 Trex decks, the 2nd being a result of the class action suit against Trex. The first was completed in 2008 and replaced entirely by Trex as a result of the surface shedding from the planks and warping and cracking. The replacement went in 2012 and it has now warped, cracked, and split as well. So we are now ready for deck #3! It will not be Trex, that is for sure, but I am beginning to think we will go back to wood as the stories I see make me think that none of these companies are making materials that match their hype.

  14. Hire a certified trex pro and use trex hidden fasteners. The spacing will stay as it should forever, or at least 20 to 25 years.
    You will pay more for the installation, but it is worth it! Your Trexpro will register your warranty. Trex has a hard time denying the warranty if your contractor follows the proper procedures. Sometimes the materials fail, but it is very rare at this point in the products life! Every material in the construction trade can have a bad manufacturing run. Decking, siding, windows, doors, or roofing. I have seen them all put out a bad product at one point or another in my 33 years+ as a carpenter. We have to hope that these failures have taught a lesson to the manufacturers.
    Your decking will only be a straight as the lumber you install it on. Wood will always warp, crack, and split. I am now using Trex Elevations light gauge steel framing for most of my projects. I have yet to see a warping board, or fascia when installed on Elevations. I would use Trex on my own deck, and recommend it over any other composite. I have installed them all! I do prefer Transcend over Select. It just has a better feel. Good luck to all of you, and use a certified professional!

    1. I am if the premier deck builders in KC market. This article is farther from the truth and has alot of inaccuracies. A composite deck is has guidelines, just like any other deck. Trex is my favorite brand to install and sell, but Timbertech and Azek, Deckorators are all good brands also. I have no issues when installed properly, and decks I installed 8 years ago still look just as good with no fade. Maybe it’s because I don’t install other brands . I am certain that most people want zero maintenance and and no splinters.

      1. What do you think about installing veranda from Home Depot and glass railing supported by stainless steel Hardware. Deck bottom support is made out of treated lumber. Application is in New Jersey. Any insights into long-term and maintenance issues? Does Home Depot also stand behind it or do you have to go to the vendor. Is the vendor Verandas manufacturer easy to work web in case of problems

        1. Simply put I wouldn’t. You also don’t have to be a composite pro of any brand to have a deck done correctly. What you look for is someone who knows what they are doing, the right way to install it and informing the customers up front about the products they are looking at. All too often we hear clients tell us they are looking at a composite product that costs $2.50 a square foot. I don’t care what the brand is that option is going to be worse than wood.

          Box stores will normally transfer warrantied related issues after the first year to the manufacturer.

    2. Jason, while I am not a pro I have several years of experience with wood and trex. Wood is a lot of work. Seasons, sun, weather, all play an important part. You can buy Epa wood and it will last a long time before checking. Maintenance is the key. Trex while the newest version is good with the hideaway clips are not the best. Shrinkage on a 20 ft run will pop the clips at the ends! I used a biscuit joiner at the end to where the two intersected but the boards shrink and pop the fasteners. As for the rim boards if you are using them, they will flex and joints will separate. It doesn’t matter if you butt them or use a 45 degree angle cut. Glue does not help. Railings will also flex and bend under constant sunlight! Is trex better than wood. If you can find a work around yes. The maintenance on wood is a lot harder. Cabot offers a stain that will last 7-10 years. I had a mahogany deck and it lasted 3 at best with constant sanding to reapply. Very expensive. The wood rotted on the ends and the stainless steel screw holes rotted as well. Pressure treated is the worse. Trex in my mind works the best but in time you will need to replace them as well but it will last longer.

      1. Concealoc and fastenmaster clip systems done correctly should provide decades of use. Trex clips are are horrible and in my opinion many of the products they are pushing fail in comparison to brands that have been around less.

  15. We’re in Texas and are in the design phase of a deck around our above ground pool. While we enjoy the covered wood deck on our house, we do not want the same level of upkeep around the pool. We will likely have a sun-sail type shade covering most of the decking, but heat definitely an issue. Has anyone installed Cali Bamboo Composite Decking or have experience with other types than Trex? I also read about Millboard based in the U.K., but no U.S. distributors yet. Thanks!

  16. My trex deck installation minimum gapping between pieces has closed up over time and filled in with pine needles and other debris. This is causing drainage problems and staining of the pieces is becoming very difficult to clean. What can be done to open up the gaps between runs? Considering Can running a skill saw with an 1/8” blade between each piece it to open up a gap for drainage?

    1. If the decking is capped then ripping it with a skill saw will reveal the uncapped portion which will cause more performance issues. Not sure if there is a solution other than cleaning out the needles consistently or removing the birds and reinstalling with bigger gaps.

    2. First we used a skill saw to create a gap between boards because some areas had none. Now about once a month I take a putty knife and push whatever debris either out of the gap or push it through the gap depending on the size of the debris. No pooling of water anymore. Much less mold and decomposing of the Trex material. Next up is painting it to seal the Trex better who approves of a product sold by Home Depot. Found it on their website.

      1. Could agree more with this article. We installed composite decking 12 years ago and will be tearing it up next spring. Boards are spongy and bounce and some have broken completely. The company we bought from declared bankruptcy but from what I have read I am staying clear. My friends pressure treated deck is going on 19 years with no issues. He treats it every other year and hasn’t had to replace a board. Going to build with pressure treated and use the new hidden fasteners. No need to screw the boards in from the top anymore. A 1/3 of the cost and it can’t be any worse than what we have. I have read that the warranties that come with composite are useless. Companies will use any excuse to avoid paying. Check out the complaints regarding TREX via the better business bureau.

  17. I have a Fiberon Deck that is failing miserably. The last two years it started cupping and splitting and the last two months has become a severe trip hazard. We spent over 15,000.00 on materials. Fiberon is now saying that it is because of a lack of ventilation. Their reps were out here prior to even laying the product to inspect the infrastructure as I wanted a diagonal deck. My deck is 8 years old. I am going to start a media blitz about all of this garbage. Fiberon was here 4 times during our installation. I just found out yesterday that their composite deck is a wood byproduct that is wrapped in vinyl. Did anyone else know this.

    1. That is the core of the Fiberon business all though they have a PVC product now and you should have been educated by your installer. We carry a number of samples to explain this very issue with every client. Capped composite can do the things you are saying especially Fiberon because their capped product is not wrapped on the bottom and they cut the groove into the board after they cap it. This defeats the purpose of the PVC coating as it just gets the core wet from the bottom and the groove. What you are experiencing is the result of the core containing wood which will act as wood does regardless of what it is mixed with. I am sorry to hear about your experience and wish you were better taken care of during your initial deck shopping.

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