Choosing a decking material for your building project is not a decision you should take lightly. As a long-term investment that you will be enjoying for many years to come, your deck should look great...and be built to last.
Whether you're dreaming about a backyard deck or a rooftop recreation area, it’s essential to understand the materials available for your project. Two of the most popular types of decking are composite and real hardwood. Let’s see how they compare, so you can make an informed choice about which material best suits your project.
From the handsome dark brown of Ipe decking to the warm luster of Garapa, real hardwoods have a natural beauty that just can’t be replicated. Spectacular graining variations and unique character marks add to the organic aesthetic quality. They can be refinished with an oil sealer occasionally, if you prefer the 'new wood' look. Or hardwood decking can also age gracefully, often taking on mellow tones and a silver patina over the years, for a low maintenance decking option.
Manufactured using a mix of wood fibers and polymers, composite decking has historically had an artificial, plastic-type appearance. Nowadays, modern composites are available that do a better job of resembling wood deck boards. However, the issue of color fade remains – exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet rays can lead to a fast fade, meaning replacement boards stand out like a sore thumb. Composite decking also has a tendency to 'ugly out' before it actually wears out.
Extremely high-density hardwoods, such as Ipe and Machiche, make for an incredibly reliable decking material. Specifically chosen for their exceptional strength, these hardwoods are resistant to all kinds of heavy-duty wear and tear. No other decking materials are naturally stronger, or can span farther, than high density hardwood decking.
Ipe decking is exceptionally strong and lasts long, naturally
While composite decking is designed to reproduce the strength of a natural hardwood, it falls far short. The span rating is very low, and it tends to sag somewhat between the deck joists. There have also been many complaints of weakening and issues of poor-quality control procedures since composite decking appeared on the market. In 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission issued recalls on two leading brands of composite decking due to compromised safety.
High quality hardwoods such as Machiche decking, Garapa, Cumaru, Ipe and ThermoWood are extremely resistant to mold, fungal decay and extreme weathering, as well as termites and other insects. They are also impervious to warping, expansion and contraction and often have a usable life expectancy of more than 30 years.
With a typical usable life expectancy of less than 15 years, composite decking isn’t up to standard when it comes to durability. Mold and water retention problems, a host of complaints involving weakening and a lack of research dedicated into improving future products mean that composite decking, in its current form, just doesn’t last as well as hardwoods.
With a low life cycle cost and a usable life expectancy of more than 30 years, real hardwood is the most sustainable decking material available. Hardwoods such as Machiche or Santa Maria (both FSC® Certified decking material options) are ethically harvested, using only what is needed to ensure that the trees regrow, leaving very little negative impact on the environment.
No natural resources are renewed during the production of composite decking. In fact, it’s made up of various man-made materials – often petroleum byproducts from oil manufacturers. And while composite decking has a usable life expectancy of less than 15 years, the material itself actually lasts a lifetime afterwards– unfortunately, in a landfill.
If you'd like to learn more about decking material options, and deciding on the best decking for your project, DOWNLOAD "The Ultimate Guide to Selecting the Right Decking".