This post was updated on 10/19/2022
As you plan your dream deck, one of the key choices you face is what type of decking to use. Two of the most common options are wood and wood-plastic composites. Whether you plan to do the job yourself or hire a contractor, we’ll help you choose the right decking material by exploring the pros and cons of wood vs. composite decking.
"The first thing to know about choosing a deck material is that most decks use treated lumber for the framing, which is the structural part of the deck that you don't usually see unless you're underneath it," explains contractor Tim Slamans in an Angi blog post. "So the decision process usually involves only the materials that will make up the decking surface and railings."
Wood Decking Options
Many different wood species are available for use as decking and railing. Common options at U.S. lumberyards include cedar, redwood and pressure-treated pine lumber. For homeowners interested in exotic wood species, tropical hardwood decking options include tiger wood, ipe (pronounced "EE-pay) and mahogany.
Wood decking pros and cons are discussed later in this article.
What Is Composite Decking Made From?
Invented in the late 1980s, wood-plastic composite decking boards (also called "composite wood decking") is made of wood fibers encased in plastic. Composite decking is readily available at big box home improvement stores like The Home Depot and Lowe's, as well as local lumberyards throughout the U.S.
As more builders and homeowners learn of wood decking problems, many are turning to high-performance composite decking.
Composite Decking or Wood? – The Pros & Cons
Many homeowners choose wood decking because it is familiar, readily available and affordable. At the same time, wood decking comes with problems like splinters, rot and high maintenance. Although composite wood decking is easier to maintain, some homeowners worry that composites won't look as nice as wood. However, manufacturing advances have led to composites that emulate the rich, natural look of wood without the hassles of maintaining a wood deck.
When evaluating wood vs. composite decking, here are key issues to consider:
Which Looks Better?
While early-generations of composite decking tended to look artificial and plastic-y, some modern composites are available with a variegated appearance, and randomized embossed grain pattern so no two boards are alike. The result is composites that more closely resemble wood deck boards, like MoistureShield's Vision and Meridian decking lines.
Which Repels Moisture Better?
A key issue with wood decking is that the boards readily absorb water. Without the regular application of stains, sealers or paint, wood decking is susceptible to warping, splintering, cracking and rotting. In contrast, composite decking brands like MoistureShield and ChoiceDek are fully moisture-resistant to the core, which allows them to be installed in high moisture conditions without decaying.
Which Requires the Least Maintenance?
Wood decking requires regular painting, staining, and sealing to defend against the ravages of temperature, moisture, and pests. How often do you have to paint, stain, and seal composite decking? Never! Composite decking only requires sweeping or washing to keep the boards looking good and holding strong.
Which Resists Insect Damage?
Wood decking is prone to damage from insects and rodents. Regular painting and sealing can slow down damage, but won’t fully prevent it. Composite decking resists damage from termites and other wood-destroying pests without requiring painting or sealing.
Which Prevents Splinters?
All wood decking will eventually splinter, especially after exposure to fluctuations in temperature and moisture. Composite decking is made with small wood fibers encased in plastic, so it won’t splinter even after exposure to weather changes. This is especially important for places like pool decks, where people frequently walk barefoot, and for children and pets, whose feet are sensitive.
What is the Cost Difference?
The most common concern among homeowners trying to choose between composite decking or wood is cost. Among wood decking’s pros and cons, affordability is a decided benefit. Typically, wood decking is lower cost to purchase than composites, especially in the initial purchase. However, although the initial cost of wood is less, composite decking usually ends up paying for itself within 2-3 years when including the cost of annual maintenance. The price differential also depends on the wood species chosen versus the brand of composite decking, and local market conditions.
Easy to use online tools can also help you estimate the costs whether you use wood or composite wood decking.
Which is the Easiest to Work With?
Both wood and composites are easy to cut and fasten using common tools most homeowners have. One area where composite decking comes out ahead is it can more easily be bent (by heating it) to form curved deck sections.
Which Offers A Cooler Surface Temperature?
Heat and cold affect wood and composite decking differently. Wood decking has historically had an advantage over composites when it comes to summer weather, as composites can become uncomfortably hot in direct sun given their density. However, new manufacturing capabilities, like CoolDeck® technology from MoistureShield, reduce composite decking heat absorption up to 35% compared to conventional capped composites in similar colors, so your deck stays more comfortable on hot days. Did you know feet can begin to blister at temperatures as low as 109 degrees Fahrenheit? That 35% difference can be crucial, especially in the peak of summer heat.
Making Your Selection
To cut through the numerous choices, it is helpful to figure out which wood decking you like best then compare that to your favorite composite decking. Thus, instead of having to put dozens of options head-to-head, your choice becomes simpler, whether it is cedar vs. composite, redwood vs. composite or treated lumber vs. composite.
For additional insights on which is better (wood vs. composite decking), and to see how MoistureShield stacks up against other types of decking materials, check out our Deck Material Comparison Chart.