Composite Decking vs Timber Decking

The Great British Summer has truly arrived, and with that, more and more of us will be looking to spend time out in the garden enjoying the sun. To make their garden a more comfortable place to relax during the summer, many homeowners will be considering installing a deck. Decking is a great way to make the most of your garden space, as a place to relax, eat, chat and more.

Traditionally, decking has always been made from various forms of timber. Timber is used throughout the construction industry for a variety of purposes thanks to its strength, reliability and durability. However, in recent years, an alternative to timber decking has been growing in popularity – composite decking. Made from a mixture of plastic and wood fibres, composite decking is certainly very different to natural timber, but it comes with a whole host of unique benefits that have made it the preferred choice for many.

But which decking material is best suited to you? It can be difficult to determine which of these two materials would work better on individual properties, especially when you take garden size, shape, age and style into consideration. It is a commonly asked question with many different questions and answers to consider. This guide will take a look at some of the key advantages and disadvantages of both composite and timber decking, answering many common questions and clearing up many common misconceptions. So read on if you need help deciding which would be best for your project.

Timber Decking

Timber decking is by far the most common type found in British homes today. Decking has been popular among British homeowners for decades, with timber being the traditional choice for its natural aesthetic. Grown from a variety of both soft- and hardwoods, timber decking materials are sourced from all over the world. Timber decking is extremely strong and reliable, and can last for many years if properly maintained. What’s more, thanks to its natural qualities, timber’s appearance is unique, which is one of the aspects that has most drawn homeowners to it.

Lifespan and Maintenance

The life expectancy of timber decking can vary massively depending upon how well it is cared for. A well looked after timber deck can last for many decades without issue, however an unmaintained deck could last as little as ten years before serious repairs could be needed.

There are numerous ways to maintain the structural integrity and appearance of your timber deck. These include sanding, sealing, painting and cleaning. All of these should be performed once every few years, apart from cleaning – which you’ll need to do several times a year to keep your timber decking looking its best.

Price and Installation

The price of timber decking varies depending on your choice of brand and the type of wood used in its construction. However, as decking is often considered somewhat of a luxury feature in gardens, the cost of building decking, particularly in more coveted varieties of wood can prove to be quite expensive. However, this is usually balanced out by the amount of usage a deck gets as well as the attractiveness it adds to your garden. What’s more, decking can often add value to your property.

As most traditional timber decks are made up of almost entirely natural materials, installing them usually requires additional steps, tools and accessories when compared to installing composite decking. However these tools and materials are widely available, and can be easily incorporated to create a far more natural-looking deck.

The time needed to construct a timber deck varies based on size, tools used and more. Installation times can vary from just a couple of days to a few weeks of work. You can manage and reduce this time by properly planning and organising the project. For example, having every tool and accessory you will require beforehand will help move things along quicker.

Safety

Traditional wooden decks, with the right care, can be safe to use all year round. If de-iced and covered appropriately (with rubber mats, for example) in winter they can be safe to access without having to worry about slipping and falling.

Meanwhile, in warmer weather, the shape of the wood can bend and distort due to the temperature. Usually, this change is only slight, but it can lead to structural weakening and an increase in the number of splinters. Again, if the appropriate measures are taken, such as sanding and wood treatments, the deck can be kept safe and useable throughout the summer months.

Like all materials, wood does wear over time, regardless of how much care and attention it is given. However, the strength and longevity of wooden decking is in the hands of its owner far more than with composite material.

Sustainability

Timber decking’s effect on the environment can depend on a number of factors. The first of these is the type of wood used. Different varieties of timber will have differing impacts on the environment based on how difficult they are to source. For example, sustainably harvested timber which has been grown and prepared in the UK is going to be far less harmful than timber sourced from the Amazon rainforest.

The way you maintain your timber decking can also affect its environmental impact. Many timber decking cleaning and treatment products contain harsh chemicals which can harm plants and vegetation. Thankfully, these concerns are well-known by manufacturers, and a great deal of effort has gone into creating more eco-friendly products which minimise their environmental damage.

What is done with your decking should you no longer have use for it is also vital to consider, as throwing wood away could be considered problematic for the environment. However, timber can also be recycled fairly easily, and there are many uses for unwanted wooden structures and products. Therefore, if the correct steps are made, even disposing of your decking can have less of an impact on our planet.

Visual Appeal

Of course, one of the main reasons people opt for timber decking over other types is, quite simply, its visual appeal. Wooden builds within our gardens have been favoured throughout the country for many decades now, and it’s easy to see why. Wood is a versatile yet unique material with plenty of character no matter how big or small the structure.

Wooden decks can be painted in a wide variety of colours, from bright and cheerful to sleek and subtle, the only real limit to the possibilities is the shades of wood paint available to you. There have been examples of eye-catching patterns and shades applied to decking, from reds and blues greens and browns.

On top of this, there are several treatments and sealers available for decking which can alter the finish of the structure to your liking. Whether you want emphasise the natural texture of wood as much as possible or would prefer a more polished effect, there are products out there to help you achieve this look.

Composite Decking

Dog Laying on Composite Decking Boards

Composite decking is a relatively new decking alternative that offers a series of benefits wooden decking cannot. Usually made from a mixture of plastic and wood fibres, composite decking tends to be more affordable, and requires far less maintenance than its wooden counterpart.

Lifespan and Maintenance

While timber decking’s lifespan varies depending on how well it’s looked after, composite decking’s life expectancy is far more reliable. Composite decking can last up to or over fifty years with very little maintenance beyond semi-annual cleaning.

This lifespan is partly due to the unique mix of materials found in composite decking.

Price and Installation

Composite decking is also notable for its lower installation costs and faster installation times. While wooden decking can take weeks to finish and will usually require professional help in some shape or form, composite decking is far simpler, with most manufacturers offering their own guides and instructions.

This is further helped by the fact that many composite decks can be purchased in the form of ‘kits’, giving you more or less all the components you will need to make certain sections of your decking, considerably lowering the risk of finding out you don’t have all the tools and parts you will need to carry out your project.

On top of this, many manufacturers of composite decking offer incredibly helpful and easily accessible installation guides for their products. As composite deck creators usually offer all the required components to create a complete system, you can be sure you are getting the correct materials for your project.

Safety

While composite decking is about as safe as well looked after timber deck, it requires far less care, and it is therefore a lot simpler to keep secure and safe to use, even for pets and young children. Composite decking doesn’t splinter, no matter the time of weather, and can also be manufactured to be both slip-resistant a fireproof.

The various safety measures that can be put in place for composite decking make it ideal for households with children and pets, as there is less risk of injury even if you don’t have time to spend many hours a year looking after your deck.

This is not to say that composite decking is completely safe at all times – surfaces can still become slippery in very wet or very cold weather, and cleaning will still be necessary in order to keep the deck as secure as possible.

The Environment

While timber is made from wood, a fully natural material, composite decking utilises a great deal of plastic. While plastic production and disposal can have various negative effects on the environment, many composite decking manufacturers have taken a number of precautions to help combat this issue.

For example, many composite decking components have been crafted using recycled plastic, incorporating already-existing materials instead of producing new ones. In turn, many of these decks are themselves recyclable, making the process of disposing of these decks once you no longer have use for them a far more environmentally-friendly process (as long as they are disposed of properly).

It should be noted that, like wooden decking, composite decking requires cleaning, and there are many specialised products to help with this process. However, the chemicals in some of these products could prove to be destructive towards the plants and animals around your decking. In response to this problem, many manufacturers have released cleaning products that are far less hazardous, though appropriate care when using remains vital.

Visual Appeal

The visual appeal of composite decking cannot be understated. While many will argue that the finished result is not as bespoke as timber, the design and production technologies behind composite decking are improving all the time, with better-looking decks available now than even just a couple of years ago.

While timber is usually painted in order to achieve the desired colour, composite decking is more often than not created in the intended colour. On one hand, this does give you less freedom in your design choices, as you are limited to the colours composite decking manufacturers have available to you. However, on the other hand, your shade will be far more permanent, and will need maintaining far less than most timber alternatives.

So Which Decking Material is Right for You?

In conclusion, the best decking material will really be down to you - different decking materials will suit different homeowners and their own personal specifications. Composite decking is ideal for those looking for a straightforward construction process with many of the accessories available under just a few different brands and names. They also require considerably less maintenance, and have set lifespan that it is both likely to meet and unlikely to be useable beyond.

Timber decking meanwhile remains the more ‘unique’ of the two, with greater design potential and longer lifespans at the cost of more maintenance and installation processes more specific to individual projects.

Decks are popular structures that can bring plenty of character and functionality to any garden, and whether you go for timber or composite, you’re sure to finish with a fantastic looking space that will complement your property perfectly.