COMPOSITE DECKING vs WOOD DECK
Composite Decking is Maintenance Free
Composite Decking Manufacturers stopped using "Maintenance Free" when describing their products early on after law suits. Nowadays they refer to it as "Low Maintenance." They will tell you that the product will require cleaning a couple of times a year to make it look good again. (Good-not, "Like New") The cleaners leave the decking looking powdery. They are acidic and chemically strip the finish and kill the mold for a time. Green clients should be aware that to "maintain" these products it involves splashing chemicals around your yard. A good stiff brush is required to physically scrub the decking.
Composite Decking is Better than Wood for Decks
If it is better than wood-why are they trying to emulate the look of wood. The new products are quite convincing. Big hunks of plastic with wood grain and variable colorants to emulate the look of wood perfectly. Sure, it will fade out, but when it is installed it looks just like wood. I suggest that only wood is wood. Ipe or Mahogany will likely have a durability of 40 years if oiled yearly. A wood deck can be refinished every few years to look like new again. You cannot refinish a composite deck-you simply replace it. 5 years from now, your composite deck will look like a 5 year old composite deck-with scratches and stains.
Composite Decking Lasts Forever
When buried in a landfill-composite decking may very well last forever. They say a plastic shopping bag will last 1000 years underground, I bet the composite decking will also do just as well. Long after you have tired of your stylish composite deck, it won't be recycled; it will go to the landfill with the plastic patio chairs and the rest of the plastic packaging.
Coupling Vinyl with Wood
Offered a strong but flexible product without as much temperature growth over time. They missed a couple of factors however. The "Pulp" wood they use is made up of fiber (small wood particles) that is of species not known for outdoor durability such as pine, spruce and bark from these trees. It is basically the wood left over that isn't good enough to use to make paper. Since this wood absorbs moisture, then dispels it this creates a pocket within the vinyl that soaks up moisture every time it gets wet. Over time... black mold-like an un-vented shower stall and it will never subside. Cleaners may make it look alright for a few days-but it will always come back. Apparently they still have issues. If composite decking contains wood it may be prudent to steer clear of the product. Warrantees offered by Composite decking companies are notorious for pointing out their tragic flaws. Pool chemicals, mechanical wear, mold growth are often not covered by their limited lifetime warrantee.
Composite Decking Testing Methods
Generally, when they test composite decking durability and color-fastness they test for the equivalent of about 6 months in the real world. Furthermore manufacturers have told me that each batch of composite decking will be a slightly different color. I haven't personally seen a composite testing that included testing for freeze thaw stability.
Is Composite a Structural Material?
The simple answer is that when you can legally use it for joists and handrails then it will be deemed structural materials. Most composite hand-rails are not Building Code Legal. Most composite decking manufacturers advise to create a frame that has the joists about 12" apart, rather than the typical 16" since the materials will tend to sag under its own weight.
Vinyl Decking (without wood pulp-Virgin Vinyl)
Is apparently durable and long lasting. One of our builders says he decides which composite is good by laying it on something solid, hanging a 3" corner off the edge and giving it a good whack with a hammer. If it shatters off-Don't use it. He sticks to Virgin Vinyl products and has had good luck. (EON by CPI is not Virgin Vinyl, we would suggest it is a PVC product classed with PVC patio furniture)
Virgin Vinyl composite decking does expand and contract a great deal and this needs to be accommodated by using different methods for fastening and leaving tolerances (spaces) to allow expansion based on temperature. Variance of about 200 degrees F should be standard in North America, which means up to 2 or 3" of expansion should be expected with some products.
Cheap Composite Decking
When something is just too cheap you want to steer clear. Cheap gas will always contain water or toxic waste. Cheap composite could have any number of horrors lurking within it especially if it comes all the way from another continent.