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Composite Decks

Composite Decking: What your clients need to know about this fast-growing, low-maintenance option

As time goes on, Canadian homeowners are getting more interested in reducing home maintenance chores and this is precisely why composite deck material is exploding in popularity. Of all the exterior home maintenance tasks, keeping a wooden deck looking good all the time is the biggest, most expensive and most physically demanding chore of them all. Composite decking material eliminates the need for ongoing finishing and refinishing of deck surfaces, plus composites never rot. As a contractor, selling a composite deck job in place of an all-wood equivalent puts more money in your pocket because the total project price will be higher with composites. But to get the green light on composites from your clients you’ll need to be able to explain the technical details and advantages you’ll learn here.

What Are Composites?

Composite deck lumber first came to market in 1996. Then and now composites are made from a 50/50 blend of wood fibers and plastic, usually sourced from recycled shipping pallets and grocery store shopping bags. The term “composite” decking has come to mean more than just a blend of wood fibers and plastic though. It’s loosely used to describe all types of synthetic deck lumber, including 100% plastic versions. Strictly speaking, all-plastic lumbers are not composites, but you needn’t get into fine distinctions when discussing matters with clients. All of the benefits and drawbacks of true composites apply pretty much across the board to all non-composite, 100% synthetic deck lumber options, too.
composite pile

Composites Save Time

Everything in the world needs maintenance, and composites are no exception. The advantage for homeowners is that the maintenance composites require is minimal – nothing more than an occasional sweeping or scrubbing down. There’s no need to sand, strip or apply a finish to composites, though some can even accept stains if you want to change their colour.
composite installation
And while all these advantages are obviously desirable, the higher price tag of composites is what sometimes scares people away. That’s where you need to put things into perspective. When a client chooses composites, they’re not just buying a building material. It’s like they’re also paying ahead of time to avoid all the labour and finishing materials that a wood equivalent would gobble up over the entire life of the deck. In this sense, considered over the life of the structure, composite lumber is one of the most economical deck options of all.
composite deck medley

Two Kinds of Composites

In an effort to reduce costs, some composite deck lumber is made hollow. Other types are solid and of similar thickness and width to milled wood lumber. Which one is best? That depends. Hollow versions cost less, but they also require end caps and other details that make the result look quite a bit more unlike wood than solid composites. If you have a client who appreciates routed edge details and a look that’s as close as possible to wood, then solids are the way to go. If keeping the budget in check is top priority, then go with a hollow product.

One important thing to realize is that composites have not yet evolved to the point where they can take over from wood in structural applications. For load-bearing posts, joints and beams, solid wood is still king. Why? Nothing yet compares with the amazing ability of wood to resist bending under consistent pressure over time.

hidden fastener

Making the Most of Composites

The premium price of composites should be met with the greatest care on your part to showcase the beauty of the material, and this comes down to a few things. A hidden deck board fastening system is one of the most important.

While it’s certainly possible to use regular, unhidden, face-driven deck screws to secure composite deck boards, this would be far less than ideal because composite decks look so much nicer when you can’t see any fasteners. Some composite deck lumber profiles are made to use a proprietary hidden fastener system, while others require a separate hidden system. Either way, you will run into situations such as the outer edge of the outer deck boards where hidden fasteners can’t be used. In cases like these you’ll find small-headed deck screws that do a great job while also looking tiny and inconspicuous.
A growing number of new deck owners that I hear from eventually regret going with solid wood, complaining that “I wish someone told me how much work real wood demands!”. Not only should you tell them, but you can also offer them a much less maintenance-intense option.