As construction executives know, winning projects from price-sensitive facility owners often requires showing them how the firm’s practices and specified materials will save money long term. For jobs involving decking and railing, material choice plays a prominent role in the project’s durability.  While wood was the traditional decking choice for many applications given its low upfront costs, contractors now frequently install composite decking, which provides a long-term cost savings given its greater durability and less intensive maintenance requirements.

Composite vs. Wood Decking
For a range of performance factors and other attributes, composite decking offers many advantages over wood.
Moisture resistance. Wood decking requires pressure treating and annual application of water sealers to keep moisture out and reduce splitting, warping and rot. By comparison, composites with fully encapsulated wood fibers withstand frequent water exposure, including from rain, snow and direct water contact up to full immersion.
  • MositureShield Composite DeckingInsect resistance. Wood decking products require treatment to avoid destruction by termites, carpenter ants and other damaging insects. Because composites are comprised of substantial amounts of plastics inedible to insects, they are not susceptible to insect attack and do not require treatment.
  • Fire resistance. Composites typically offer the same fire-resistance as wood decking: a Class C fire rating.
  • Expansion/Contraction. Wood and composites both require spacing between boards to accommodate thermal expansion. Board spacing also lets rain run off the deck and allows air to circulate underneath to help keep the deck structural supports dry.
  • Co-Efficient of Friction. Wood decking can be slippery when wet, requiring slip-resistant strips on stairs and high-traffic areas. By comparison, the textured surface of many composites has a higher coefficient of friction than wood for better slip resistance when people walk over it.
  • Splintering. While wood decking commonly splinters, especially if not regularly maintained, composites are splinter free because they have small-size wood fibers fully bonded together with plastic. This is a crucial safety and comfort feature for decks with water contact, where bare feet are common.
  • Maintenance/Costs. Although composites typically have a higher upfront cost than wood due to their higher performance, they have significantly lower maintenance costs year after year. Whereas wood decking requires annual painting, staining or sealing, composites only require annual cleaning. Composites also last decades longer than wood, eliminating or reducing replacement costs.
  • Aesthetics. Manufacturers have developed techniques to create composite decking resembling attractive wood species. This includes deep-embossed, realistic wood grain patterns for the appearance of sawn wood, along with variegated coloring with the appeal of tropical hardwoods. Composites also are available in a wide range of colors, which allows them to match any architectural style and to be mixed and matched for dramatic effect.
  • Sustainability. Some composite brands contain up to 95 percent recycled content, including pre-consumer content and post-consumer content, such as grocery bags and plastic bottles, along with recycled wood fiber. With some composites, no new trees are cut down to produce them, which is a strong selling point for environmentally conscious facility owners.
Performance When It Counts
Composite decking has performed well in numerous demanding applications, including in high-precipitation climates, coastal regions and even fully-submerged boat launches.

While traditional building materials have served people well for centuries, today’s higher-performance materials are made to last, thereby offering long-term cost savings. To stand up to the worst that Mother Nature can throw at outdoor projects, consider composite decking engineered for moisture and insect resistance.
 
MoistureShield Composite Decking
Composite Decking Defined

Composite decking is an engineered material available in a range of sizes and colors for use in residential and commercial decks, docks and boardwalks. Products are made of wood fibers and polyethylene plastic.

Full encapsulation of the wood fibers within the plastic is essential for the long-term durability of composites. Some manufacturers use larger size wood pulp, rather than wood flour, along with a proprietary heat process to totally encapsulate the wood fibers within plastic. Such products are suited for use on the ground, in the ground and fully submerged in water given their high moisture resistance.

The extrusion and cooling techniques manufacturers use also affect the final product. For example, allowing decking planks to cool slowly after extrusion, rather than cooling them with water, reduces stresses within the plastic. This helps prevent post-installation twisting or warping.

Because there have been high-profile instances in which composites experienced delamination, decay, rot and other field failures, it is important to check the manufacturer’s track record and inquire about warranties. Some manufacturers warrant their composites for life.


Brent Gwatney is senior vice president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield composite decking and serves on the North American Deck and Railing Association board of directors. For more information, call (866) 729-2378 or visit www.moistureshield.com.