We evaluated decks from Azek, Fiberon, TimberTech, Trex, and others to see which ones hold up
By Tobie Stanger, Paul Hope
Composite decking has a lot to offer over traditional wood options.
Ease of maintenance, for one. Composite decking—a mixture of ground wood and plastic molded into boards—never needs to be sealed, stained, or painted. Natural wood may need restaining every two years and resealing up to once a year.
Also, the price difference between composite and wood decking has recently narrowed. Pandemic timber shortages have pushed up the price of pressure-treated yellow pine, the most common and cost-effective decking timber.
Composite wood used to be much more expensive than natural wood, but now this price difference is smaller. And today it depends on where you live, the terrace you buy and other factors.
Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project lead at Fortress Home, a general contractor for high-end homes in the Chicago area, says the price differential between Yellow Pine and the Trex Enhance composite planks he uses has narrowed significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, and that prices for each can fluctuate significantly with falls and rises in demand. Before the pandemic, he estimated that Trex Enhance was selling for about 80 percent more than Kiefer.
We recently compared the two options at a Lowe’s near our headquarters in Yonkers, NY. A single 16-foot pine decking board sold for almost $26, less than the $32 you would pay for a Trex Enhance board. Improved composite options still cost significantly more than natural wood.
Composite decking has other benefits as well. For example, some planks are flexible enough to be heated and shaped so you can create things like rounded corners, railings, or a surround for a kidney-shaped pool. That would be expensive to duplicate in solid wood.
Aesthetics also matter, especially if you like a unified look. The wood-like grain lacks irregularities such as knots that can show up in reality.
That doesn’t mean composite decking looks boring, says Rich Handel, the engineer who tests decking for Consumer Reports. “Manufacturers typically use a few different molds to make their composites, so there’s a certain variety of patterns,” he says.
Composite decking has long come in many colors, but now there are even more texture options — from a smooth, almost lacquered finish to straight and circular grains, notes Barabakh.
“The feel of the grain becomes more realistic for wood underfoot,” he says.
Manufacturers claim that many of the products we tested are made primarily from recycled materials — such as recycled plastic grocery bags. (But based on current recycling technology, after a typical lifespan of 25 years, this product’s destination is probably still a landfill.)
How CR tests decking
Ideally, the composite decking you choose will last, look good and remain secure for years to come. Consumer Reports performance tests address these factors.
We use special instruments to test each decking sample for flexural strength. This will ensure the boards won’t bend or bend when you’re entertaining a crowd or parking a heavy BBQ in a certain spot all summer long.
Next, we look at which materials resist stains from spilled ketchup, mustard, and other common items you might use when dining al fresco. We also rate each pattern’s slip resistance, which is very important when installing a deck near a pool.
We drop weights of different sizes onto the surface of each board to see which samples dent on impact. And we’re sending more than a dozen samples of each material to two regions with extreme climates: hot and dry Arizona and Florida, where humidity poses a different challenge for certain materials.
We rate these samples annually for three years, assessing their appearance and retesting for all of the above attributes to see how age and exposure to the elements affect overall performance.
Composite vs. wood decking: test results from CR
Our tests revealed pros and cons of using composite decking.
Among non-wood decking, which included aluminum and plastic, we found composites best suited to the look of wood without the need for wood stain application. Most composite decking did a great job of being able to resist stains from ketchup, mustard, and other common spills.
However, some products offered far less resistance to slipping, flexing, and sagging in our testing. And most choices are more expensive and heavier than traditional natural pine. (We also tested western red cedar, ironwood, and redwood.)
The added weight of composite planks can make them more difficult to handle if you’re doing the job yourself, says Handel.
And even a stain-resistant composite deck needs regular cleaning to rid it of everyday dirt. Cleaning instructions vary, particularly with regards to pressure washing, so check the manufacturer’s website for tips specific to your specific model.
To take a look at all the considerations, start with our decking buying guide.
CR members can jump straight to our deck reviews or read on to find the very best composite decks from our tests. (Note that three composite decking boards in CR’s tests — Envision Evergrain, Fiberon Paramount, and Veranda Decking Board — are now in their third year of testing. As you browse decking reviews, remember that their ratings represent performance after two years, not 3.) Unless otherwise stated, the prices below apply per running foot.
Best Composite Decks
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