Choosing whether to build a real wood deck or use composite deck boards is a big decision. Each of these materials has different qualities that affect their price, performance and longevity. Wood decking has been the traditional outdoor living choice for centuries, and it’s still used to build most new decks today. However, advances in manufacturing have made composite decking more attractive, with finishes that resemble natural wood and decking products available at several price points. Whether you plan to hire a home improvement professional or you’re ready to tackle DIY deck building, we’ll help you decide whether a wood or composite is best for your dream deck.

Many homeowners choose traditional wood for the entire deck design because it’s familiar and affordable. They assume that composite wood decking will be too costly. However, wood requires so much upkeep that the up-front savings are eaten up by maintenance costs in just a few years! In fact, composite decking costs from brands like TimberTech are actually in line with today’s high lumber prices. Plus, composite decking material is only used on the visible parts of the deck; the flooring, steps, and fascia boards. All deck projects use treated lumber for the foundations and framing.

Check out more of the pros and cons for wood and composite decking in this handy chart, then read on to dive into each of these benefits in detail.

Types Of Wood Decking

Many people choose wood decking for their outdoor living space because for years it was the more affordable option. Wood has an attractive, traditional look but it is vulnerable to damage from insects and the weather. Real wood must be sealed regularly to maintain the protective finish that prevents rotting, splitting and developing splinters.

Choosing deck building materials can be confusing, so let’s start with the basics. Wood decking falls into three major categories with different price points and levels of durability.

  • Pressure-Treated Lumber: The least expensive wood deck option uses less dense, lower-grade woods infused with chemicals to deter insects. It’s readily available at big-box retailers.
  • Softwood Deck Boards: Naturally resistant to insects, softwoods include pine, cedar, cypress and redwood. Prices vary according to the variety of wood.
  • Hardwood Decking: Exotic woods like ipe, mahogany, and teak are extremely hard and dense with a distinctive grain pattern. Naturally more resistant to both insects and moisture, they’re long-lasting and the most expensive wood per square foot.

Wood Decking Pros And Cons

One of wood decking’s biggest benefits is affordability. Wood deck materials are available at several price points that start lower than the prices of composite decking brands. Traditional wood has classic appeal and it’s easy to customize with stain or paint for an outdoor space that matches your home. Installation for certain wood deck materials is also less expensive than composite decking materials. For homeowners on a budget, real wood decking is sometimes the right choice.

While it’s more affordable, wood decking does have its drawbacks. The initial savings compared to composite boards may be appealing; but wood requires regular maintenance that costs money every year, especially for homes in a wet environment. While wood can be treated against insects, constant weathering causes it to split, mildew, discolor and rot.

Real wood deck with mildew and discoloration being pressure washed

In harsh climates like the Northeast, real wood decking is not the best choice for several reasons:

  • Homeowners must strip, sand and reseal wood decking every year or two to protect it from moisture.
  • The lifespan of most wooden decks is only about ten years. After that, real wood deck boards end up in landfills.
  • With the rising price of lumber, the cost of a high quality wood deck is now comparable to some of Timbertech decking’s composite products.
  • Wood decking is not sustainable. Producing wood decking boards requires a continuous supply of trees, and hardwoods are not grown on tree farms – they must be cut from forests.

Types of Composite Decking

TimberTech Composite wood deck

Composite decking is an eco-friendly product made from a combination of wood fibers and recycled polyethylene. Containing up to 80% recycled materials, composite deck boards are insect-proof and moisture resistant. The recycled material is encased in a synthetic polymer cap for extra protection from rain and moisture. While composite decking doesn’t replicate real wood decking exactly, it’s versatile, durable, and very low maintenance.

Composite decking manufacturer TimberTech by AZEK offers slip-resistant wood-grain textures and an extensive selection of decking colors in two different product lines:

Timbertech Composite decking construction

4-Sided Capped Composite Deck Boards

  • Premium composite decking from Timbertech by AZEK with the added protection of a synthetic polymer cap on all 4 sides.
  • Premium resistance to moisture with Mold Guard® Technology.
  • 30-Year Limited Fade & Stain Warranty.
  • High-end product with premium wood grain patterns and colors.

3-Sided Capped Composite Deck Boards

  • Traditional composite decking from Timbertech by AZEK with a synthetic polymer 3-sided cap.
  • Surface protection from moisture.
  • 25-Year Warranty.
  • Attractive, lasting finishes at an affordable price point.

Composite Decking Pros And Cons

Timbertech Composite Vintage collection deck in Dark Hickory

Composite decking’s biggest benefits are its long lifespan and easy maintenance. When installed correctly and properly cared for, Timbertech Composite Decking will retain its appearance for 30 years or more. The composite material is finished with a hard polymer cap that protects the surface from staining, fading, scratching and mold. Regular cleaning is typically the only required maintenance for a composite deck. Composite decking also comes in a variety of designer colors that coordinate with your home’s exterior – without painting. Comparing Timbertech composite decking to real wood, it’s easy to see the difference:

  • Compared to real wood, composite decking is environmentally friendly. Since it combines recycled plastic bottles and bags with wood chips, long boards can be supplied for larger decks without cutting down big trees.
  • Composite decking is a low-waste product; every board is the same consistent quality. Unlike wood, none will be discarded because of weakness, knots or warping.
  • FOR DIY deck projects, you can use standard power tools to cut and drill composite deck boards. Plus, the grooved edge and hidden fasteners provide a seamless, professional finish.
  • Composite decking is insect-proof, unlike real wood.
  • TimberTech Composite Decking incorporates advanced MoldGuard technology to retard the growth of mold and mildew.

Since we’re talking pros and cons, there are features of composite decking that some people consider negative. Composite boards are more expensive than wood; however, the best wood species for decking are actually similar in price to composite materials. Since it’s not a natural material, it will never quite match the beauty of real wood boards, but the best composite decking comes close.

TimberTech Composite Landmark collection in American Walnut

Final Analysis: Wood vs. Composite Decking

Which type of decking is right for you ultimately depends on your budget and design preferences. However, when you compare the costs of composite vs. wood over time, composite decking is the hands-down winner. Let’s compare:

Relative Price Of Materials: $

Installation Cost: $$

Lifespan: 10 years

Color Options: Standard wood stain colors

Material Options: 5.5” width; Maximum length 16’

Maintenance Required: Pressure wash annually; treat for mildew as needed; sand and replace stain every few years; replace split or rotten boards as needed

Durability: Vulnerable to moisture and rot even when maintained

Warranty: None

Our Rating: FAIR

Relative Price Of Materials: $$-$$$

Installation Cost: $$$

Lifespan: 15 years

Color Options: Standard wood stain colors

Material Options: 5.5” width; Maximum length 16’

Maintenance Required: Pressure wash annually; treat for mildew as needed; sand and replace stain every few years; replace split or rotten boards as needed

Durability: Naturally rot-resistant if carefully maintained

Warranty: None

Our Rating: GOOD

Relative Price Of Materials: $$

Installation Cost: $$

Lifespan: 25 years plus

Color Options: 5 Designer Colors

Material Options: 5.36” width; Maximum length 20’

Maintenance Required: Pressure wash annually; treat for mildew as needed;

Durability: Inherently resistant to moisture damage and rot

Warranty: 25-Year Fade & Stain Warranty

Our Rating: BETTER

Relative Price Of Materials: $$-$$$

Installation Cost: $$

Lifespan: 30 years plus

Color Options: 14 Wood-Inspired Colors

Material Options: 5.36” widthMaximum length 20’

Maintenance Required: Pressure wash annually; treat for mildew as needed;

Durability: Advanced Mold Guard Coating to prevent mildew. Highly resistant to moisture damage and rot

Warranty: 30-Year Fade & Stain Warranty

Our Rating: BEST

To learn more about composite deck board colors and design options, check out our guide to Choosing the Best TimberTech Color. A Ring’s End sales representative can also recommend a price range for materials to guide you to the best Timbertech products for your project. Chat with us today for help!

Composite Decking FAQs

Is composite decking slippery when wet?

Composite decking isn’t more slippery than wood decking. However, mildew and dirt left on the surface of a composite deck can make it slick, so it’s important to hose it off regularly.

Do composite decks get hotter than wood decks?

Newer composite products like TimberTech are engineered to reduce heat absorption, and typically have a surface temperature similar to wood. All decking materials will get hot in the sun. Composite decking is available in light, reflective shades that stay cooler in summer.

Does composite decking warp in the sun?

Your composite deck will not warp, but it can sag and buckle if not supported correctly. The boards are more flexible than wood so it’s important to check the specifications; the joists and stringers should be set closer together.

Can I replace wood deck boards with composite?

Wood deck boards can be replaced one-for-one with composite boards; just be aware you may need to add additional support structure because composite boards are more flexible.

Is composite decking cheaper than wood in 2023?

The national average cost of building a wood deck in 2023 is $6,280, while the average cost of a composite deck is $8,064; if you upgrade to hardwood decking, the cost is almost the same.

Is a composite deck worth the money?

Composite decking materials are definitely worth the investment. The labor costs to build a deck will be the same whether you choose composite or wood. It makes sense to choose composite and avoid paying for construction again for 25-30 years.