Deck of a Deal: Wood Composite Decking Saves Trees

Reader Contribution by Tracy Fox
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Tracy Fox is a green writer living in verdant Portland, Oregon, where recycling, bike commuting and green building practices abound. You can reach her at Good Green Words.

Summer is the time for barbecues, sprinklers and outdoor entertaining. It is also a good time to think about replacing an old worn out deck, and for those who don’t have a deck, to think about building one. After all, outdoor living spaces are ideal places to gather with family and friends.

Choosing the best green material for your deck can be a challenge though. Many building products tout eco-friendly attributes and in some cases, it takes a savvy consumer to see through the green-wash. In addition, finding a contractor who knows about maintenance and durability issues, along with the green attributes of the materials available in your area, will be well worth the effort.  There are four categories of decking material from which to choose: wood, plastics, composite and aluminum. We will focus on the green features and environmental benefits of wood composite decking for this blog.

Composite decking blends approximately 30 to 50 percent recycled plastics with wood fibers and has been steadily growing in popularity among homeowners and green builders because of its eco-friendly features. It saves old-growth trees for the planet and time and money on maintenance costs for homeowners. Decking products made from post-consumer plastics are considered greener than those made from virgin plastics, and every year, companies divert an untold number of tons of plastic and wood-shavings from landfills by recycling these materials into long-lasting highly durable decking products. For example, Trex diverts a total of 300 million pounds of plastic from landfills annually–125 million pounds of which are grocery sacks and stretch wrap.

It is worth noting that plastic lumber contains only recycled plastic resins, while composite lumber combines recycled plastic resins with recycled wood fiber. The fibers in wood composite decking helps with slip-resistance and they resist rot and insects, as well as damage from UV rays. If you have little ones running or like bearing your own toes, you will be glad to know wood composite decking is splinter-free as well. 

These faux wood decks really do not look like the real thing, however. They have an aesthetic of their own, so they may take some getting used to for some people. Having owned both cedar and wood composite decks, I have to say, the faux wood-look takes a back seat to this deck’s ease of maintenance, making the composite deck my favorite of the two. After the initial weathering takes place, the look and feel remains constant and recycled wood composite decks are virtually maintenance free. A wood deck often needs to be refinished every year or two and this always creates an inconvenience. 

Initially, composite decking will cost more money than many traditional wood decking materials, such as cedar and Southern yellow pine. Composite lumber does have a few disadvantages though; besides the plastic appearance, there have been reports that darker colors will fade over time. Another thing to consider is that most composite wood products are not biodegradable–that includes the sawdust and shavings so be sure your contractor collects them in a drop cloth–although some manufacturers are claiming, their products are “100% recyclable.” Otherwise, contractors tend to like composite decking’s ease of installation–no sanding or sealing–just trim, install and sweep! You will probably be quite pleased too. Especially, with the almost unlimited design possibilities composite decking products have to offer.

Image: Photo Courtesy Trex