Timber requires regular oiling and sealing to keep it from deteriorating when out in the elements. Composite decking timbers are a prefinished product and do not need any regular oiling, staining, sealing or painting.
In moist areas timber is susceptible to rot if stringent sealing and maintenance are not adhered to – this can be particularly difficult for hard to reach areas. Due to timber’s porous nature, it has a tendency to absorb surrounding moisture which leads to rot over time. Composite decking has very low water absorption of approx. 0.5% which results in superior protection against rot and decay when compared to timber.
Timber generally has 10-15% moisture content, as it dries out it shrinks and cracks/splinters. As timber absorbs water it swells in its width. Composites behave differently, due to their plastic component as they absorb heat they expand along their length. Because of this, composites need adequate gapping to allow them to expand and contract.
Timber will fade to grey if left untreated. Regular oiling and maintenance keep timber looking fresh, but being a porous, organic material means it will become dull as the years go on despite the amount of effort put into your deck. Composite materials are often UV stabilised, resulting in a colourfast product that will only loose some of its lustre when exposed to the elements.
Timber is a fibrous material, as it dries out these fibres start to peel away causing splinters to form. This is worsened by a lack of maintenance, or if a pressure washer is used on the deck – often causing the timber to become furry and exacerbate splintering. Composite boards contain very small particles of timber which is combined with plastic using bonding agents, resulting in a safe, splinter-free product.
Both timber and composite decks require cleaning depending on their usage and the surrounding environment. Just like any external building material, it will have a tendency to get dirty and require occasional cleaning.
As timber is an organic material it has a grain, this grain will cause the boards to have a tendency to twist, bow or warp depending on which way it runs through the board. This is worsened after the deck is laid – one side being exposed to the sun and the other not. Over time timber will warp and cup as it dries out – purchasing premium grade timber will help hinder the extent of which this happens, but it comes at a cost. Composite does not have a grain and as such these issues do not arise.
Some composites can look and feel like plastic. Some have a textured finish, variable grain and also embossed faux-wood grain on the boards. It pays to do your research when choosing a composite that best suits your desired look and budget. The same goes with timber, as different species have different characteristics, appearances and cost!
Timber is an organic, porous material which absorbs moisture, oils and stains. Regular oiling and sealing will prevent timber from taking stains. Some composites have a PVC capping, which offers superior stain resistance. Other composites do not and will need to be cleaned like timber.
With regular upkeep and maintenance timber can last 10 years or even longer – composite boards nowadays have a significantly longer life expectancy without the need for maintenance.
The natural variances and inconsistences found in timber is what gives it its charm. The difficulty of finding straight, consistent lengths significantly detracts from this however, making it difficult to find the correct amount and quality of timber to complete your deck. Composite excels in its uniformity – ensure sizing and colour is both easy to work with and looks great.
Both timber and composites vary in quality and price. As a general rule of thumb however, timber is cheaper upfront but requires regular maintenance and upkeep which costs time and money over the life of the deck. Composite’s initial premium often pays itself back after just a few years due to its low maintenance characteristics – which also leaves you with more time to enjoy your deck, instead of working on it.