I Can’t Decide Between a Composite and Hardwood Deck. Can I Get Suggestions?

Balcony Deck Overlooking Garden

I Can’t Decide Between a Composite and Hardwood Deck. Can I Get Suggestions?

You’ve decided to build a deck but are now facing the question of choosing between hardwood and composite decking (plastic or faux wood).  You’ve probably already taken into account the size, cost, style and maintenance you are willing to dedicate to your deck as part of your decision. The fact is, each deck type has its pros and cons especially when factoring in things like budget, environmental friendliness, and longevity into the picture. While some people prefer composite decking, others love a hardwood decking for any deck structure so if you read reviews and forums you will find people advocating for both. Sometimes, this is due to personal taste or geographic location, bad/ good experiences with the installation company, etc. So here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to decide:

  • Reaction to heat: walk out on a composite deck with bare feet on a sunny day and you will immodestly notice how hot the surface gets.  This means that if you are installing a deck or boardwalk near the beach, pool, or anywhere else where people tend to go without shoes, choosing composite decking might not be a great choice.  Hardwoods like ipe and cumar on the other hand do not ‘heat-up’ to the same degree.
  • Availability of different sizes: are you looking to have a highly customized deck installed?  If your answer is yes, then you should propbaly consider using a hardwood such as ipe, cumaru, jatoba, masssaranduba or garpa.  Hardwood is available in a wide range of sizes, board widths and board lengths.  Composite deck boards on the other hand are usually sold in standard sizes (usually 12-foot, 16-foot, and 20-foot board lengths). Ipe wood allows you (or your carpenter) to cut board sizes as you wish; making provision for even the smallest units.
  • Color: Another thing you may want to consider is color. Ipe wood is a great choice for hardwood decking but may not be the best choice if you are looking for a particular color as it only comes in natural brown color (when polished) or silver (when left unpolished/un-oiled over a year). On the other hand, composite decks are manufactured and can thus be made in a wide range of colors. From natural wood tones to pink and green, there is a rainbow gamete available in composite deck colors. 
  • Durability: if you’re looking for a wood that gives you unbeatable strength, it’s Ipe hardwood. Ipe hardwood is a superior quality hardwood and is the choice option in hardwood decking. Ipe decking can last for over 70 years and more with proper maintenance. Composite decking companies will guarantee their product for for 15 years to 25 years depending on the manufacturer.  
  • Environmental Friendliness: natural hardwood is very eco-friendly if appropriately harvested.  Ipe lumber that is harvested responsibly usually has an FSC certified document which you can requested. Composite wood manufacturing companies can use either recycled materials or plastic materials. The brand of composite decking you choose will determine the eco-friendliness of your composite decking. Even though ipe is very dense and will last for over 70 years, it is wood so it will eventually decay, although it can probably be repurposed or reclaimed before that will happen.  However, composite decking is made or plastic, which will not deteriorate once the deck boards are no longer in good shape for decking.
  • Price/Budget: the price of a standard ipe deck board is comparable to that of middle- or high-class composite deck boards. The cost of a composite deck board depends majorly on the manufacturer or brand and are relatively inexpensive. Ipe woods with larger sizes (for example 2×6 or 4×4) can be more expensive than composite decking.  So, when making your budget, the type of deck board detentions you need should be a consideration.  
  • Maintenance:  Composite decking is considered lower maintenance than hardwood decking, because it does not require sanding.  Pressure washing your composite deck once a year (unless it is under a tree with a lot of droppings) should be enough.  Ipe and other hardwoods require not only pressure washing and cleaning but also sanding and oiling in order to maintain the original brown color. If however, ipe is left un oiled it will turn gray or silver, and in that case it only needs to be pressure washed for maintenance. 
  • Supporting Structure: The cost of your deck (and its safety) depend a lot on the type of structure that has to be built in order to properly support the deck boards.  Less material is needed to build a structure for hardwood decks than for composite decks, since ipe decks require needs less support to prevent sagging (it is much denser than composite decking and thus more rigid). Less structure materials can equal big savings.   In order to not void the manufacturer’s warranty, structures for composite decking has to be 12 inches on center joist space,  whereas with ipe you can space your joists at 16” on center for 1×6 boards and 24 inches space on center if you use 5/4×6. 
  • Available Replacement Parts:  As with anything that is manufactured, composite decking companies go out of business or stop carrying certain lines and colors of decking, which can make replacing a board difficult after several years.  In contrast, ipe is always available and will have pretty much the same appearance no matter who it is purchased from since it is a natural product. 

In conclusion, whether or not you choose hardwood or composite decking depends on your preference, the amount of time you think you will keep the deck, and the budget you’ve allocated for your decking, the location of the deck (especially if it will be exposed to the sun during the hotter months) and the amount of maintained you are willing to dedicate to your deck. Ipe has longevity and durability that other decking types do not offer but lacks the color variations some may desire.    

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