Ask an Expert: What Decking Material is Best?

FiberonQuestion: We want to build a deck this summer, but now we are confused about what to use: wood or a composite product such as Trex. Any suggestions?

Answer: From Pamela Berstler of Flower to the People, a Los Angeles landscaping company known for being environmentally sensitive: Composite wood materials have come a very long way just in the last four or five years. As you may know, many composites have an unnatural sheen and faux wood grain that is too prominent. We try to avoid these, as they tend to scream “fake.”

However, there are three brands of composites we have used in various situations and been pleased with both the aesthetic and functional results.

As a substitute for ipe (a rot- and insect-resistant Brazilian hardwood, pronounced EE-pay) in a very high-traffic and water-splashed area around a pool, we have used Fiberon Tropics. This product’s warm brown color requires no maintenance and has taken the beating of a gaggle of children without fading, pitting or splintering. (Continue answer by clicking below.)

In several projects, where we have designed ground-level decks, and where wood simply would not be appropriate because it doesn’t wear well when in contact with the earth, we have used both Trex (saddle color or natural gray) and ChoiceDek. We usually turn the side up that does not have the wood grain stamp, but occasionally, we have gone with the ChoiceDek grain because it matches some other wood on the residence.

Unlike redwood, which eventually fades to black, both of these composite materials fade beautifully to a silvery gray that looks very close to a natural cedar deck. Again, neither ChoiceDek nor Trex requires significant maintenance except occasional washing (especially if it is under trees).

One thing to keep in mind about installing composite decking is that in most cases, the material does not provide the structural integrity of real wood. Therefore, the substructure must be more robust to support the deck, which means the joists holding the boards up must be closer together.

If you’re installing the deck yourselves, you should go to the website of the manufacturer you decide on and get complete installation instructions.

Also, during installation the composites can get “gummy” on hot saw blades and drills.

Installers generally know about this and will bring some backup blades and bits so that the project is not held up.