Considering a Composite Deck, or Already Have One?

English: Decking in wood plastic composite Fra...
Decking in wood plastic composite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On several occasions over the years, I have featured reports promoting the advantages of composite versus wood materials for porches, decks and balconies.

But a recent blog from a New England home inspector offers a few words to the wise – whether you already have composite features, or are considering adding or replacing existing deck or other structures with composite materials,

Jason Horn is one of the lead inspectors at Stonehollow Inc. ( He was recently inspecting a decade-old home, specifically two decks constructed of a composite, maintenance-free materials.

He discovered several issues including boards cracking and splitting along the edges caused by incorrect spacing during installation. He also found deterioration of the wood joists under the composite decking because while wood decking absorbs moisture and releases it, composite does not.

So, moisture trapped under the decking and on top of the joists can keep joists from drying properly – becoming more susceptible to rot and decay. Some other issues to consider according to Horn, are:

Cost: Traditional wood decking goes about $15/ sq. ft., while composite decking material is $30-$36/ sq. ft. And labor cost tends to be higher due to additional steps that are required during composite installation.

Scratching: Composite decking combines wood and plastic, but the material is not indestructible. The surface of the boards can be scratched rather easily, and composite decking can’t be resurfaced.

Stains: One of the most common complaints about composite decking is mold. Horn says composite decking requires special cleaning chemicals to kill the mold and remove some of the finish. But this leaves decking more porous and susceptible to future mold growth.

Color fade: Horn knows wood decking can fade too, but you can re-stain wood. He also says there are products claiming to restore stained composite decking, but did not speak to their effectiveness.