Composite decking should be considered as a material choice in its own right, not a wood substitute. I review one of the more sustainable options out there.
When I received a sample pack with a new range of composite decking material, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Being a purist when it comes to materials, I would have always recommended wood over wood alternatives. With the composite decking in hand, I have to admit. It is not the same as wood. And that is exactly why I am warming to it. If you ask me, it should be classified as a material in its own right, not a wood substitute. If you stop comparing it to wood, the product is great. Warm to the touch, soft and a beautiful finish.
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Wood is a beautiful material and when sourced from a local and sustainable source, it is a great option for seating and living areas in your garden. As with every material, there are some downsides.
If you want a non-slip surface, you need anti-slip material on the surface of the wood which can compromise the look of your design, especially if you are going for a sleek elegant effect. Slipping is especially a problem in wet conditions, and let’s face it. It is always wet in Scotland. Another thing to consider with wood, and even more so when situated in a shady area, is moss growth. This can make things really slippery and dangerous. So often you see chicken wire covering the beautiful wooden deck. According to manufacturers, although moss growth is unavoidable over time, it will be significantly less and slower on composite decking.
Warping of wood gives it its uniqueness and character when installed. It does bring its challenges when installing though and I would always recommend to have this done by a seasoned professional to avoid costly mistakes. Composite decking is, when done according to instructions and by someone with basic DIY skills, something that can be managed.
Over time rotting can also be a problem with wood, and depends on the type of wood and its treatment. To avoid rapid deterioration, maintenance is crucial. To keep most wooden decks look good you need to clean it, treat it, paint it and frequently replace screws and nails over time. This is not the case with a good composite decking material.
There are various composite decking materials available. Some are made with high density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE) or with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). My online research suggests that HDPE retains nails and screws better (up to 30%) while it is softer and more flexible than PVC. It is less resistant to fading in sunlight though. HDPE also has a more grainy texture giving the garden a more structural look than a smoothed surfaced plastic such as PVC.
Durability used to be an issue for composite decking materials. Luckily new production methods have improved this substantially. Key appears to be the heating of the mixture before the boards are formed, as well as the right mixture of wood and plastic. These new products come with substantial guarantees, reflecting the producers trust in their product.
Not any less important is sustainability. With composite decking, materials can be almost 100% recycled. This means actively reducing landfill by re-using plastic. Great! Combined with less need for treatment this is a big plus. It does however mean variability in one of the key ingredients – plastic - which is only overcome by fine tuning the production method and ingredient mixture according to current conditions. Think of it as baking a cake, sometimes a different brand of flour means it absorbs moisture better and you need to add a little bit more milk to the mixture to not end up with a dry cake. The chef, or with composite decking the appropriate manager, has to have experience and a keen eye to get it right.
Last but not least are the costs. In comparison, composite decking is more expensive than most wood decking per square meter. When you factor in the materials required for regular treatment, the durability and the costs for having someone install the wood decking for you, this investment will very likely pay off in the long run. There is quite a range in the price of composite decking itself. But so is in its quality, feel and look. Seeing a sample therefore is vital before making your choice. Which brings me back to the sample pack that I received.
DURATRAC Decking from EnviroBuild
EnviroBuild has a new range of their DURATRAC Decking, called frontier. They use recycled wood and high density recycled polyethylene (HDRPE). It is higher in price than their existing collection, the pioneer range. While they promise the same anti slip, warp, splinter and rot properties of their materials, the look and feel is very different. An improved technology promises better protection against staining and fading in the new range. The colour itself range is more limited however. All three colours are relatively dark.
Of course it is a very personal choice what look you prefer. A quick survey among my family eloquently proved that point, with a 50:50 results of which range they preferred. The general response was that “you’d have to look twice to realise it is not wood” and that it is “surprisingly beautiful and nice to the touch”. Me, I like the finish of the new frontier range. It is much less an imitation of wood and has a more solid feel to it. And I can imagine that when used in a well designed garden, that it will complement natural materials and soft landscaping very well, providing a calm background rather than an eye catching feature.
Now let’s talk price. The new range is a lot more expensive at £58.15 + VAT per square meter, compared to the £37.75 + VAT per square meter of the pioneer range. Apparently they do have longer life expectancy however, including a 25 year residential warranty instead of 15 years which is the case for the pioneer range.
Having a closer look at sustainability, I love that 10% of their profits go to sustainable initiatives. Using reclaimed sawdust as well as reclaimed plastic is a must when you choose composite decking. It would be even better if these materials would be sourced in the UK. In this case, as I image is the same of most other producers, the raw materials are sourced in Asia. Off-cuts are re-used in their production system, which means no waste during the production. So overall, the thumbs up for this one.
Find out more on EnviroBuild here.