Synthetic deck mat'ls vs. natural cedar: opinions?

carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)January 23, 2010

Our big Alaskan white cedar deck built in 1996 has some rotting places (under table & chairs, unless we remember to constantly move them) so we're thinking of replacing the cedar with one of the new synthetics (Trex? Others?) but don't know anything. At the same time we could add a 2nd deck about 4 ft. lower down the slope, other side of orig. deck's perennial borders (stairs connecting them). The orig. deck is 3-4 ft. above the ground, and the new one would be 0-1.5 ft. above the ground.

Has anyone any opinions on the new synthetic deck materials? Do they come in a "natural" brownish-grey finish so as to look like weathered cedar? Do they have to be annually treated? I do like low maintenance but I also like natural looks.


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They are low maintenance, thats the draw. They come in any natural resembling tone, thats another draw. They aren't natural and they don't have the same feel and aesthetic warmth as cedar, thats the drawBACK. Some may also have a chemical additive but I'm sure by now there are entirely renewable and eco friendly products out there.

I avoid working with synthetics wherever possible, but thats just me.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 4:15PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I don't know if you have priced the synthetic decking materials yet, but they aren't cheaper than real lumber anymore. They mostly look really fake to me, and Trex in particular is not one of the most natural looking, the grain detail and colors are not quite right. There are other manufacturers of synthetic lumber around that do have a wider color selection and finer grain detail.

The one real advantage to this material is that it doesn't splinter, and it may hold up better in a hot, dry climate like Arizona better than real lumber, but it will probably also fade in color over time, similar to the effect of plastic artificial flowers/plants. It is also much more subject to vandalism if that is a concern, and is flammable as well, a cigarette lighter can do real damage quickly.

For what it is worth, I find myself designing and specifying built-up decks with pressure treated substructure, marine grade plywood with waterproofing membranes, and natural stone/slate/tile for new decks when I can persuade a client to go this route. They require much less upkeep, are easier to keep clean, and outlast wood or composite wood decks by decades. This may not be an approach you would consider, but you might compare the advantages of long life and lower maintenance compared to wood or composite wood.

I'd also highly suggest you try and see some older(10 years plus) Trex decks or other composite decks before you decide to go this route, and get a better handle on the warranties offered for them. This may lead you away from them if you can talk to owners with older composite wood decks; I think many wouldn't go that route a second time.

As far as wood decks go here in northern California, it seems that the tropical hardwoods such as Ipe or Ironwood are the preferred choices over redwood or cedar these days. They are less likely to splinter, seem less likely to warp, and certainly hold their original color without staining/cleaning for a longer time than redwood or cedar.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 10:34PM
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You can get composite decking in pretty much any wood-like color at this point. My fav at the moment is by AZEK, and I think it'll give you the color range you want. Just know that the composites get WAY hotter under foot than natural wood does in full sunlight. Depending on your site, that could be worth considering.

As for maintenance, it's pretty easy. A quick pressure wash is usually all you need, and a deeper scrub if you have dirty trees.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 9:47AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

I have a very small back porch and 1/4 flight of stairs made of Trex. The railing materials were so expensive, it was cheaper to do that in treated wood.

Is it a perfect imitation of wood? Nope. Is it reasonably good-looking and won't rot (which our previous porch/stairs did after 20 yrs)? Yes. Will it fade? Possibly, but this is a light shade area.

My biggest issue with it is that it tends to stain with oils. I was staining the railing with teak oil and got a few splatters on the Trex stairs - the blotches have never faded away.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:38PM
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I am a representative of Trex and would be happy to discuss any questions you have on composite decking. We have recently announced the release of an addition to our product line, Trex Transcend. Transcend Decking is engineered with a low sheen, high-traffic technology. It is fade, stain, scratch and mold resistant and backed by our 25-year fade and stain warranty.
Please feel free to visit our website at to see the full line of products and well as our installation details, or you may contact me directly at 800-BUY-TREX or

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 1:46PM
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Stone would be a first choice, as bahia described, but after that I'd choose a composite.

Our current home has a gray composite deck and after having wood decks for many years I'll never go back. No more cleaning chemicals, staining/treating, and no worry about splinters.

The most I have to do, besides washing with a hose in the spring, is to spray a little bleach-water on some areas that get overspray from the sprinkler system. It's not that obvious but sometimes tiny mold spots develop.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 3:10PM
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Azek is very widely used here in coastal Massachusetts.

I have not seen Trex in a while, so it may have been improved, but I sure did not like the look of it when it first came out.

The high end ocean front houses are using mahogany here.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 5:32PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Is Trex having a booth at the RI flower and garden show? Because I'll be going to it (and there are various hardscape construction services and products that set up, there in Providence RI) on Feb. 19. Let me know.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 11:24AM
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There are different grades of composite. Mine was builder's special, on the north side of my house, and it is a magnet to mold. Gotta pressure wash it twice a year (takes several hours). When we are done with it, we will replace it with a tropical hardwood like Ipe.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 4:32PM
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I used trex about 5 years ago and it's been a nightmare. It's made with paper pulp - and aside from getting so darn hot in the direct sun, it'll get moldy and mildewy. We had an outdoor kitchen and grease splatters also permanently stain the deck. The next deck I put in, I used natural wood. The synthetics just don't compare with the natural material.

I have heard Trex solved some of the mold issues - I may have gotten a bad batch. Oh, it also faded - an unbelievable amount - all the color bleached out in the sun.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 5:09PM
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Re: pat_m comments on TREX

I live in the Carolinas. TREX here looks bad after wo or three years. Look at the outdoor displays at H&S, Building Center, Carter Lumber. All have mildew and mold and are splotchy, faded, and just plain ugly. And these are the places where the TREX sales reps go to sell their products. It seems to have a lot of lawsuits against it.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 12:18AM
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We have Choicedeck and after 3 years it is holding up well. It does get mildew but so did our previous cedar deck. Requires same twice a year bleach and pressure wash but no rot or splinters.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 11:05AM
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The squirrels have been eating our pressure treated wood for years, will they eat the synthetic material also? Any ideas why they are eating the wood?

Which synthetic product is your favorite?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 8:27AM
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There is a squirrel actively gnawing down an outdoor plastic table on my porch. Maybe Trex et al is not as tasty, though.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 12:02PM
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There have been occasions where animals like squirrels or raccoons have gnawed on the material. This can be caused by several factors. This may be because of food left on deck. If the deck is cleaned with a sodium hypochlorite product (deck wash) and was not rinsed thoroughly, the residue left over is like a huge salt lick and animals will be attracted to the material.
We recommend that an animal deterrent be used as long as it is not a petroleum-based product. Also hot sauce or chili powder works very well but make sure to try it in an inconspicuous place first because some can stain.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 4:39PM
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dsb22(z7 VA)

We have a three year old deck made of CorrectDeck. We didn't try to choose a color that looked like stained wood. I didn't think it would look believable. However I think the light beige we went with does look similar to painted wood. Our children ages 1 and 3 play and run around on the deck every evening. It's really nice to not have to worry about splinters. The deck faces east and gets sun until about 2p.m. I have not noticed the decking getting extremely hot or any mold problems. So far I'm very happy we went with a composite.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 1:23PM
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I am building a 2nd story deck to my townhouse. Using Timbertech twin finish. Does anyone have any experience with this product? I've been reading on the threads that mold is a problem with composites....any advise or comments would be greatly appreciated. The deck faces east, with direct sun until early afternoon. Thank you in advance for any advice.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 1:28PM
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Trex does have drawbacks. The previous owners put in a Trex railing on our front porch and I HATE it. It doesn't look anywhere near natural. The railings are sagging, a combination of the product and incorrect mounting. The inspector for our house said he hates Trex as it sags like that all the time. I would not recommend it. I hate that crap. We are going to put in wood railings as soon as we have the opportunity to do so. Maybe for decks/floors it works better.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 7:09PM
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There is an aluminum decking product on the market that is kinda/sorta interesting. Comes in 6"widths and is available in long lengths. Added benefit. The boards link together to make a waterproof area under the deck. No exposed screws, no splinters. Also great for storage under or second story decks. I don't have the website handy sorry. A bit on the high side price wise.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2010 at 7:47AM
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Glad I checked Trex on internet before having my Taos, NM, south-facing deck replaced with it. But I'm totally confused about which way to go, not only for it but also for a full-sun-exposure observation deck on top of a carport that will be built next spring. I hate the feel of Pergo underfoot, so I'm thinking I might not like synthetic. Anyone have anything to say about TimberTech or Moisture Shield, which one blogger elsewhere recommends? Would ipe or ironwood really be better than cedar or redwood in a sometimes-snowy, sometimes-rainy low-humidity environment? We're kind of lackadaisical about maintenance, so what's a decent level that we can get away with and have the deck last 8-10 years?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 8:42PM
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Hi Carol,
The majority of these synthetic materials really don't even meet the minimum structural requirements to meet code when they are new never-mind after being sun-baked and frozen a few times. Aside from that fact they are ugly and overpriced.

A photo of the location of the existing deck would be a great help for people offer some more accurate advice on what options would be best and how to avoid the conditions that require you to replace it now. For the lower deck just from the 0'- 1'-6" elevation I would start thinking about concrete or stone.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 10:58AM
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