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What Is The Best Composite Decking

  • Luke
  • February 12, 2019

While researching and reviewing the various types of composite decking boards, you may now be contemplating which option is the best fit for your project. At Ultra Decking, we value transparency and strive to offer guidance on the composite decking that aligns best with your project and personal preferences.

The key consideration here is your individual requirements and the specifics of your project. With numerous types of composite decking boards available from various brands, we have opted not to list specific brands. As a brand ourselves, we believe in the uniqueness of each product, and the truth is, every brand has its own distinct selling points.

Reading reviews is crucial, but when doing so, focus on those from customers who have had their composite decking for a year or two. This timeframe is typically when any issues with the decking may begin to arise, especially with composite decking that is cheap to buy and often of a lower quality. Do not fall into this trap. Buy cheap, buy twice. You get what you pay for.

When selecting composite decking boards, there are several aspects of your project to consider. Over the years, we’ve listened to and assisted numerous customers to find the best composite decking for their needs. In determining the optimal composite deck for your home, the key factors to consider are budget, maintenance requirements, quality, fade resistance, slip resistance, length of time in your current home, the installation area of the project and its surroundings. To offer further assistance and steer you in the right direction when making your purchase, outlined below are what we consider to be the best composite decking boards to consider, based on customer feedback and their individual requirements.

1 Budget

If your primary focus is on budget and cost, and you’re weighing the options between wood and wood plastic composite (WPC) decking, we recommend considering first-generation composite decking boards, similar to our Home Choice collection.

The Home Choice collection offers all the advantages of composite decking at a comparable upfront cost to wood. The newly developed Home Choice first-generation boards are groundbreaking and exclusive to Ultra Decking here in the UK. While many of our competitors offer similar boards, they often come with questionable quality at a significantly higher price per square meter. Ultra Decking’s Home Choice first-generation composite decking is available at an affordable cost without compromising on quality, durability and strength.

The Home Choice range is specifically designed for UK residential customers and features a square hollow core in a depth of 25mm and 5mm side wall structures to ensure robustness and durability for any residential project. The warranty spans 10 years, however the Home Choice collection of composite decking can extend beyond this period with the correct installation, regular cleaning and maintenance as recommended.

2 Maintenance

If minimal maintenance is your priority when purchasing composite decking, we recommend considering second-generation capped or shielded co-extrusion composite decking boards.

Second-generation, also known as capped composite decking, such as our Signature Collection, offers ultra-low maintenance requiring only periodic cleaning with a soft brush and warm soapy water three or four times a year will ensure it maintains its best appearance for 25 years and beyond.

Second-generation composite decking has been available for over a decade. Product improvements are ongoing with significant advancements to the appearance of second-generation boards were recently introduced. Improvements included a more natural authentic wood surface finish providing a beautiful and stunning visual appeal to the decking boards that will complement any outdoor space.

Upgraded to the latest shielded technology not only provides ultra-low maintenance but also ensures long-lasting colour stability for decades to come. The shielded surface texture also resists staining, mould, and mildew. However, it is important to note that second-generation decking was promoted and marketed by some as scratch-resistant, but this claim isn’t entirely accurate, and it shouldn’t be purchased solely based on this aspect.

3 Overall Quality

Quality can hold different meanings for different customers. In this context, we’ll address it in two aspects.

Firstly, the quality of the product itself is paramount. Considering all factors, our personal recommendation is second-generation capped composite boards. Despite not being the cheapest option, why do we suggest this?

Having visited numerous projects over the years, we’ve observed that first-generation composite decking, after prolonged use, tends to appear worn and tired, particularly when regular maintenance isn’t upheld. While it still outperforms wood in many aspects, it may not maintain its best appearance.

On the other hand, capped or shielded second generation composite decking boards typically maintain their appearance remarkably well. Their colour remains. To the naked eye unchanged, and the deck can still appear as if it were installed very recently, even

after years of use. Moreover, the added benefits of low moisture absorption and resistance to stains, spills, drops, and liquids make a significant difference to the decking’s longevity.

It’s worth noting that capped composite decking boards dominate the market in the USA, where consumers prioritise quality and durability. They have largely rejected first-generation composite decking boards due to their shortcomings. Secondly, the quality of the materials and the supplier also plays a crucial role. Which supplier and brand of second generation of composite decking materials you purchase can greatly impact the quality and the expected service life.

4 Quality Of Your Supplier

All composite decking, if manufactured correctly with diligent attention to quality control and the use of grade “A” recycled raw materials, will offer excellent value for money and provide a quality long-lasting composite decking for many years to come.

A few important questions to pose to your installer or supplier are: Where do the raw materials in the manufacturing process originate from? Which country do the raw materials originate from?

Ideally, the plastics should be sourced from Europe or the USA, together with grade “A” certification confirming the quality. Another crucial consideration is the type of plastic used, is it HDPE or LDPE? Some suppliers opt for LDPE plastics to reduce costs, but this choice significantly impacts structural strength and fade resistance over the decades of your composite decking’s service life. LDPE sourced plastics can’t withstand the test of time and is prone to cracking, so only HDPE plastics used during the manufacturing process should be accepted.

Most suppliers and manufacturers should be able to provide copies of test reports and certifications. Although some may not display them for residential customers, it is worth asking, as this can help filter out low quality options.

A simple homemade test is recommended for assessing composite decking quality, is the boiling test. Submerge the decking boards in boiling water for a minimum period of 12-24 hours. The boiling test will confirm the core strength of the decking boards. A substandard composite decking board will likely show cracks in its core during the boiling test, indicating compromised structural strength and low-quality raw materials used during production.

5 Slip Resistance

If slip resistance is your primary purchasing factor, we assume the deck will be located near a swimming pool or jacuzzi. The strength of the board and its water retention

properties, or lack thereof, should be the main considerations when selecting a composite decking board for a predominantly wet area. Given the strength required for supporting a hot tub or jacuzzi on top of the deck, it’s crucial to choose a board with either a hollow circular or solid core. Ultra Decking’s professional recommendation would be a circular hollow core due to its flexibility for thermal expansion and contraction while still maintaining the decking board’s strength and durability.

Regarding slip resistance, the recommendation would lean towards a first-generation composite decking board, such as one with a wood grain or thin grooved surface finish. Wood grain decking boards undergo a brushed treatment during the manufacturing process, providing enhanced scratch and slip resistance properties when done correctly and with the appropriate technique. Grooved boards also offer excellent slip resistance, achieving a PTV score of 45. Additionally, due to the HDPE plastic composition, the composite decking boards will repel surface water and are less likely to freeze during winter periods, further enhancing slip resistance.

N.B. Slip resistance and slip proof are not the same thing. Caution should be exercised with any surface that is wet underfoot to avoid falls and accidents.

6 Fade Resistant

If retaining the decking boards colour during its lifetime is a key consideration during your decision process when purchasing decking, then easily capped composite decking with a shielded surface finish is our recommendation.

As a guide, first-generation composite decking does offer up fade resistance benefits, however as these decking boards don’t have a protective shield, they will go through a natural weathering process during the first 6 months of its life. In short, the colour will lighten and then settle down over the deck’s lifespan.

Do not panic with this, as by no means will these first-generation decking boards lose all their colour. For the first 6 months after installation, the colour of first generation or uncapped composite decking boards will fade. The colour will lighten and reduce by up to 30%. Dark colours will reduce the least, where lighter colours for example light grey will turn to an almost white light grey, some customers do prefer this as their preference is for a light colour decking board. Understanding that the colour will lighten once installed helps with your purchasing decision, therefore we recommend choosing a darker colour to reach the desired appearance you want over time.

Second-generation shielded or capped co-extrusion composite decking boards do not go through this colour change and will retain their colour for decades. As previously advised, this is mainly due to the shielding around the entire decking board that offers increased UV resistance to ensure the colour purchased retains and stays with the decking boards.

7 How Long Your Staying?

Most customers don’t actually consider this question until we ask it. Why is this key? The simple answer is to ensure you get the best value for your money. The questions we always ask to assist customers in selecting the best composite decking for their project are:

  • How long are you going to stay in your house?
  • What level of maintenance would you like to do?
  • Are you happy with a lighter colour after installation?

If you’re staying in the house for only 1-5 years and it’s not your forever home, then first-generation uncapped boards are most definitely the preferred solution. Why? After 5 years, if maintained correctly, uncapped boards will still look great, meaning you’ve received good value for your investment. They will still be in good enough condition to appeal to a new buyer, with the added advantage of low maintenance and a modern deck design.

However, if you plan to stay in your home for more than 10 years, then without a doubt, invest in capped composite decking boards. Only after the first 5 years, and especially beyond 10, does your value for money truly become apparent with low maintenance, great appearance and resistant to normal wear and tear.

8 Surroundings & Project

Once you have selected the location for your new decking project, the focus should shift to factors such as proximity to the sea, forest, jacuzzi, pools, water, or trees. This will greatly influence the type of composite decking we recommend and the one you will benefit from the most. This is where the true evaluation of the pros and cons of all features of composite decking, such as fade resistance, maintenance, and strength, becomes crucial.

For instance, if the decking project is planned for installation in areas with high vegetation (trees, bushes, and plants), these areas are prone to mould and mildew growth. Our recommendation for such areas would be capped composite decking. Why? Primarily because leaves, dirt, and pollen will accumulate on the deck if not regularly removed and washed. First-generation boards can be susceptible to mould and will deteriorate much faster in these conditions. This is due to the surface texture, which is made from wood fibres that help to provide a more authentic wood appearance but necessitates more regular maintenance when the deck is located near forest or farmland areas. Therefore, you will need to perform more frequent upkeep to ensure your deck remains in good condition.

Second-generation capped composite decking benefits from a shielded surface finish to help resist mould and mildew, therefore requiring significantly less maintenance. A quick hose down once or twice a year with a thorough clean using hot soapy water and a soft bristle three to four times a year is all that is needed to keep your new composite deck looking good.

Conclusion

The choice of composite decking primarily depends on personal preferences and requirements. If your project is on a budget and you can tolerate some colour fading along with regular cleaning, then uncapped first-generation composite boards will suit your needs perfectly. However, if you prioritise colour consistency, minimal maintenance, and stain resistance properties, especially for busy or larger families who use their decking regularly, then capped composite decking would be our professional recommendation.

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