Home Matters: Composite deck planks are a home run

The Associated Press
Friday March 22, 2002

For all the homeowners for whom yearly deck upkeep is a fate worse than taking out the trash, note that composite deck materials are here, and here to stay, according to a deck pro at Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse. 

“Once composite material is installed, you can literally forget about it,” says John Karlesky, lumber marketing manager for Lowes. “It won’t rot, peel, warp, expand or contract, is splinter-free and it’s virtually impervious to water and sun. This is for people who want to enjoy their home without the hassle of deck repair. The average decks lasts 10 to 15 years. A deck with composites lasts indefinitely.” 

Composite deck materials initially weren’t a viable option to wood. It took manufacturers nearly 10 years to achieve the right combination of wood chips and plastics to make composites worth recommending. Vinyl and plastic planks are a fraction of the market because installation requires different techniques and equipment. 

So why don’t more consumers opt for composites? Karlesky says people simply don’t know of the materials. Installation contractors haven’t warmed to non-wood materials, fearing installation problems, but Karlesky says composites handle and install the same as the real thing. “It looks like wood, cuts like wood, installs like wood,” he says, “and it doesn’t take any more time to install than any other deck.” And it’s easier to buy. Because planks are literally the same from piece to piece without knotholes or twisted boards, buyers don’t need to sift through stacks of lumber searching for quality wood. 

And, James Carey and Morris Carey, licensed contractors and recognized experts on home-building and renovation, point out that such engineered decking is friendly to the environment as it recycles existing wood as opposed to requiring new timber to be cut and milled. 

There is a cost factor, however. Composite planks are two to three times the cost of real wood. Yet the overall cost of a deck is not two to three times greater. Composites are available only as planks and railings. Structural elements such as support posts and joists are less-costly treated wood or cedar. Karlesky estimates “The payback period is four to five years, and it still looks great. You won’t replace planks. It’s a better long-term value.” 

Composite wood is low maintenance, not maintenance-free. It should be cleaned regularly and can be stained or painted, but you’ll need to reapply stains and paints over time.” Karlesky advises use of 2- 1/4 inch stainless-steel trim head screws during installation. Non-stainless screws might rust and bleed into the deck. 

The material has other outdoor uses. Walkways, planters, and benches are ideal for spot use of composites. Even docks and hot tubs are candidates for non-wood because submerged uses don’t void the limited lifetime warranty. 

“Customers tell us it’s a losing battle to replace boards,” says Karlesky. “You put composites down, and walk away. It’s very esthetically pleasing. Your deck will look the same in five years as it does today.” 



Lowes is a national chain of nearly 750 home-improvement, appliance and gardening stores in 42 states.