Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
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When it comes to building a deck in your backyard or around your pool, you’ve got a lot of choices involving design and use. But when it comes to materials, you’re either looking at treated lumber or some sort of composite decking, like Trex, for example. Are Trex decks worth it, though?
Trex decks are worth it because you get what you pay for. They cost more than a treated lumber one, making up for your extra outlay of cash at the onset, and will last for years longer than the average treated deck, letting you more than recoup your investment. Trex decks are also low maintenance.
We’ll look at the pros and cons of Trex decking and see that, square foot for square foot, treated lumber decks will offer an inferior product over the life of your deck.
What Is Composite Decking?
One of the oldest manufacturers of composite decking, Trex was founded in 1996 and offered a decking material made from wood and plastics. The material itself had the look of wood, but since it had plastic components in its makeup, it lasted longer than even the finest treated lumber.
With composite decking, a homeowner can install a deck and use it without worrying about maintaining it, which is a time-consuming prospect that, for many homeowners, ends up being something of an unpleasant hobby.
Composite decking is more expensive than its wooden counterparts, including Trex decks, which can be a disadvantage, at first, but eventually, it will be a benefit.
For the green-minded homeowner, Trex uses recycled materials and claims to save 400 million pounds of plastic and wood from landfills every year. The company also boasts that a 500 square-foot (27.87 square-meter) Trex deck contains over 140,000 recycled plastic bags.
Pros of a Trex Deck
When a prospective owner asks themselves if trex decking is worth the money, they must look at several issues beyond the initial cost outlay, which, as already established, is higher than that of a treated lumber deck. So first, the good:
It’s Lighter Than Wood
Since composite decking is not all wood, it stands to reason that Trex materials will weigh less than the same materials for a treated lumber deck, which means it will be easier to transport and easier to work with. If you’re building your deck yourself, you’ve got to consider that when you’re looking at upsides.
No Sanding or Staining Is Required
One of the big selling points of composite decking of any kind is that it’s practically maintenance-free. While this might not be entirely true, the regular sanding and restaining activities that are part of maintaining a treated lumber deck are not necessary for this type of material.
For the labor-averse homeowner, that might be the number one factor in why Trex decking is worth the investment.
Trex Offers a 25-Year Limited Warranty
No treated lumber deck lasts that long. Okay, sure, somebody out there has a 26-year-old treated lumber deck, but it’s not the norm. Generally, a good rule of thumb when deciding on a treated deck is to plan for a 15-year lifespan. Depending on your climate, you may get more or less time, but a 25-year-old deck will be an outlier.
It’ll Never Get a Splinter
The molded boards that constitute Trex decking have wood in them, but they are not wood, so they can’t splinter. Anyone who’s ever walked barefoot on a treated deck and been impaled by a stray sliver of wood will love this feature.
Composite Materials Don’t Get As Hot in the Sun As Treated Lumber Does
For those who grew up in a hot climate, they understand how hot a treated wood deck can be, and have experienced burned feet on treated decks on a July afternoon. A Trex deck doesn’t get nearly as hot in direct sun, which means no kids crying in pain, or dancing on the deck to get shoes on.
No Insect Damage
There are no insects or small animals that enjoy eating plastic, so even if your home and fence are home to termite colonies, your deck will not be. Your Trex deck will never have any issues with damage from carpenter bees or any other bugs.
You don’t need to worry about trees dying to make your deck when you use Trex composite decking. The wood in the composite comes from sawdust and other leftover wood products, and even if they were cutting trees to make it, they’d use fewer trees per board foot of decking than if it was all wood.
Cons of a Trex Deck
While the benefits listed above may have a homeowner running to the home improvement store, it’s not all sunny days and margaritas with a composite deck. Trex does have its drawbacks, but if you are able to overcome these, then a Trex deck might be right for you.
Trex Decks Are Expensive
The higher cost of composite decking, when compared to treated lumber, can be off-putting. A treated-lumber deck will generally cost about $7 per square foot, so an average 400-square-foot deck will cost about $3,000 in materials. Compared to a Trex deck’s per-square-foot cost of around $14, it doesn’t take a math major to be at least a little alarmed at those early figures.
Trex (and other composite material manufacturers) claim that the lack of maintenance costs you’d incur with your treated deck over the years will recoup the expense, but still, paying twice as much upfront is not a fun proposition.
A Homeowner Can’t Refinish Composite Decking
If you scratch your deck, there isn’t much you can do to fix it like you can with a treated wood deck. If you live in a snow-prone area, you’ve got an excellent chance of scratching your deck with your snow shovel and not realizing it until your first spring cookout. Once that scratch is there, it’s there for good.
Composite Decking Fades Over Time
Over time, Trex decking will tend to fade from sun exposure. Some colors are more prone to fading than others, and perhaps you’re a homeowner who finds that the faded look adds character (and that might mean you’re okay with those permanent scratches mentioned above, too). But if you’re not that person, this can be an issue, and fading is not covered by the Trex warranty.
Not All Deck Builders Are Familiar or Experienced With Composite Decking
You will either need to look harder for the right builder and may pay a little more for labor, or you will have to hire someone and be okay with them learning on the job. With what you’ve paid for your materials, you may not be comfortable with taking this chance.
Trex Uses Specific Fasteners
A treated deck uses regular decking screws, which you get at the hardware store in bulk at a steep discount sometimes. Trex requires no-show fasteners that you may not find at your local hardware store.
When you do find them, they are not cheap, as TREX’s Fastener Clip Bucket for a 500 square foot deck costs more than $250. Smaller boxes like TREX’s Box of 90 Plastic Fasteners with Screws are available, but you ultimately need the required amount specified in the instructions.
Composite Decking Myths
With any product, there are bits of misinformation as well as misconceptions online and by word-of-mouth regarding a Trex deck. Being unaware of these can be as costly as purchasing the wrong materials or installing them incorrectly. Here are some of the myths:
- Trex is hard to install: It is no more difficult than installing a treated lumber deck, and as mentioned above, the actual material is easier to deal with due to it being lighter than wood.
- Composite decking looks fake: While Trex does have plastic as part of its composite construction, it’s molded and formed to look like wood. If you’re looking hard, sure, you can tell it’s not wood, but it also doesn’t look like an elementary school kid’s homework, either.
- Composite decking is maintenance-free: This is not a set-it-and-forget-it product. While there is much less maintenance needed than for your reseal-it-every-year wooden deck, you do need to maintain it.
Mold can be an issue depending on where you live and where your deck sits on your property, so regular cleaning is recommended. You may even need to look into some cleaning products:
- Simple Green’s Oxy Solve Deck and Fence Cleaner for affordability
- Wash Safe’s Spray and Clean Deck Cleaner, a little higher-end for very dirty decks
- TimberTech’s DeckCleaner on the more expensive side
Before choosing your decking material, do your research. There are pros and cons to a treated lumber deck and a composite deck. When it comes to Trex decking, the pros far outweigh the cons. Simple calculations reveal that costs will be absorbed over the life of your Trex deck.
Even the cons aren’t huge ones, since most of them relate to the initial costs, which, again, will pay off in the long run. Over the years, your Trex decking will remain a handsome addition to your home and won’t splinter. You’ll spend time on your deck relaxing, not maintaining it.
- Decks and More: Trex Decking: Pros and Cons
- Family Handyman: How to Clean Trex Decking
- Forbes: Synthetic Decks Vs. Wood: How Trex Nailed It
- LegendsBuilt.com: Is a Composite Deck Worth the Money?
- Mid-Atlantic Deck and Fence: The Pros and Cons of Composite Decking: Is it Worth it?
- Rocky Mountain Forest Products: Is Trex Decking Worth The Price?
- Trex: How To Clean Your Composite Decking
- Wikipedia: Composite lumber
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