As a builder, many of my clients ask me to create decks for them that are as low maintenance as possible. With that in mind, my choice for decking material is very often composite decking. Once I suggest composite, it isn’t uncommon to have clients ask, “Isn’t it fake and strange looking?” or, “Doesn’t it feel kind of funny?”
People simply love the look and feel of wood for a variety of good reasons: aesthetic, tactile, and psychological. The first generation of composite decking–as well as some decking that is still on the market–did a fairly poor job at delivering the feel of real wood. However, some composite decking boards are being produced that are surprisingly difficult to tell apart from real wood, producing the aesthetic benefits of wood along with the benefit of low maintenance and durability.
Composite Decking That Looks Like Real Wood
One of the issues my clients and I had with the first generation of composite decking was that this decking had a little bit too much of a sheen to it. Now, it wasn’t a really obvious sheen like vinyl has, but it was enough that people were thrown off by it. Unless it has been treated with a shellac or something similar, wood typically has a subtle flat or matte sheen to it, reflecting very little light. It looks and feels like a naturally grown product of the earth.
Mimicking the grain of wood on a deck’s surface has also been an issue for manufacturers of composite. Like so many other things in nature, the grain of the wood has both a regularity and an irregularity about it. When an artificial wood grain was first added to the surface of composite decking, the pattern was very regular as well as too pronounced. The natural grain of wood is much more subtle. After searching for a composite decking that truly looks like real wood, I might have discovered part of the magic formula: the most natural-looking decking isn’t too shiny, and has a wood grain pattern that is pronounced enough to notice, but subtle enough not to become a visual distraction.
Composite Decking That Feels Like Real Wood
Maybe more important than the look of wood is the feel of wood. I remember very clearly walking on earlier forms of composite decking for the first time. Depending on whether it was brand new or whether it was damaged, it either felt like some kind of space age material or a bit like slippery wet cardboard. There wasn’t any question that it was something other than wood. Our body has a keenly intuitive sense of what it’s stepping on, even with shoes on our feet.
It turns out, though, that all composite decking needed to feel more like wood was a little bit more friction combined with just enough ‘give’ in the board. One specific board probably does this better than any other I’ve experienced, and I think the magic is in its capping material, which is a rubbery and grippy resin, designed with technology carried over from the tire industry. Tire industry technology being used to make decking boards look more natural is another one of those funny turns of history! However it came about, it works, delivering friction, the tiniest bit of bounce, and a subtle matte finish.
Why Choose Composite Over Wood?
That rubbery protective cap which makes this composite look and feel more like real wood was designed to make the composite incredibly tough and resilient. It runs all around the board, serving to keep the composite free of moisture and protected from UV radiation, leading to a long, maintenance-free life. That enhanced durability means that unlike real wood decking, you won’t need to regularly sand, stain, and seal your decking, saving you time and money. Composite decking made from slowly and carefully manufactured bamboo composite is even tougher and more resistant to moisture damage because it creates a board that is significantly more dense than typical sawdust-based composite boards, leaving no room for water to enter. For this reason, this type of composite is popular for pool decks as well as humid and rainy areas of the country.
Now when my friends and clients ask me if composite decking looks and feels funny, I get to reply, “Not anymore.” The decking that has inspired this post is Infinity decking, made by Fortress Deck. Uniquely, one side of the board is produced to look like distressed hardwood and the other side has the appearance of a tropical hardwood. They come in a wide variety of colors, and owing to their advanced capping material, those colors don’t fade. Their decking, already popular in Europe and South Africa, is a high-quality premium building product, miles apart from any conception of cheap composites you might have in your head. If you have a larger project, you may also want to check out Fortress’ other top-of-the-line materials, like fencing, railings, and ornamental hardware, at Fortress Building Products.