Best Composite Decking From Consumer Reports’ Tests
We evaluated planks from Azek, Fiberon, TimberTech, Trex, and more to see which ones hold up
Why use wood-look composite for your outdoor deck when it can cost much more than real wood?
Easy maintenance, for one. Composite decking—an amalgam of ground-up wood and plastic formed into planks—doesn’t need to be sealed, stained, or painted. Natural wood may need to be restained as often as every two years and resealed as frequently as once a year.
What’s more, the price difference between composite and wood decking has shrunk of late. Pandemic-related lumber shortages have raised the price of pressure-treated yellow pine, the most common and least-costly decking wood. How great the difference is now depends on where you live, the decking you buy, and other factors.
How CR Tests Decking
Ideally, the composite decking you choose will last, look good, and remain safe for years. Consumer Reports’ performance tests address these factors.
In our Yonkers, N.Y., test facility, we use specialized instruments to test each decking sample for resistance to flexing, to ensure that boards won’t bow or bend if you’re entertaining a crowd or if you park a heavy grill in a particular spot all summer long.
Next, we size up which materials resist staining from spilled ketchup, mustard, and other common deck fare. We also evaluate each sample’s slip resistance—extra-important if you’re installing a deck near a pool.
We also drop weights of various sizes on the surface of each board to see which samples dent on impact. And we send more than a dozen samples of each material to two areas with extreme climates: hot and dry Arizona, and Florida, where the humidity presents a different challenge to certain materials.
We assess those samples yearly for three years, evaluating their appearance and retesting for all the attributes above, to see whether age and exposure to the elements affect overall performance.
How Composite Stacks Up vs. Wood
Our tests turned up benefits and drawbacks to using composite decking.
Among the non-wood decking choices, which also included aluminum and plastic, we found composite to be best for the look of wood without the need to apply wood stain. Most composite decking models also did an excellent job of resisting staining from ketchup, mustard, and other common spills.
However, some models offered far less resistance to slips, flexing, and sag in our tests. And most choices are more expensive and heavier than traditional, natural pine. (We also tested western red cedar, iron wood, and redwood.)
The extra weight of composite planks can make them more difficult to handle if you’re doing the job yourself, Handel says.
And even a composite deck that resists staining will need to be cleaned periodically to rid it of everyday dirt and grime. Manufacturers’ cleaning guidance varies, especially with regard to pressure washing, so check the maker’s website for tips on cleaning your specific model.
For a look at all the considerations, start with our decking buying guide.
CR members can also jump right to our decking ratings, or read on for the very best composite decking from our tests. (FYI, three composite decking products in CR’s tests—Envision Evergrain, Fiberon Paramount, and Veranda Decking Board—are now in their third test year. As you browse the decking ratings, keep in mind that their ratings represent performance after two years, not three.)