Best Composite Decking From Consumer Reports’ Tests

We evaluated planks from Azek, Fiberon, TimberTech, Trex, and more to see which ones hold up

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Azek composite harvest decking on a front porch Photo: Azek

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.

More on Decking Materials and Decks

Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project director of Fortress Home, a Chicago-area general contractor of high-end homes, says the Trex Enhance composite decking that he uses costs 33 to 50 percent more than yellow pine; while that difference sounds like a lot, it’s down from 80 percent, he notes.

Sean Chapman, a Eugene, Ore.-based professional carpenter who runs the carpentry tool review site ToolsnGoods, puts the current price difference with yellow pine at just 10 percent for the Fiberon and MoistureShield decking he uses. But, he argues, "The long-term maintenance savings bring the price difference below 10 percent, or even to zero."

Composite decking has other advantages. For instance, some composite decking planks are flexible enough to be heated and shaped, allowing you to create, say, rounded corners, railings, or a border for a kidney-shaped pool. That would be expensive to duplicate in solid wood.

Aesthetics are a factor, too, especially if you like a uniform look. The woodlike grain lacks irregularities like knots that can show up in the real thing.

That doesn’t mean composite decking looks boring, says Rich Handel, the engineer who tests decking for Consumer Reports.

Manufacturers usually use a few different molds to make their composites, so there’s some pattern variety,” he says.

Composite decking has long been available in many colors, but now you’ll find more texture choices—from a smooth, almost varnished surface to straight and circular grains, Barabakh notes.

“The feel of the grains is getting more realistic to wood underfoot,” he says.

Many of the products we tested claim to be made primarily from recycled materials—recycled plastic grocery bags, for instance—which may appeal to the environmentally minded.

But based on current recycling technologies, this product’s destination after a typical lifespan of 25 years is still likely to be a landfill.

"We are continuing to work on making it easier to recycle," a representative for TimberTech and Azek told us via chat. "Currently, we don’t have anything in place, but have plans to continue in the future."

The rep recommended reaching out to local recyclers to see whether they accept composite decking, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a major component.

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.)

Best Composite Decking

Tobie Stanger

I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger