Wood or Composites

Cost Versus Maintenance

By Richard Connolly


Over the years, the 227 sq. ft. wooden rear deck of a South Shore couple had served them well, but they decided to replace and enlarge it while planning a remodeling project that would change their family’s dynamics.Their household members would soon consist of an elderly father and their son, who was finishing his last year in college, a total of three generations, each with distinct interests and needs.

Unable to ascend stairs without a lift, the father wanted a private area with everything on one level, so the homeowners converted into living space their attached garage and a breezeway with a door to the deck in the rear of the house.The new quarters included a full bathroom, bedroom, living room, and a porch across the front of the former garage.

The pressure treated landscape ties to support the breezeway had settled, andits left rear corner was noticeably out of level. The deck supports – posts anchored on three individual concrete Sono tubes – had also failed, so addressing one meant correcting both simultaneously.

The homeowner decided to remove the deck and gave the lumber to a friend who put it to good use as another deck.At 410 sq. ft., the surface of the new deck nearly doubled, and the front porch added 76 more.

A structural engineer proposed a footing, five-foot frost wall, and pony wall under the breezeway, work that would involve an excavationand concrete forms. Given those two conditions and the previous failures, it made sense to consider a deck supported by frost walls on a footing because they rarely settle, are superior construction, speed installation, and allow exactalignment of posts.

The frost walls and footings for the deck and front porch cost $9,476, which included the excavation, stone for drainage, backfilling, additional loam, and rough and finish grading and represented 8% of the project’s full amount. At $351 each for labor and material, eighteen Sono tubes would have cost $6,319, a difference of $3,156 less, or 4%.

For the decks, the homeowners had originally priced pressure treated wood for the frame and fir for everything elseat a cost of $8,100, and the labor added $5,332, for a total of $12,032. After visiting a lumberyard showroom, they subsequently chose composites for the deck surface, trim, post covers, rails, and balusters. This configuration added $11,434 and $3,490 to the material and labor, respectively, for anadditional cost of $14,924.

When compared, the wood material and labor for the new decksamounts to $13,632, versus $27,156, which is an increase of 103% for those two items. If the excavation ($4,743) and frost walls ($4,733) are included, the cost of the wood deck equals $22,908 versus the composites at $37,832, an increase of 65%. (See chart.)

Although a cost per square foot is analogous to buying an automobile according to its weight, the dubious formula does apply in this case because the units of measurement are identical. Thus, the CPSF differential for the wood deck is $55.87 as opposed to $92.27 for composite material.

Cost or appearance notwithstanding, maintenance was the main factor in the homeowner’s decision to change the materials. As a result of class action lawsuits, composite manufacturers no longer promote their products as maintenance free and now refer to them as low maintenance.

Although composites do not require painting, their surfaces, like any other, do fade or accumulate dirt, gypsy moth droppings, pollen, etc. and need periodic restoration or cleaning, which can be done with an agent and water. Scratches and blemishes, however, are another matter and can be caused by merely handling the material during construction in addition of overall use.

This condition is most noticeable if the surface of the posts, railings, or balusters is black. To correct the problem, several websites recommended automobile compound, but it does not work on plastic any more than does a heat gun, which can damage the surface. A 1500 grit sandpaper works well but damages a matte finish.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser addresses surface blemishes – but not scratches – and is readily available at a home center. For minor scratches, DeckMax PVC Deck Wipes, which can be ordered online, mitigates them. Anything deeper to repair may be out of the question.

When planning a composite deck, base its size on the available lengths of trim, decking, and rail length to avoid expensive waste. Easy to use fasteners that conceal the heads of screws or eliminate the need to secure the deck boards from above enhance the overall appearance of the deck.

Even so, the decision regarding decking material should weigh cost against maintenance because either product can provide years of gracious outdoor living.














































Cost per sq. ft.





© 2017 iCornerstone. All Rights Reserved.

error: Content is protected !!