Timber or composite?

Deciding on the best decking option for your garden makeover can be challenging. Tony Hobbs of Southern Sheeting offers some advice to help you choose

The trend for durable and premium wood plastic composite (WPC) decking is now firmly established in the UK, and continues to gather momentum. It has also been a big hit in markets such as the USA and Germany.

In the US alone, the market for WPC products is forecast to rise 3.7 per cent per year to $4.9bn in 2024, according to a new study by Freedonia Group. The demand for these products in the UK looks poised for further growth, as awareness about the material’s benefits builds.

WPC decking looks very like timber, it’s resistant to issues such as warping and rot, and many brands come with a 20-year guarantee, so it’s surprisingly cost effective thanks to its long-lasting qualities.

Timber of course remains a popular choice, and the debate has always centred on whether to keep costs down with a softwood option, or to push the boat out and plump for longer lasting hard wood. But now WPC, with its designer friendly aesthetic, is making it a force to be reckoned with. Due to technological advances, high-end composite decks look stunning, and stay that way with very little maintenance.

Traditionalists enjoy the look of real timber, which can be revarnished or repainted for a change of style and this look is often better suited to older homes.

However, composite decking maintains its good looks for longer and with less effort. It is also less slippery when wet, making it a safer option for children and elderly people. It is more weather resistant than timber, and comes in a greater range of colours. Often it looks so much like real wood, it’s hard to spot the difference. It is perfect for a contemporary and luxury garden, with consumers seeing it as increasingly desirable because of its durability.

WPC is also designed to be splinterproof, which means it will retain the same look for many years, while splinters naturally occur in traditional timber decking. This also makes it safer for children and pets. In addition, using WPC removes the need to fill in gaps from splintering or knots in the wood. It will reduce the cost of decking repair following adverse winter weather conditions.


Price is always going to be a factor in any decision about garden decking and it’s true that timber decking is usually cheaper to lay initially, especially if softwood is used. But it’s important to consider that it will need far more maintenance. Timber decking requires annual treatments of sealant, stain or varnish to keep it weather-resistant, plus treatments to prevent mould and rot. Composite decking just requires hosing down once a year to remove any build-up of dirt and algae. Over time, composite decking becomes a more costeffective choice.

Depending on the type of wood used for a timber decking area, it will have an average lifespan of between 10 to 15 years. A composite deck can often last twice as long. Some brands are even guaranteed for an astonishing 25 years in residential settings.

Composite decking can be laid in the same way as a timber deck – any self-builder with basic carpentry skills can lay it. But it’s advised to check the manufacturer’s website or ask an expert for specific details on what gaps to leave for thermal expansion and contraction. There can be variations in guidance depending on the product used.


Once laid, composite boards do not require staining or painting. They are also fade, stain, mould and scratch resistant, meaning they will stay looking good for far longer. Another feature of composite decking is that it is customisable. It can be laid in different patterns and configurations – and different colours can be used in the design.

For instance, using a perimeter board in a contrasting colour to ‘picture frame’ the deck is easily achieved and creates an attractive aesthetic. To create the same effect with a timber deck, it would be necessary to buy two lots of paint and go through the process of painting them.

Composite decking comes in a range of natural colours, with some mimicking premium materials such as redwood. These variants are also highly UV resistant, and pre-coloured, removing the need to paint or stain the decking which is certainly a major selling point for composite materials.


Timber decking sourced from sustainable forests clearly has strong eco credentials. However, some composite decking can be equally green.

Some composite decking brands, which are made of a mixture of plastic and wood, also have sustainable credentials. There are some on the market made of 95 per cent recycled materials – including thousands of recycled plastic bags and wood fibre, resulting in certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council. It’s also worth considering that composite materials will not require chemicals or detergents to clean them or to protect them from rotting once laid. Simply hosing them down once a year is all that’s needed.

If your garden makeover would suit a sleek and contemporary finish, then composite decking with its low maintenance and durable qualities, could be exactly the modern aesthetic you’ve been looking for. What’s more as it’s one of the latest trends, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to be a trendsetter for your friends and neighbours!

Tony Hobbs is managing director of Southern Sheeting