3rd Gen’s Favorite Maintenance Free Decking
When it comes to decking material, we’re pretty opinionated. Seriously, spend five minutes with one of our deck builders & you’ll see. After years of working with various products, we’ve found the best PVC & composite deck materials that we now recommend to all of our clients.
From both a color & grain pattern perspective, it’s more realistic looking than most of their competitors.
With superior scratch, stain / fade, & moisture resistance, they easily outlast other brands (& wood).
10-25 years longer than others. When a company tells you how long they expect their boards to last, listen.
Best PVC & Composite Deck Materials
Let’s build a typical 3rd Gen deck backwards from what you see to what you don’t.
AZEK PVC Deck Boards
Made with 100% PVC, AZEK deck boards have the longest warranty in the industry (50 years). Not only can you expect these boards to last the longest, they’re also less dense, so they hold less heat than composite or wood. If you’ve ever walked out on a deck on a hot summer day, you know why this is important.
Within the AZEK line, there are three tiers with varying cost. The biggest difference between each tier is aesthetic & color options. Let’s go through each of them, starting with the most premium option.
The Vintage collection comes with the most realistic wood look in terms of texture, grain, & color variation. They were designed to mimic the look of exotic hardwood. Vintage also comes in six color options, more than the other two tiers below.
Landmark has four color options, but has similar color variation to Vintage that mimics real wood. The main difference is that it has a crosscut grain, which gives it a slightly different look & makes the board more scratch resistant.
The lowest tier of AZEK’s PVC decking is Harvest. Accordingly, there are only 3 color options. The boards have a stamped cathedral grain pattern, which provides a pretty basic look with no color variation.
TimberTech Deck Boards
If you’re looking for a composite deck, TimberTech is the best because it’s a capped composite. This means that while the inside of the board is a mix of wood & plastic, the outside is wrapped in a thin PVC cap, which protects it from moisture, scratches, & fading. The composite infill also makes the boards a bit more dense than PVC boards, so it holds more heat, but still less than traditional wood.
When comparing tier to tier against AZEK’s PVC boards, TimberTech’s composite products are slightly cheaper. Between tiers, the main difference again is the aesthetics. Different tiers have different embossed grain patterns & color options. These are the three most common tiers clients choose from…
Legacy boards have a hand-scraped grain pattern, giving it a bit more texture, with the most color options available (a total of six).
There are four color options within the Reserve collection and it has more of a durable weathered wood finish.
This is the cheapest TimberTech composite option & comes in a straight wood grain pattern. Depending on the color (which you have five to choose from), they can end up looking a bit more like painted wood than a natural stain. These boards are made with a scalloped profile, meaning the bottom has chunks of material taken out, so it’s not a fully solid board all the way around. Because of that, there is less overall material, making it cheaper.
Composite Picture Frame Deck
A quick note before we move onto the other deck materials. Regardless of color or collection, our deck builders picture frame every deck. What this means is that rather running your boards all the way to the edge like you’d normally see, we leave room to trim the deck with a board running alongside the outer rim… creating what looks like a picture frame!
This can either be done with the same color as the rest of the flooring or slightly different if you want to give it a two-tone appearance. Examples of picture framing can be seen in our decking gallery. Long story short, it gives your deck a more finished, refined aesthetic.
TimberTech Hidden Deck Fasteners
Every decking manufacturer recommends top-down fastening, which is a fancy way of saying putting a screw through the top of the deck board into the joist below. The perk of using PVC or composite materials to build your deck is that there are ways to hide those ugly screw heads, again providing a more finished product. Our 3rd Gen deck builders primarily use the Cortex Hidden Fastener System, which is made for AZEK / TimberTech products. We use a special bit to drill a pre-set depth & then fill each hole with a board-matched plug to conceal the fastener. In the end, you’re left with a clean, smooth surface free of divots.
The only time we’d use a different system is if you opted for TimberTech Prime+ boards (because of their unique shape).
TimberTech Deck Railing Options
If we’re being honest, the options for deck railings these days are endless… but that doesn’t mean they’re all good options! Let’s walk through some of the most popular amongst our clients.
TimberTech Impression Rail Express
These powder coated aluminum railings are built to withstand elements & resist scratches. In the event they do scratch over time, they can be touched up easily. Compared to composite rails (made of plastic and wood), which are prone to sagging over time, aluminum will hold up for the long haul.
Because of this, we feel TimberTech Impression Rails are typically the highest value option for our clients. But, if we’re getting really particular, there’s one tiny aspect of these rails we don’t love…
There’s no bracket that covers the space where we install the railings to the post. This means that even when you install them textbook perfectly, they can sometimes scratch the post. On top of that, as temperatures change and the railings expand and contract, you may see slight gaps where the rail connects to the post. All that said, these are still an excellent choice!
Westbury Aluminum Railing
This is where Westbury comes in… Their install brackets are not only painted to match the railing, they allow for a clean, seamless install to the post without any gaps. By design, the bracket attaches to the post, allowing us to set the rail in the bracket and top it with a cap without any fasteners.
They cost a bit more than TimberTech’s Impression Rails, but they’re designed & engineered better for a couple more reasons. First, they have a compression fit baluster system to keep rails quiet & free from rattling for a long time. Plus, they’re heavier grade aluminum, making them a smidge sturdier.
Both of our cable railing options are made with aluminum rails & stainless steel cables. They’re a little more expensive than the aluminum railings, but are a great fit for homes with expansive or lakeside views. When you’re already paying for the view, you may as well pay a little more not to block it!
For vertical styles, we use Westbury VertiCable Railing. It’s roughly 1.5x as expensive as aluminum railings. For horizontal styles, we use Key-Link Railing Systems, which are about 2x as expensive as the aluminum railing options.
Additional Railing Options
On rare occasions, our clients will opt for glass or composite railings, which come with their own pros and cons. When you schedule your free estimate, ask our team for details!
Maintenance Free Deck Upgrades
Because who doesn’t love bells & whistles? There are a few add-ons we offer that can elevate your deck just a bit more…
Also known as the cocktail rail, they provide an extra place to set your beverage while hanging out on the deck. The top board typically matches your deck flooring or accent color & sits on top of aluminum railings. Need a visual? Head to our gallery & take a look at the first featured deck.
All of our lights are low-voltage hard-wired for longevity. They can be installed in post caps, risers (making your steps easier to spot in the dark), & in the decking itself.
Do you have a space under your second-story dream deck that you’d like to keep dry? Like a hangout spot from your walkout basement, for example… The Trex RainEscape system is built specifically to create a moisture resistant barrier under your deck boards. Rather than getting dripped on when it rains, it collects & reroutes the water to your drainage system. Shhhhh… don’t tell TimberTech, this is the one Trex product we prefer because it allows us to finish with a custom ceiling of your choosing.
Diamond Pier Footings
Okay, look… you probably don’t care about what footings our builders use to secure your deck to the ground. We don’t blame you, but here’s why you should. Unlike concrete footings which require multiple inspections & days to set, Diamond Piers can be built on the same day. This means we can get your deck done in less time while still being code compliant.
Diamond Piers also resist heaving during the inevitable frost we get in Wisconsin & because we can bury them below grade, they make for a cleaner aesthetic than traditional footings. Unlike some of our competitors who still dig holes & pour concrete footings, we’ve been using Diamond Piers for years.
TimberTech Deck Designer
If you think you’re excited about your future deck, just wait until you talk to one of our team members. They get fired up dreaming right alongside you (while keeping your budget in mind, of course). Because they’ve watched hundreds of decks transform from a simple sketch to real life showstoppers, they can expertly guide you through every maintenance free decking material & design decision to create an outdoor oasis custom to your needs.
TimberTech vs Trex
Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? Most of our clients originally come to us asking about Trex. Our sales guy didn’t even want us to create this page because he was afraid it’d scare you away if your mind was already made up. But, if you’ve spent any time on our website, you know we believe in always doing the right thing… even if it means going against the grain (pun intended). So, we’ll continue to steer clients (& curious DIYers) in the right direction.
Based on our experience, TimberTech is the best composite deck material. But let’s go through a few reasons why…
Appearance That Lasts
Unlike TimberTech’s PVC cap, Trex uses a composite cap on only the tops of their boards. Remember, a cap is the thin layer that wraps the board. Because Trex uses a mix of wood & plastic, the grain wears more quickly with sun & moisture exposure.
Long story short, it leaves your deck looking something like a cheetah in about 5-10 years. The wood grain pops out from the plastic, leaving speckles across the top of your boards.
It’s almost like Trex knows their boards aren’t as good because rather than warrantying them for 35-50 years like TimberTech, they only warranty theirs for 25 years. From a composite deck materials comparison standpoint, TimberTech wins.
Quick side note about appearance… It’s not a Trex product, but another composite decking alternative that’s been popping up more in the market is Deckorators. While they have their own pros and cons, our biggest issue with these products is that the colors are too exaggerated, making them look fake, and their mineral based composite tends to fray when cut.
TimberTech vs Trex Price
Because each decking manufacturer has their own tiers, it’s really hard to give you an apples to apples comparison on pricing between TimberTech vs Trex decking. We could say overall, Trex is just slightly cheaper. But really, some tiers may be cheaper than others of the competing company. It just depends on what you desire specifically.
If you have questions about which product is right for you, please mention it to our deck team during your estimate. They’ll be happy to walk you through options & explain the differences. We’re here to guide, not convince.
TimberTech vs Trex Decking Final Thoughts
Our team likes to joke that Trex is a marketing company that makes decking materials whereas TimberTech is a decking company first. While Trex has done a phenomenal job at getting the word out about their product, we believe TimberTech has poured more into innovation & improving their collections. In our opinion, Trex is the Kleenex of the decking world… but well known doesn’t mean it’s the best maintenance free decking.
What About Wood Decks?
If you’re thinking, “I don’t really want composite” or “it’s not in the budget,” fair enough! As much as we love a maintenance free deck, we’re here to build a deck for you. We still build plenty of gorgeous treated lumber decks every single year.
It’s worth noting, however, that if you plan to be in your home for at least 25 years, most of the time, the lifetime cost of a composite deck will actually be less than that of a wood deck. (This takes into account regular staining & maintenance.)
But again, if you do decide to go the route of a timber deck, we may or may not know someone that can help stain or seal it. Okay, it’s us. Our Madison painting team would love to keep your deck protected & looking fresh. Reach out today to get the ball rolling!