Composite has established itself in recent years as the trendy alternative to natural wood. Each has highly appreciable virtues, like inconveniences, which are all relative, but which can make one hesitate in choosing one material over another. For a terrace covering, a living space in its own right that now wants to be comfortable, welcoming, and carefully decorated to make it a most pleasant place to share, the balance may hesitate. On what criteria to choose between natural wood or composite wood? We guide you.
Natural wood: the safe bet that is making a strong comeback on the market
Natural wood is always and even more attractive in recent years, with its rustic and authentic appearance, combined with the modernity and warmth it gives off, but also with the noble side of this durable and ecological material. Natural wood is defined in 5 different use classes, determined by standard NF EN 335-1 to 3. Each of the classes determines a degree of resistance by natural durability or by treatment. Let’s quickly introduce them:
- Class 1 includes dry wood for interior application, with a moisture content of less than 20%. They will be used for interior joinery;
- Class 2 includes dry wood that may occasionally be in contact with a humidity level above 20%. They will be used for frames for example;
- Class 3 includes wood that may be frequently in contact with humidity, above 20%. They will be used for exterior cladding in particular;
- Class 4 includes woods that can withstand permanent contact with fresh water. They are rot-proof, naturally or with the help of a treatment. This means they don’t rot. The majority of exotic woods are naturally class 4, and other woods such as Scots Pine or Ash can be treated by special treatment;
- Class 5 includes wood that can withstand permanent contact with salt water. These will only be exotic woods, mostly from South America. These will include Itauba and Massaranduba. Their durability is assuredly and without fear of several decades.
As you will have understood, the wood for an outdoor terrace must be class 4 or 5. Class 5 will be essential for a terrace on stilts, whose pillars and possibly the pontoon are immersed.
The three natural woods that can be used for an outdoor terrace are:
- Resinous wood, such as Scots Pine, Douglas Pine, Larch or Red Cedar, which come from French or North American forests. To do this, however, it will have to undergo an autoclave treatment which will give it a green, gray or brown tint. It can also be thermo-heated, thus creating a film that will act as a shield against insects and fungi;
- The exotic wood, such as Padauk, Ipe, Cumaru or Teak. They represent the top of the range of wood species. They come from Africa or Asia. No treatment is necessary since they have a density largely sufficient not to become impregnated with ambient humidity;
- Hardwoods, such as Robinia, Chestnut, Ash, Beech or Oak, are European woods that have a varied palette of colors. More resistant than resinous woods, but less than exotic woods, they have very interesting qualities of robustness, giving them a lifespan of around twenty years. Be careful however, the oak should not be in direct contact with the ground.
The pros and cons of a natural wood deck
The properties of natural wood give it remarkable virtues.
- Authenticity : This is probably its best advantage. It is generally chosen for that. Natural wood is one of the most noble materials there is, which brings warmth through its rusticity. Authenticity suits any style, from vintage to contemporary design;
- Eco-responsibility : Natural wood is obviously biodegradable, to be qualified however when it undergoes a protection treatment against humidity and insects;
- Its lifespan : A wooden deck can be kept for 20 to 30 years without difficulty. Those made of exotic wood can last up to more than 40 years. It is therefore an extremely profitable investment compared to any other material.
On the other hand, these advantages are counterbalanced by some disadvantages.
- knots : The majority of natural resinous wood terraces will be in Scots Pine. If it is naturally clear, inexpensive, and easily cut, it will often present knots which may protrude and catch, and sometimes present splinters;
- The color change : Exotic woods in particular are naturally rot-proof and weather-resistant. However, over time, the pretty light color will turn gray. It is a natural and harmless phenomenon, which can be delayed by applying a specific saturator;
- The interview : Some wood will have to undergo treatments to withstand the vagaries of the weather, but these will not be permanent. They can last about ten years on average, but beyond that, it will have to be treated again, which will represent a high cost;
- Its cost : Its price varies depending on whether it is softwood or exotic. For a durable and robust terrace, it will be better to opt for hardwood or exotic woods, which will be relatively expensive, and this more and more because of their rarity.
The composite: the imposter that has invaded our exteriors
For about twenty years now, we have been witnessing the “composite revolution”, which can be seen in all areas, from cladding to fences, including furniture. It will also and mainly be used for outdoor terraces, by virtue of its incomparable qualities: it is extremely resistant, rot-proof, and does not fear water or temperature variations. Initially, this material was designed to replace the mass use of exotic wood species that have become threatened. Now, it is not just a plan B and has largely proven itself, positioning itself as one of the most used materials.
Wood composite, sometimes referred to as “wood plastic composite” (WPC), is a combination of natural wood fibers and plastic resins generally derived from recycling, such as polypropylene, polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride. Sometimes plant fibers and pigments are added to give it a particular color.
The advantages and disadvantages of a composite wood deck
Let’s start by presenting the undeniable advantages of composite wood.
- Invisible fasteners : The composite wood planks clip together so that none of the fastening elements are visible, for an implacable rendering;
- The illusion of authenticity : Composite wood perfectly imitates natural wood. If it will not replace rusticity and the charm of authenticity down to its small imperfections, it will be a very good compromise for the garden;
- Its natural durability : By its non-slip, rot-proof properties, its resistance to bad weather, and its non-flammability, it has a lifespan of 20 to 25 years for superior quality composite wood;
- Its lightness : Much lighter than natural wood, composite wood is more easily machined, cut and installed. It is also easier to give your terrace an original shape. It is a very malleable product;
- Easy maintenance : Composite wood will require regular cleaning that is extremely quick and not very restrictive.
Let’s continue with its drawbacks that cannot be ignored.
- His interview : This is an advantage and a disadvantage. Maintenance is very simple and quick. However, if it is not carried out regularly, the lifespan of the composite wood can deteriorate prematurely because the plastic material contained will be damaged;
- Its relative resistance : It is reputed to be resistant, and it is true. However, depending on the quality of the wood fibers that make up the material, its resistance to UV, weather, stains, scratches or even insects will vary;
- Its thermal insulation : Composite wood absorbs heat. Also, exposed in full sun, it will be very hot underfoot, and will need to be watered to be made passable, which is neither ecological nor pleasant;
- That non-biodegradability : Composite wood contains plastic, so is not biodegradable, which, given its wide expansion, is not a feat for the preservation of the environment. However, it remains infinitely recyclable.
How to choose ?
A pretty terrace will depend on the maintenance it receives, its resistance to the vagaries of the weather and the aggressions suffered over time. But beyond that, it will depend on the species of wood selected, whether it is natural or composite for that matter. So which one to choose? The answer is not complete. The choice will depend on several criteria, and in particular the budget to be devoted to it. It will take about 200 € per m² for exotic natural wood slats. Natural softwood or hardwood slats will be between 40 and 60 €. And composite wood will be around 50 to 80 € per m². These prices are indicated excluding the cost of labor for the installation of the terrace, and excluding preparation and finishing, concrete slab type, railings, lighting, etc.
Another important point of help in the choice will reside in the region where the property, and therefore the terrace, is located. Some areas, especially along rivers, are more prone to termite infestation. It may therefore be wiser to have a composite deck installed there.
As for wood lovers, even environmentalists convinced even in their way of life and consumption, well it’s a safe bet that this article will have had no effect, and that the choice is already made!