Cedar Deck vs Composite Deck: Understanding Your Options

Updated on June 5, 2024 by Joseph D. Nielson

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Indoor-outdoor living exemplified with a beautiful deck.”

Building a deck outside your home will create more usable space outside of your home, and make a transition zone between your backyard and your interior space. It’s a space that you can use to entertain, it adds value to your home, and it creates space that you can furnish and decorate with a blend of plantings, greenery, and patio furniture.

When you’re building a deck, the material that you choose will determine how much maintenance you have to perform throughout your deck’s lifespan, and how long it will last in good condition before you need to replace it.

I recommend Trex composite for its durability, its low maintenance requirements, and its ability to retain resale value. This guide will show you why I prefer Trex in comparison to cedar, as well as touch on some of the other materials and considerations to keep in mind when you’re building a new deck.

Cedar Decking vs Composite: Maintenance

As a homeowner, you need to understand the maintenance demands of the decking materials you choose. Failing to property maintain your deck can lead to it fading sooner and falling apart.

Maintenance is where choosing composite really shines over cedar decking. Cedar decks need to be resealed every one to three years, and even then, you’re fighting a losing battle against fading. As a general rule, after 10 years, a cedar deck is going to lose its lustre and natural colour. You can stain it instead, which adds pigment to colour the wood. This can add some life to your deck once that natural wood colour has faded, but it will also need to be redone every few years, or else your deck can start to look like an eyesore.

Trex composite outlasts other materials. Composite is made from a combination of recycled plastic and wood chips or sawdust. The resulting product is much tougher than natural wood when facing the elements. While the colour will change, it typically changes more evenly. Plus, you never have to seal or stain it to protect it from moisture or sun exposure.

Maintenance for composite decking is usually as simple as cleaning it off with a soapy solution and hose when it gets dirty.

Cedar or Composite Decking: Cost

Cost is always an important factor to consider when you’re thinking about home renovations. Whether you’re adding a brand-new deck or replacing an old one, you can use a calculator to look at deck costs and compare different materials.

As a general rule, composite remains the more expensive material. It’s a premium construction material that’s low-maintenance and has better resale value if you plan on selling your home. I also believe in protecting your investment, and Trex composite has that advantage. Return on investment is an important factor to consider when you’re calculating your costs.

The fluctuating price of lumber is also something worth keeping in mind. Lumber prices have shown a lot of volatility in recent years. Prices rose rapidly during the pandemic, closing the gap between cedar and composite. They have fallen since then, but remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic prices. It’s worth considering that the cost of cedar can change rapidly based on supply and consumer demand.

Two lounge chairs on a deck built around a pool

Cedar vs. Composite Decking: Quality and Durability

Durability is a major factor when it comes to your deck. While a cedar deck will likely start looking worn out and need to be replaced after 10 years, a well-maintained composite deck has an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years. Trex offers high-performance composite boards that resist fading from the sun and keep their colour even after years of rain, sleet, and snow. Trex composite is also a more eco-friendly option, using 100% recycled plastic and wood sawdust, meaning that no new trees are cut down to make it. It’s a great material for eco-conscious consumers as well. In addition to being more fade-resistant than natural wood, Trex composite doesn’t suffer from the same downfalls that natural wood has. Composite isn’t at risk of insect infestation, and it won’t rot, split, twist, crack or swell the way that natural wood can.

Cedar Deck vs. Composite: Appearance

The appeal of natural wood is worth the extra maintenance and the costs of replacing it down the road. There is no substitute for the look, smell, and feel of natural wood. The grain and patterns of wood that occur from a tree’s natural growth are irreplaceable. While composite is made to look like wood, it is manufactured, so the pattern will typically look uniform.

When it comes to initial appearance, cedar has the advantage over composite. However, over the years, cedar can start to look worn and faded. After 10 years, a cedar deck may need to be replaced if you want your home to look its best, and you miss that look of warm, natural wood. A well-maintained composite deck will still look great after 10 years and have years of use left. Durability and maintenance are important factors to consider when you’re thinking of the appearance.

Cedar Deck vs. Composite: Resale Value

Home renovations can sometimes be a balance between the resale value of the biggest investment you’ve made in your life, and what you want to build the most. It’s important to consider timelines when you think about resale value. The sooner you’re thinking about selling your home, the more important resale value becomes. You want to make smart renovations with great ROI if you’re planning to list the property in six months, but if you’re not planning on listing for another 10 years, renovations you make today may need to be redone by then. According to Remodeling Magazine Cost vs Value Report, a wood deck addition in 2024 recoups about 74% of its cost, while a composite deck addition is slightly behind at 73%, even though composite is the more expensive material, and composite decks tend to cost much more. The age and state of your deck will have a significant influence on its resale value and its contribution to the price of your home.

Composite looks much better after years of use. Older wood decks can even hurt the resale of your value if they look shabby, and you may want to consider replacing them if you’re preparing to list your property.

A new wood deck with patio tables and chairs

Is There a Winner Between Composite Decking vs Wood?

I love using Trex composite, and genuinely believe that it’s the best material you can use for your deck. However, I regularly work with cedar and pressure-treated wood, and can appreciate the look, grain, and colour of natural wood. The best material for your deck is the one you want to use.

Other Decking Materials to Consider

Cedar and composite are not the only materials out there. One of the more popular materials from a budgeting perspective is pressure treated wood, especially pressure treated pine. This is an option that balances longevity with economy. It can be stained and sealed and last a long time, but it may not necessarily look great.

On the premium end of things is ipe decking. Ipe, a.k.a. Brazil walnut, is a premium hardwood known for its durability, strength, and natural colour and beauty. It’s one of my favourite materials to work with, although it’s not widely known among decking contractors. Ipe is naturally resistant to mold and insect infestations, and it contracts very little. It’s low maintenance, doesn’t crack or split, and a deck made from this special type of wood can last 50 years or longer. It’s one of the best materials in the world for decking. To preserve its beautiful natural colour, treat it with a rose-based oil called penofin, and you’ll have a deck that preserves its original beauty for years to come.

When you’re choosing deck materials, you should also know that there’s more than one option for cedar. Pinnacle Premium Western Red Cedar is an increasingly popular material for decks that’s known for being a solid material and an upgrade over regular cedar. Pinnacle premium cedar is known for its structural integrity and for cracking less often than regular cedar.

Building a deck is a major project. Before you get started, you should understand your options for decking materials, and make an informed decision based on cost, quality, durability, maintenance and appearance.

Joseph and Family
About Joseph D. Nielson

Former journalist and editor for various press groups, I now dedicate my time to reviewing products for the home and family life. When I get time to myself, I enjoy rock climbing, taking my dirt bike for a rip, and most importantly providing my family with the best home possible!