Composite contenders

Charles Taylor of wood plastic specialists Composite Prime discusses the rise of the composite decking trend and how it is helping to drive the timber industry forward

Timber has long been considered one of the most environmentally friendly building materials on the market, due to its naturally renewable properties. With its lightweight, high load-bearing properties and excellent thermal qualities, hardwood is a staple component in architecture that can withstand the test of time. Today, we are seeing composites enter the market, which enhance timber’s natural characteristics to create a new product in its own right.

Without a doubt, quality composite materials start with a high grade of timber. Everything that composite has become over the past 10 years is down to the benefits that hardwoods bring to the table. Their versatility when mixed with other durable and strengthening materials create something entirely unique.

The composite arena is a massively growing market that has taken off across the world, and most recently in the UK, we’ve seen a significant amount of interest in composite decking products due to its ability to copy with mixed weather types. This is down to a series of benefits the product brings to the end user and the architect or specifier when recommending materials. Most importantly, wood plastic composites are low maintenance. Although like any materials they require cleaning to maintain a pristine look, they do not need specific treatments to ensure they weather well.

The ability to wear well over time is a key consideration, particularly in the UK where we tend to experience rainfall throughout the year. When bad weather hits, most well-engineered composites are anti-fungal. This makes it difficult for moss to grow into the boards, again helping to ensure the deck looks good all year round. If we’re lucky enough to experience a few weeks of sunshine, quality composite products are also UV fade resistant, helping the material to cope in direct sunlight. The protective properties found on the surface of composite boards is largely down to the plastic used within these materials, rendering them perfect for outdoor spaces, as most boarded areas are home to numerous amounts of furniture and serve as a space for entertaining.

It is a huge benefit for customers to know that the decking boards they purchase on day one will maintain their appearance, even after months of living outside. Although composite materials will weather naturally, they have the ability to retain their colour for the product’s life span. This is a relatively unique attribute to composites, as weathering usually has a big effect on materials that are kept outside in the natural environment if they are not preserved or treated.

Composite decking also works well for families with young children or pet owners. Boards produced by reputable manufacturers should be slip-resistant and ‘barefoot safe’, which is a necessity when children are playing outdoors. Due to the material’s composition, it is unlikely that the deck will become overly slippery when wet. The fact that the boards can maintain a grip under foot is very comforting for parents when letting their children play outdoors on dewy mornings or showery days. In addition to this, the boards will not splinter, another huge plus point that helps to avoid accidents for little ones, whether they’re on two or four legs.

FSC timber

When it comes to sustainability, reputable manufacturers should ensure that their composite materials use FSC 100 per cent certified timber from well managed sources. This is an incredibly important element to our products’ make up, and my 20 years’ experience as a timber merchant has helped to enforce the importance of that across our ranges.

Most end users – including businesses, governments and local authorities – are committed to using responsibly sourced timber, creating a resultant demand for manufacturers to provide it. That said, the primary reason for using FSC 100 per cent certified timber comes down to environmental and social responsibility, which anyone operating in the timber trade should see as an obligation to uphold.

Choosing FSC wood guarantees that the trees harvested are replaced and allowed to regenerate naturally. FSC also upholds rigorous ethical standards such as making sacred areas of forests exempt from felling, as well as creating protected areas to ensure rare animals and plants are not disturbed. Similarly, it also supports local communities by encouraging forest owners to use local workers for tree felling. We agree that these standards should be encouraged across the board at manufacturer and consumer level.

In keeping with our personal commitment to sustainability, some of our products use the equivalent of more than 280 two-pint recycled plastic milk bottles per square metre of decking, making the product an eco- friendly and sustainable decking solution.

The birth of composite materials is an exciting development for the industry, opening a lot of possibilities for outdoor applications. In years gone by, plastic was seen as the enemy of the timber trade, but I welcome the changes that the introduction of plastic can bring to enhance the abundant natural properties of hardwoods.

The amount of opportunities composite materials can bring to the building sector is extraordinary and we’re looking forward to seeing how the market grows in the future, along with how the timber trade continues to diversify to make room for innovation and product development.

Charles Taylor is the sales director of Composite Prime