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Technology
The History of Capped Composite Decking
October 24 2016
Decking Technology

1. The Evolution of Capped Composite Decking

Capped composite decking has quickly become one of the most commonly chosen materials used for the building of residential decks. But, where did this product come from and why is it so popular? 

Here, we take a look at the history of composite decking and its eventual evolution into becoming capped composite.     

When Was Composite Decking Invented?

Up until the late 1990s, pressure treated wood was the main choice for residential decking. But in the late 1990s, a new product was introduced – composite decking. 

This revolutionary product was produced by blending plastics and wood fibers, providing homeowners with a more durable decking alternative. This new product was more water-resistant than wood and it required significantly less maintenance and upkeep, all while providing the appearance and feel of genuine wood. 

Composite decking became extremely popular over the next decade, with 25% of the decks installed in 2006 being built with composite decking materials. But, despite its newly found success, composite decking faced a few early hiccups.

2. The Early Challenges of Composite Decking

Like all new things, composite decking had to go through various iterations as the product presented a host of new, unforeseen challenges. One of the most significant challenges had to do with how the boards were fastened and installed. 

In particular, it was problematic that composite decking could not be installed using traditional deck screws since they caused what is known as a “mushroom effect”—this is when the plastic material blooms up and “mushrooms” around the head of the screw. 

At the time, fastener manufacturers tried to convince builders that the unsightly mushrooming was actually a desirable effect and that the situation could be remedied by hitting the mushroom with a hammer. This would cause the plastic to resettle over the screw and essentially hide it.  

Likewise, adding another step to the building process didn’t sit well with builders because it only served to extend the time it took to build a deck. Still, it was the only viable solution available at the time, so builders had no choice but to use it. 

Eventually, multi-diameter decking screws would be introduced that allowed deck boards to be secured without the usual mushrooming. These screws worked because they were able to seal off the mushroomed material so the finished surface would be clean and level. 

3. Composite Decking Goes Mainstream

As you might expect, after the explosion in popularity of composite decking, the number of manufacturers of composite products grew substantially. This caused an entirely new set of problems, most importantly, the vast array of products being produced with greatly different densities and compositions. These problems came to light as certain products wound up being impacted by regional climates.

One of the most significant examples of this problem arose in areas with cold weather climates. When cap-style screws were used on dense decking boards in cold weather, the board (which the cold made even harder) would cause the screw to lose its momentum before becoming seated. In some cases, the screws would actually spin back out of the substrate. 

Deck builders were finding that their builds were being impacted by everything from board composition to the temperature. As a result of composite’s tendency to contract and expand with the weather, board spacing guidelines had to be revised and updated to ensure the finished projects were stable and capable of delivering the promises made by this enhanced decking product.

Eventually, the industry would once again right itself with the introduction of screws designed to meet the needs of builders. Today, there are screws for humid climates, cold climates, wet climates, and more. There are even collated screw driving systems for faster and more efficient deck fastening. 

4. New & Improved: Capped Composite Decking

The next evolution of composite decking would arise in late 2008 / early 2009, when composite lumber companies would start utilizing a process called co-extrusion in the creation of their products. This process formed an extremely strong outer layer over the surface of the boards that wasn’t available with traditionally produced composite. This product would become recognized as “capped” composite decking.

The co-extrusion process made it possible to create stronger and more resilient decking that was available in more natural colors. The extra-strong outer protective layer also enhanced the product’s ability to resist mold and mildew, resist water, and resist scratches, making capped composite one of the most popular and longest-lasting decking materials in use today. 

To see the different looks and feels you can create with capped composite, check out TimberTech’s design inspiration center