PC House / Kengo Kuma and Associates

© Mitsumasa Fujitsuka | PC House by Kengo Kuma

In the construction industry, wood has been the primary choice for building materials. However, in recent years, a few alternatives have been developed; composites are becoming one of the most popular wood alternatives in the market. But the question is, how does it compare to real lumber when used as building materials?

Composites, also known as plastic-wood or WPC, are wood-alternatives made from extruding plastics and wood fibers. It’s a relatively new concept, which started early in the 90s. 

Comparison of Wood and Composites

Wood is one of the most common construction materials. There are various types of lumber, each with its strengths and weaknesses. In construction, it is useful in myriads of ways, from creating beams, posts, fences, flooring, hardscaping, and landscaping, to name a few. Many people still use wood today due to its strength, availability, and cost. 

Composites, also known as plastic-wood or WPC, are wood-alternatives made from extruding plastics and wood fibers. It’s a relatively new concept, which started early in the 90s. However, it quickly gained popularity due to its many advantages. In construction, you can use it in place of the wood, and vice versa. However, the most popular application of plastic-wood is to create composite decking materials. 

Today, many are still wondering which one is the best material for different applications. To compare, let’s look at the different factors you might consider when choosing either one. 

1. Cost

Managing budget and saving as much as possible is crucial for any building project. For this reason, many consider prices first before choosing what materials to use. Which one is cheaper; composites or wood?

Both materials have different tiers of quality. For instance, tree lumber often comes in two types, softwoods, and hardwoods. Softwoods are often less expensive and more common than hardwoods. Expensive hardwoods can cost you as much as twice that of softwoods. 

Likewise, WPC also differs in price according to its design and quality. In general, the better protection and capping a composite material has, the higher its cost will be. The cost will also depend on what materials are used to create it. 

Overall, wood is the cheaper material among the two. Because of this, it is the preferred material for general building purposes. 

PC House / Kengo Kuma and Associates

© Mitsumasa Fujitsuka | PC House by Kengo Kuma

2. Versatility

Wood is one of the most versatile materials, having so many uses in construction. You can use it to build walls, furniture, windows, doors, and frames. With a wide variety of lumber, you can choose the best ones for the right purposes. But how do composites compare?

Composites are also as versatile as wood. The truth is, in some cases, people now prefer WPC materials more than wood. For instance, people have been using timber for cladding. But since lumber has subpar fire protection, many people are starting to choose wood-alternatives instead.

While wood is still one of the most used construction materials, research shows that wood-alternatives, such as WPC, are becoming more popular.  

3. Durability

Durability is another important deciding factor that might help you decide which one to use. Durability is the ability of a material to withstand wear and damage. In this aspect, which one is better? As previously mentioned, there are varying qualities of both materials. However, many will agree that the latter is better suited to the former in many ways. Let’s take decking materials as an example.

Wooden materials, especially for decks, are prone to moisture absorption. When they absorb moisture, it will encourage the growth of molds and mildew. Molds, in turn, will accelerate the wood’s rotting process. Even if no molds grow on the boards, moisture can still warp and bend. Clearly, there are many potential issues you may encounter if you wish to use wood. But what about wood-plastic?

Composite decking materials are resistant to many problems associated with using wood. Its capping won’t absorb water or moisture, making it highly resistant to molds, mildews, and rotting. Many capping also provides resistance to slips, and scratches, and color fading. Its only weakness is its susceptibility to thermal expansion, but there are various ways to avoid it. 

While wood is still one of the most used construction materials, research shows that many are looking to use wood-alternatives, such as WPC. 

PC House / Kengo Kuma and Associates

© Mitsumasa Fujitsuka | PC House by Kengo Kuma

4. Upkeep

If you are building walls, fences, patios, or even wall siding and cladding, you will want the one with the lowest upkeep requirement. Not only will it help you save time, but it can also potentially save you hundreds, if not thousands. 

It’s not a secret that wood requires high-maintenance, especially if used for aesthetic purposes, such as hardscaping and landscaping. You will need to apply a seal and stains to protect it from moisture. Wood also fades fast, needing repainting every few years. The cost of these products and other maintenance care will pile up, eventually making it more expensive other than low-maintenance options.

On the other hand, wood-plastic materials don’t require any special maintenance. You don’t need to seal, paint, or stain it. You do have to clean it regularly to avoid any potentially damaging problems. But in comparison with wood, the upkeep cost is meager. 

Which One to Use for Your Building Project?

If you are doing home improvement or construction projects, you will have to decide whether you choose composites or wood. Which to use depends on the purpose of the materials. Since wood is cheap, it is useful for general building purposes, such as frames, walls, and windows. But if you need extra durability and lower upkeep, definitely go with composites. 

Cite this article: "Wood Vs. Composite Materials Used in Building Construction" in ArchEyes, December 8, 2020, https://archeyes.com/wood-vs-composite-materials-used-in-building-construction/.