Composite wood versus Black Locust lumber decking materials

April 23, 2024

Long-term cost-effectiveness, maintenance need, and durability of Black Locust lumber versus composite wood decking materials.

In the past year, with so many of us stuck at home, our focus on our surroundings has led to a home improvement boom. A lot of homeowners have decided it was time to build a deck and interest in decking materials has grown. According to AIA Home Design Trends Survey in 2021 architects saw a dramatic uptake in spendings on outdoor living spaces due to the pandemic.

As there is a growing demand for decking materials, we would like to take a closer look at two popular options: composite wood and lumber decking materials with a special focus on Black Locust lumber. We hope our comparison guide will help you make an informed decision on what decking material best fits your needs.

Composite wood decking material durability

Composite wood decking materials are made of a mix of plastic, wood fiber, and sawdust. They are generally made of recycled materials and are said to look like wood and last decades. 

Composite wood decking material

Maintenence of composite wood decking materials

This sounds great, but composite wood decking materials cost more money and energy to maintain over a lifetime. They are expensive and not without drawbacks. Composite decking will have a starting cost of 30 USD per square foot. Composite decks get really hot in the summer since the material is so dense and their color fades over time due to UV radiation.

Sustainability questions around composite wood decking materials

Though composite wood is made of recycled plastic, it is actually not considered as a “green” building material. The reason for this is that composite wood decking materials are unsuitable for recycling after being combined with plastic.

Black Locust lumber decking material durability 

Usually, people turn towards fake decking materials like composite wood because they are unaware of a natural lumber material that has long-lasting durability. Black Locust, a.k.a Robinia pseudoacacia is a special wood type with a durability that is competing with that of Hickory, with a Janka Hardness of 1,700 lbf (7,560 N). Back in the days of the early pioneers, Black Locust Lumber was the number one wood choice. Settlers used this hardwood material to build fence posts, houses, and even ships. They knew that if they used Black Locust, it would endure the test of time and last for even 50+ years.  

The most sustainable decking material: Black Locust lumber

Maintenance of Black Locust lumber decking materials

Homeowners traditionally apply surface treatments to woods that are exposed to the outdoor elements. Black Locust lumber decking materials’ uniqueness, however, lies in their low need for maintenance compared to other types of natural wood decking materials. Black Locust lumber is a type of wood that stays durable and actually low maintenance when left natural. Take a look at this case study of comparing Black Locust lumber maintenance needs when treated with oils and when left natural. Left natural, the surface of Black Locust decking material weathers and develops a silvery-gray patina which will not affect the durability of the wood. The silvery color is generally loved by architects and landscape designers.

The picture above of a natural Black Locust lumber deck was taken 5 years after installation at the New York Botanical Gardens Native Plant Garden. 

Sustainability of Black Locust lumber decking materials

To the conscious consumer, it is reassuring that there is a sustainable outdoor decking material alternative to composite wood that is 100% natural. Black Locust lumber decking material has an outstanding 50+ years of natural longevity without the use of ANY toxic chemicals. It is also reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being a species of least concern in terms of sustainability. 

To sum up

The long-term cost-effectiveness of Black Locust Lumber is undeniable: a 100% natural lumber decking material that requires little to no maintenance. The Black Locust lumber deck will last you several decades and stay cool during summer days compared to composite wood decking materials that heat up due to material density.

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