Comparing the Long-Term Maintenance Costs of HDPE and Wood
HDPE lumber is becoming more common in construction projects and structures every year while replacing organic wood as an affordable and eco-friendly alternative. Which material is more expensive to maintain over its lifespan—HDPE or wood?
This guide will dive deeper into comparing HDPE and wood, including their long-term maintenance costs and longevity.
What Are HDPE Structural Materials?
Anyone unfamiliar with the industry might not know what HDPE structural materials are. High-density polyethylene is a polymer commonly used in high-strength plastics. Even if you’ve never heard of HDPE before, you’ve come across it many times. The material is commonly used for plastic bottles, milk jugs, plastic piping, and even plastic lumber composites.
HDPE is known for its exceptional strength-to-density ratio due to its linear structure that features little branching. HDPE’s structure gives it remarkable tensile strength, allowing it to hold a significant amount of weight and have a much higher melting point than other plastics.
HDPE vs. Wood: Maintenance
Whether it’s for commercial or residential construction, many builders must choose between organic wood and structural plastic lumber like HDPE boards. Many factors contribute to deciding which is best for an individual construction project. Still, we’ll compare the long-term maintenance costs of HDPE and wood so anyone interested can see the advantages and disadvantages of the materials.
Maintenance Costs of Wood
Sealing, Treating, and Staining
Everyone knows organic wood loves to absorb as much water as possible. While this may be good for trees, it’s not good for builders using lumber as structural materials—especially outdoors. For structural lumber that’s indoors, this isn’t much of a concern. Any outdoor project teams must be wary of water and moisture.
We seal, treat, stain, and repeatedly clean wood to prevent it from absorbing moisture, swelling, and rotting. Depending on the size of the project—we’ll assume it’s an outdoor deck—treating and maintaining all the wood can cost hundreds of dollars. We recommend extensive maintenance at least every two to three years to prevent mold and dry rot
Over the course of a decade, a homeowner could spend over $1,000 just on staining and treating their outdoor deck.
Cleaning & Repairs
Organic wood is a durable material, but it’s not invulnerable. It’s common for outdoor wood projects to require repeated cleanings and repairs. Lumber can get damaged by water, moisture absorption, or pest infestation.
Termites and other insects are a builder’s worst nightmare and can destroy the structural integrity of a wood deck or outdoor shed. Any chips, breaks, or cracks in the lumber must get repaired immediately to prevent the boards from dry rotting or becoming a termite home.
Furthermore, repeated cleanings are critical to the longevity and viability of outdoor decks. Cleaning supplies and tools add another layer of expenses for homeowners.
Maintenance Costs of HDPE Lumber
Water and Insect Resistance
HDPE lumber materials are much more durable than wood since they’re completely water and insect-proof. Due to the synthetic makeup of HDPE, it’s naturally resistant to water with a hard outer shell to keep moisture out.
Since HDPE is an inorganic material, it’s inherently resistant to insects and animals that might otherwise eat lumber. Termites won’t infect HDPE lumber because they can’t consume it or even penetrate its rigid outer shell.
Since HDPE is water and insect-proof, there’s no need for sealants or chemical treatments. This material saves owners money over its lifespan.
Cleaning & Repairs
While HDPE materials are certainly not invulnerable, they’re much tougher and capable of withstanding more force without breaking than wooden lumber. As we mentioned, HDPE has exceptional density and tensile strength, making it resistant to dents and splinters.
Since there’s no concern of water damage and dry rot, repairs are much rarer for HDPE materials than wood. Due to the rigid outer shell and water resistance, HDPE materials are much easier to clean. Occasionally spray and wipe HDPE boards, and they look good as new!
HDPE vs. Wood: Longevity
Lastly, we’ll compare the longevity and lifespan of these two materials. Wood may look great, but like any organic material, it has a definitive life span before it rots. This is especially true for outdoor lumber exposed to water and sun.
For example, a typical outdoor deck is expected to last around 10 or 15 years with diligent maintenance and prompt repairs. However, a deck of HDPE materials should last at least 25 years, if not more, due to its durable composition and resistance to water and heat.
Our limited warranty for plastic materials covers buyers for up to 50 years! With a longer lifespan and less maintenance, there’s no doubt about the value HDPE materials and lumber provide to builders.
Applications for HDPE Materials
HDPE materials have many applications in today’s world, and you’ve likely come across them yourself, even if you weren’t aware.
Perhaps the most common use of HDPE materials is in everyday food, drink, and household product containers we see in every grocery store:
- Milk jugs
- Shampoo bottles
- Recycling bins
- Grocery bags
Many other HDPE materials, like HDPE composite lumber, are recycled commercial HDPE plastics, like milk jugs. Using HDPE materials keeps trees planted in our forests and takes milk jugs out of our landfills.
As discussed throughout this guide, HDPE is a common material in residential projects like outdoor decks. Many people have come across a home with an HDPE deck, and they don’t even notice since it looks similar to natural wood.
While natural wood decks were the favored material by homeowners for decades, the HDPE lumber deck has slowly gained popularity, and it’s practically as common as organic lumber. It’s easy to see why homeowners prefer plastic lumber with its longer lifespan, greater durability, and easy maintenance.
HDPE is becoming a more common material in commercial construction. The most standard application for HDPE materials in construction was for piping, as they were affordable, water-resistance, and could easily take on many shapes.
HDPE is still a preferred material for piping, but HDPE lumber and composite wood are becoming more favored by builders due to their rigidity, durability, and longevity.
Now you know more about HDPE lumber materials, organic wood, and how the two compare. If you have further questions about HDPE or other plastic materials, don’t hesitate to contact our expert staff at Tangent Materials. We can answer questions and help you find the plastic materials you need.