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How Do I Choose the Best Composite Materials?

By Jillian Peterson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Used in many manufactured products and building applications, composite materials can offer more durability and versatility than traditional materials. Composite lumber is most often used in outdoor building projects like sheds or decks, while composite metal products are used in vehicles and industrial machines. Most composite materials are made from a mixture of concrete, resin, metal, fiberglass, or wood products, and choosing the best material for a specific project will depend on how the material will be used.

A composite lumber made of wood and resin would be a good choice for an outdoor deck because the resin would make the material resistant to fading and warping while still retaining the look of wooden planks. Composite decking materials are the most commonly used composite materials by homeowners that wish to complete construction projects without professional help. Construction professionals also use composite building materials in new buildings because these materials offer the look of traditional materials like wood with added structural integrity or colorfastness.

For individuals who want the look of granite or marble without the maintenance or cost of real stone products, composite materials made of plastic, resin, and stone can be a good choice. These types of composite building materials are used in bathroom and kitchen countertops. Many composite countertops use recycled materials such as glass, paper, or aluminum, so they are considered more eco-friendly than raw materials. Composite countertops usually contain chips of recycled materials suspended in a resin or epoxy.

Other composite building materials include siding, composite lumber, roofing, foundations, windows, insulation, pipes, and ceilings. Most composite materials used where wood would normally be used in construction are made from wood fibers and plastic. Composite building materials used in roofing are often made from epoxies to offer the look of traditional clay roofing tiles without the weight. Siding made from composite materials are similar to composite decking materials in that they generally keep the look of wood while using other materials such as metal or epoxy for durability and colorfastness.

Various manufactured products like automobile parts are also made of composite materials, including metals and fiberglass blends. Some composite products such as plastic-and-natural-fiber fabrics can also be a good choice for repairing or replacing seats or other fabric parts in cars, motorcycles, and boats. When choosing composite products for use in vehicle repair, consumers should check with the manufacturer to learn the specifications of the material and make sure that it will meet their needs.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Nov 04, 2011

One thing you should check when choosing a wood composite as a building material is how vulnerable it will be to termites.

Don't just assume they won't eat it because it has a plastic component.

Make sure that you get a guarantee, because if they do start nibbling on your house, it can turn out to be extremely expensive and time consuming getting rid of them. Believe me, I have gone through that experience and it's one of the first things I will always check for whenever I'm building, or moving into a new house.

By pleonasm — On Nov 04, 2011

@irontoenail - The interesting thing is that concrete is one of the best materials we have for making things that will last. The Colosseum in Rome, for example, is made out of concrete as are many of the aqueducts and bridges the Ancient Romans left behind. Although the Romans used a different kind of concrete than we do, which is a bit more durable.

But, you're right, mixing up two different materials to form a composite material changes the properties. In most cases it makes it lighter and stronger, but like with fiberglass, but there is always going to be a downside to every material that you use as well.

By irontoenail — On Nov 03, 2011

I just finished watching a show called "Life After People" and it showed what would happen to the world we live in if all the people in the world suddenly vanished.

One of the things I found amazing was how quickly the materials we made our houses from would start to break down without maintenance.

For example composite concrete, which is made with concrete and steel, works really well as long as the concrete prevents the steel from becoming oxidized.

But if it isn't maintained, the steel will eventually begin to rust and expand and will start to break up the concrete.

I always thought those concrete buildings would last forever, or at least for hundreds of years, but according to this show, because they are made of composite materials they wouldn't even last a hundred years.

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