Composite, PVC, Wood. Which Decking is Right for You?

Are you ready to build a new deck, but overwhelmed by the vast array of different options?
We want help you understand the world of decking and allow you to make an educated decision on the best materials for your deck.

Decking can be divided into three main categories:

Softwoods: Including Pressure Treated Pine, Western Red Cedar, Eastern White Cedar, Redwood.

Hardwoods: Including Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa, Massaranduba, Mahogany, and more.

Manufactured/synthetic decking: Including composite decking, PVC decking, and more.

Softwoods

Pressure treated has been around for decades. It’s traditionally been one of the most popular types of decking, primarily due to its low cost and ease of availability. Different regions may use various species of wood. On the East Coast, southern yellow pine lumber is harvested and then “treated” in a large, pressurized tank with chemicals that give the wood an ability to resist rot and decay due to moisture as well as insects. Although the pressure treating process inhibits rot, it does not prevent warpage, mold growth or cracking. Annual maintenance of this decking should include washing any mold, mildew and other debris off the deck as well as applying a protective stain to prolong the life of the wood. Keeping up with this annual maintenance can more than double the usable lifespan of pressure treated decking. Without regular maintenance, pressure treated decking will quickly begin to shrink, warp and crack shortly after installation. Upon installation of new pressure treated decking, be prepared to wait up to 6 months before staining the wood. This is because when purchased, the decking initially has a high moisture content due to the treatment process and needs to dry before a stain can successfully be applied. We’ve developed a very effective staining and preservation process. Read on here.

Although the chemicals used today to treat wood aren’t as harmful as they were prior to 2004 (when copper chromated arsenic was the standard chemical used), the modern chemicals are still not something we’d consider good for your health if ingested. So, if you have any kids or animals that could be crawling around on your deck, you may want to consider building your new deck with an alternative material.

Pros: Least expensive decking, widely available, resistant to rot, can have a great appearance when stained

Cons: Shorter lifespan. Shrinking, warping, cracking and splintering are all inevitable, though they can be minimized with proper maintenance. Cannot be stained immediately after installation, chemicals in wood can be hazardous

Lifespan: 8-15 years depending on preventative maintenance measures

Cedar and redwood are a less popular choice but can be a good option for those who want a prettier, richer looking decking (especially when stained) while also being naturally resistant to rot and decay. Cedar and redwood both have similar anti-decay characteristics of pressure treated wood, without any of the potentially harmful chemicals. However, unfortunately these materials are some of the softest of any of the woods used in construction. Therefore, they are very susceptible to damage – scratching, gouging, and denting. If you plan to place furniture on your deck or if your deck will be subject to regular foot traffic, then these very soft woods may not be the best choices. Cedar and redwood also require annual washing and staining in order to realize the longest lifespan. However, unlike pressure treated decking, they can be stained immediately, and they aren’t as prone to shrinkage, cracks, and warping

Pros: Naturally rot resistant, aesthetically appealing, can stain immediately, no chemicals

Cons: Very soft wood, not high durability, requires maintenance, more expensive that pressure treated

Lifespan: 8-15 years depending on preventative maintenance measures

Hardwoods

Mahogany,Cumaru,Tigerwood,Garapa,Massaranduba, Meranti, Teak… the list goes on. All of these materials share some similar characteristics typical of all hardwoods. First and foremost, they are very dense when compared to the softwoods. Therefore, they naturally resist damage, rot, decay, and insect penetration very well
One downside to this density, however, is that it can make installation a bit more difficult task than any other decking. Deck boards are significantly heavier, increasing installation time. The boards must also be predrilled prior to installing fasteners, which can be a tedious process. These types of hardwood can last a reasonably long amount of time but should be maintained regularly with a cleaning and protective stain

Ipe: pronounced: (ee-pay). The ultimate of all hardwoods, ipe sits at the top of the Janka wood hardness rating scale, offering the maximum lifespan of any real wood decking. Its extreme density allows ipe to have incredible natural durability. Ipe can hold up very well without any maintenance, actually. It is recommended that ipe be stained after installation in order to protect the wood while it stabilizes and fully acclimates to the climate. After that initial coating, if desired, it can be left to weather to a silvered appearance. However, weathering will cause the wood to lose its deep, rich color, which in our opinion, is one of the most appealing aspects of any hardwood decking. Regularly applying a stain will preserve the beauty of any of these hardwoods long after installation, as well as help prevent checking, cracking, and splintering. Ipe is the best of the best in natural wood decking, and the material that we recommend for a hardwood deck project

Pros: The most durable and longest lasting real-wood materials. Beautiful, natural appearance

Cons: Higher installation cost. Does require some maintenance to keep it looking good and to realize the most life out of the decking

Lifespan: Lower grade hardwoods can last 10-25 years, depending on the wood species and maintenance. Ipe can last 30-50 years with minimal maintenance or be extended to well over 50 years with good preventative maintenance

Manufactured and Synthetic Decking

Wood-plastic composite decking: Composite decking by definition consists of a combination of two or more materials. When first introduced in the 1990s, composite decking was created with partially or fully recycled plastic, blended together with recycled wood sawdust. The mixture was then heated up in an oven and extruded out of a machine to form decking. The product was intended to be a minimal-maintenance material that was reasonably economical to produce due to the recycling and re-use of materials. However, problems quickly became apparent with this new material’s durability. Being a porous material, and containing wood, water was able to penetrate into the core of the deck board. Combine this with the expansion and contraction caused by temperature swings in most climates, and the result was the material splitting, cracking and eventually falling apart altogether. Another major problem was that it stained very easily and permanently. Mold, mildew, dirt, paint, some grease from your grill, all left ugly permanent marks. Manufacturers soon realized these problems and eventually developed a solution: Capped wood-plastic composite decking

Capped wood-plastic composite: Jumping ahead to current times, many advancements have been made in wood-plastic composite decking. Most of the decking you’ll find on the market now is manufactured in nearly the same way as it was initially, but with advancements in the materials and processes used. The most notable difference being that the exterior surface of the board is now encapsulated or “capped” on three or more sides with a thin layer of waterproof polymer. This thin shell covering the outside of the material makes the surface of the decking no longer porous. Therefore, some of the issues that plagued early composites are reduced or eliminated. For example, the polymer shell does an excellent job of preventing staining to the surface of the decking. Durability and longevity of wood-plastic composites continue to improve over the years as companies fine tune the manufacturing processes. However, limitations do present themselves, since wood fiber remains a primary ingredient. These wood fibers have an inevitable tendency to absorb moisture from the ends of cut boards as well as the underside of the decking where the polymer shell does not exist. While not nearly as severe as the early composites, this can still attribute to expansion and contraction, swelling/cupping of the material, and eventual degradation of the structure

Pros: Economical (usually made mostly from mostly or fully recycled material), very little maintenance required.

Cons: Heavier and denser than other some manufactured decking (slightly higher installation cost). May become hot to the touch in direct sun. Not as stable as some other manufactured decking (moisture absorption and expansion/contraction)

Lifespan: 25-50 years for modern products. Early wood-plastic composite was significantly less

Mineral based composite decking: A recent advancement in the manufactured decking market is a composite material made using minerals in place of wood fibers. This decking is made from partially or fully recycled plastics, and naturally occurring minerals such as calcium carbonate. This mineral has been used extensively in concrete aggregates, roofing and other highly durable materials for decades. The recent integration of this mineral to decking is a groundbreaking innovation to the industry.

Pros: Economical (made from partially or fully recycled/renewable material, extremely durable, very easy to clean, easy to install, highly slip resistant, doesn’t become as hot as wood-plastic composites

Cons: One of the most expensive decking materials, but potentially the best value since it’s likely the last decking you’ll ever install

Lifespan: 50 years

Cellular PVC Decking: Also known as PVC or vinyl decking, it is growing to become a very widely used decking material today, with dozens of different manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon. It is made by taking polyvinyl chloride and foaming it up with air to create a plastic deck board with a porous core. Moisture will never affect it, nor will it stain easily. If it does get moldy or dirty, cleaning is very easy. It is similar in price to the high-end capped composites and the high-end hardwood decking. But you get the peace of mind knowing you’ll have an essentially zero maintenance decking material that lasts nearly indefinitely. There are dozens of colors to choose from depending on the manufacturer (browns, grays, tans, light and dark colors, and more).

Pros: Extremely durable, very easy to clean, easy to install, doesn’t become as hot as wood-plastic composites, usually made from partially recycled material.

Cons: One of the most expensive decking materials, but potentially the best value since it’s likely the last decking you’ll ever install