Have you ever considered building a new deck but weren't quite sure which decking to use? Or maybe you spent months planning out your brand new deck but forgot to give a second thought as to what you'll actually put down for the deck surface.
There are so many different options out there when it comes to decking material. We're here to help you understand what's what in the world of decking.
Decking can be divided into three main categories.
Softwoods: Least expensive of the three. Includes Pressure Treated Pine, Cedar, Redwood.
Hardwoods: Significantly more expensive than softwoods. Includes Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa, Massaranduba, and Mahogany.
Manufactured/synthetic decking: Comparable in cost to hardwoods. Includes PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and composite decking.
Pressure treated: Has been around for decades. It's by far the most popular decking used today. It usually starts out as southern yellow pine and is then treated in a pressure tank with chemicals to resist rotting and decay from bugs. Although the pressure treating resists rot, it does not prevent warpage, mold growth or cracking. Maintenance should include washing mold/mildew off and staining regularly to preserve/prolong the life of the wood. Even with regular maintenance however it will still inevitably shrink, warp and crack. Also be prepared to wait up to 6 months or more before staining the wood. It's usually very wet when purchased and needs to dry out before applying a stain. Though the chemicals used today to treat wood aren't as harmful as they were prior to 2004, they're still not something you'd want in your body. So if you have a young child that will be crawling around on the deck you may want to consider another material. Also a dust mask should be worn whenever sanding or cutting P.T. wood.
Pros: Least expensive decking, widely available, resistant to rot, can look pretty good when stained.
Cons: Usually lasts < 10 years, even with maintenance. Shrinking/warping, cracking and splintering are all inevitable, though they can be reduced with proper staining. Requires maintenance, can't stain right away, chemicals in wood can be hazardous.
Cedar and redwood: A popular choice for those who want a beautiful rich looking wood (especially when stained) while also being naturally resistant to rot and decay. Cedar and redwood both have many of the anti-rot characteristics of pressure treated without any of the chemicals. However, unfortunately they are some of the softest of any of the woods used for building, therefore they scratch, gouge, and dent very easily. So if the decking will be under furniture or see a decent amount of foot traffic, then these may not be the best choice. Cedar and redwood do also require the same maintenance as pressure treated decking: washing, staining, etc. But since they're not saturated with chemicals, they can be stained immediately and aren't as prone to shrinking and warping as much as pressure treated.
Pros: Naturally rot resistant, aesthetically appealing, can stain immediately.
Cons: Soft wood, not high durability, requires maintenance, more expensive that pressure treated.
Ipe (ee-pay), Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa, Massaranduba, and Mahogany all share similar qualities typical of all hardwoods. First and foremost is the extremely dense composition when compared to the softwoods. Therefore they naturally resist rot, decay and insect penetration reasonably well.
On the other hand, that same blessing is also a curse in that it makes installing hardwood a much more difficult task than any other decking. All holes must be predrilled prior to installing fasteners, and installing fasteners can be a tedious process.
Hardwoods are somewhat lower maintenance, though. Ipe can hold up reasonably well without any maintenance actually. It is recommended that the wood be stained initially or shortly after being installed to protect and seal the wood while it acclimates to the climate. After that initial coating however, if desired, it can be left to weather to a grayed out appearance but you will lose the deep rich color, one of the most appealing aspects of any hardwood. Keeping a stain on the deck will really 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 hardwoods and the one that we recommend, for a hardwood deck job.
Pros: Very durable as far as real wood goes. Natural look.
Cons: Higher installation cost. Does require some maintenance to keep it looking good and get the most life out of it.
Composite decking: Composite decking consists of a combination of materials. When introduced in the 1990s it was made with synthetic plastic blended with ground up wood fibers that were then bonded together and extruded to form decking. This material was designed to be a very low/no maintenance decking that was also reasonably economical due to the recycling and re-use of wood fibers. However, major problems arose with this new lumber a few years down the road. Being a porous material, and containing wood, water was prone to penetrate into the board, and combined with expansion/contraction cause the material to split and crack and eventually fall apart altogether. Another major issue was that it stained very easily and very permanently. Mold, mildew, dirt, paint, some grease that dripped off your grill, all stained the decking leaving ugly permanent marks.
Capped composite; Jumping ahead to modern day, advancements have been made with composite decking. Almost all of the composite decking you can find for sale today is internally composed in a similar fashion, but with significant advancements in the materials and processes used. However, the exterior surface of the board is now encapsulated or "capped" with a thin layer of 100% plastic or PVC. This thin layer covering the outside of the material makes the surface of the decking no longer porous. Therefore, many of the issues that plagued early composites are eliminated. The addition of the cap has also increased the price significantly to very near the cost of 100% PVC decking.
Pros: Economical (usually made mostly from recycled material), very little maintenance.
Cons: Significantly heavier and more dense than PVC decking. (slightly higher installation cost). Not as stable as PVC decking (moisture absorption and expansion/contraction).
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 mixing it 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. To put that in perspective that's roughly three times the cost of pressure treated lumber which is on the total opposite end of the price scale. But you get the peace of mind knowing you'll have a near zero maintenance decking material that lasts indefinitely. There are dozens of colors to choose from depending on the manufacturer (browns, grays, tans and more).
Pros: Extremely durable, very easy to clean, easy to install,
Cons: More expensive, but possibly the best value, since it's likely the last decking you'll ever need to install.