There is nothing more pleasing than sitting outside on a well-built and gorgeous deck, with a drink in hand and looking at the sunset. When we think about lazy summer days and backyard BBQs, we rarely think about the deck we will be doing all this on; however, it is one of the most important decisions you will make when you decide to build or redo your deck.
A few decades ago, there was only one option when the topic of decking material came up; wood. These days there are so many other decking material options such as cement, prefabricated wood, steel, laminate, and even eco-friendly decking.
When we decided to redo our cracked and outdated deck, we were overwhelmed by all available options. It was quite a challenge to go through the information and piece together all the options, their pros, and cons, and decide if we wanted to take it on as a DIY project or required the help of professionals specializing in this field. We decided to share our experience and all the options we learned about.
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Factors To Consider When Choosing A Decking Material
Before choosing the decking material that suits your needs, you will need to consider a few factors that might influence your decision.
- Cost: When you look at the different decking option costs, you need to remember that the material costs are not the only costs you need to consider. You have to think about the maintenance of the materials; for example, if you choose wood, it might cost more than other materials because it requires a lot of maintenance and touch-ups.
- Maintenance: Keep in mind that no matter what kind of material you choose that at some point, you will have touch-ups or just general maintenance to do on your deck. Look at things like; will it need regular staining or painting, what the maintenance cost will be, will it damage easily, if it does damage- will there be replacement pieces in stock. For example, choosing natural wood means it will need regular staining or painting to protect it from environmental factors like the sun, rain, snow, and insects. It also helps to keep the wood from warping. PVC and some other decking materials are much sturdier and don’t require much maintenance, but you will have to buy a few extra pieces if one piece needs to be replaced.
- Installation: It is important to understand that some decking material choices are not suited for DIY projects and require specialized equipment to install, which might affect the cost. Options like wood and PVC are the easiest to do yourself and thus will cost less.
- Looks: They say looks aren’t everything, but in this case, I would disagree; if you’re going to pay for a new deck or upgrade your old one, it has to look good. Some decking options are gorgeous, but it would cost a lot to maintain; others might look great and have little to no maintenance and would suit you better.
Wood Decking Options
We have gone from only wood options in decking material to options that last just as long with fewer issues than wood in the past few decades. It is still the most commonly used deck material. Here are the three types of wood decking materials.
Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure-treated wood is by far the most common decking material because of the ease of installation and price. Pressure-treated wood is filled with chemicals like pesticides to keep insects away and prevent rot and decay, but it is easy to find and work with.
You can install it yourself if you don’t want to spend extra money installing it by someone else. If you don’t like the natural look, you can stain the wood, but you will have to let it settle for at least a few months before staining it. It’s best to sand it down before you stain or seal it, as this will benefit the wood and keep it looking good.
Unfortunately, pressure-treated wood requires a lot of maintenance to keep it from warping, splitting, and cracking. Still, it is one of the most affordable decking materials and is widely available. You can buy pressure-treated wood for between $3-$7 per square foot.
Cedar wood is one of the better wood options to use as decking material. It is a dense natural wood that fades in color to a soft grey over time. It has the added benefit of being naturally resistant to insects, rot, and decay. It is due to the composition of this wood that has natural tannins.
If you choose cedar wood as your decking material, ensure you take the core of the wood called heartwood, not sapwood that is the tree’s outer layers and is softer and thus more susceptible to insects and environmental factors.
As with most wood options, Cedar wood does require a lot of maintenance, but it is an easy DIY material that will last years if treated and restained yearly. It is a step up from pressure-treated wood but will cost a bit more. You can buy quality cedar wood for $9-$12 per square foot.
Out of all the wood options, hardwood is the one that lasts the longest and has a lot of benefits that pressure-treated wood doesn’t have. Hardwood is a dense hardwood with natural resistance to insects, rot, cracking, warping, and splitting.
It is, however, not a type of wood that is commonly available. Some of the hardwoods that are hard to come by are Tigerwood and Mahogany. These trees are slow-growing, and that makes them harder to sustain. Each tree has its distinct look, color, and intricate design and makes for beautiful deck material.
If you oil these hardwood decks 1-2 times a year, they won’t lose their rich colors and will last years. It’s the most expensive of the three wood options because of its slow growth. Because hardwood is a harder, denser wood, you might need extra equipment. So, it can still be done as a DIY; but you need to get all the tools before starting. Hardwood material can cost you $14-$24 per square foot.
Advantages Of Installing Wood Decking
As with most decking material, there are pros and cons; wood is no different. Here are some advantages of using wood decking;
- It is the most budget-friendly option short-term option. Pressure-treated wood is the most widely available and affordable.
- Wood has a lot more options when it comes to finishes and stains. It has the benefit of being much more eco-friendly and natural. You can change the color of the deck every few years if you want to. You can’t do that with the PVC and Composite options.
- Hardwood options can last more than 40 years and have a lot less maintenance than the cheaper alternatives.
- Because wood is easier to cut, the labor costs can be much lower than the alternative.
Disadvantages Of Installing Wood Decking
Here are the cons of choosing wood decking;
- Pressure-treated wood is the most affordable option, but that means you have to compromise on quality. Cheaper wood options can split, warp, crack, and can stain easily. That being said, it will only last 10-15 years.
- There is a lot of maintenance involved, and it needs to be stained or painted every six months to avoid damage.
- If you choose the harder, better quality wood, the labor and material costs go up because a lot of the wood has to be pre-cut, have pre-drilled holes, and needs special equipment.
- Even though wood is a renewable material, you have to cut down trees to get it, so it takes time and effort to find wood from environmentally conscious decking companies.
- Even if it is treated against fire, wood is still flammable under intense heat.
PVC Decking Material
PVC is fast becoming one of the most popular options for decks. It is not as expensive as hardwood because PVC is made of 100% plastic. PVC is 70% – 95% recycled plastic, depending on the brand you buy. It was created with little to no maintenance in mind.
High-quality PVC is very durable; it won’t fade and has almost none of the problems you would have with wood. You won’t have to worry about sanding, staining, or painting the PVC deck.
It is strong and has no issues with insects, warping, cracking, splitting, and rot. Mold doesn’t grow on PVC like some other options, such as composite decking.
Unlike some other materials, PVC comes in all kinds of great colors such as grey, brown, white, and if you like the look of wood but don’t want the hassle of maintenance, then PVC is a great option as it comes in colors that simulate the look and feel of wood.
PVC decking costs more than most wood options like cedar and pressure-treated wood, but you make up what you pay for in installation and material later on because there is no maintenance involved. You will pay $10-$15 per square foot for PVC decking.
Advantages Of Installing PVC Decking
PVC most definitely has the highest number of pros of all the decking materials.
- PVC decking will last more than 25 years, and some companies give 25 years to limited lifetime warranties.
- PVC doesn’t ever require staining, sealing, or painting.
- About 40% lighter than wood or composite decking.
- Highly resistant to stains and scratches.
- Minimal maintenance only involving the occasional pressure wash.
- PVC won’t crack, warp, split like wood, and is more resistant to fading over time.
- Mildew and mold won’t infiltrate the PVC like with wood.
- No pre-drilling is needed as with hardwood options.
- Some manufacturers offer slip-resistant-finishes on their PVC decking.
- PVC won’t attract insects like wood will, so you won’t have to worry about termites.
Disadvantages Of Installing PVC Decking
PVC does make a good choice as a decking material, but there are some cons to using it.
- The initial cost of PVC is higher than that of wood.
- While PVC is treated with UV-inhibitors to help maintain its vibrant color, it might fade on some brands over time.
- Some darker colors will retain heat on hot summer days and might be uncomfortable to walk barefoot on.
- Most manufacturers only have 3-8 colors available, and they can’t usually be stained or painted. If you want to paint PVC in the future, you will need to source specific brands that you can paint.
Composite Decking Options
Composite decking is the wood alternative that is an equal mix of 50% recycled wood and 50% recycled plastic. It is made to look like real wood and even has the grain and texture of wood. Composite decking only needs minimal maintenance and can last up to 25 years if properly installed.
Because it is a mix of wood and plastic, composite decking planks might pick up mold or mildew after a few years, but this can be treated by washing the deck with a mold cleaner and water.
When you shop for composite decking, the cost will rely on what grade and quality you aim for. You can choose options that include UV resistance coating and scratch protection. There are a variety of colors to choose from.
Composite decking is a little more expensive than the wood options but is well worth it. It will roughly cost you $7-$13 per square foot.
Advantages Of Installing Composite Decking
Composite decking is one of the go-to decking materials if you want the wood look but need it to last a lot longer with little maintenance required. Here are some cons to installing composite decking.
- Composite decking looks like wood but is much more sturdy.
- You are using recycled materials to build your deck.
- You can choose if you want capped (sealed) sides to your planks; it is more resistant to fading and scratching.
- You can create a clean look on your composite decking by using hidden fasteners on the bottom. It streamlines the look. Screws and fasteners exposed to the elements in the wooden options can rust over time and cause cracking and stains. The hidden fasteners are a great feature of composite decking.
- Composite decking is virtually impenetrable to water. It makes this material a fantastic choice for wet weather areas like Seattle. You do still have to install it at least two feet off the ground to allow proper ventilation.
- A variety of colors makes it easier to match your deck to your home’s overall theme and color.
- There are non-slip texture options to choose from.
Disadvantages Of Installing Composite Decking
Composite decking is a great choice in decking material, but it does, however, have a few drawbacks.
- It costs about 50% more for composite decking than pressure-treated wood. It is, however, offset by the low maintenance and will save you money in the future.
- Composite decking can not be used on its own for structural support, so you will still need to pour either a concrete slab or use thick wooden beams for support.
- While composite decking is treated for fire resistance, it can still melt at high temperatures as plastic and wood.
- While the clean look of the deck can be an advantage, it can quickly turn into a disadvantage when a board needs to be either replaced or refastened. You will need to go underneath the boards and might have to take out more than one. It is why some people decide to install the deck conventionally.
- In time you will see mildew and mold, especially after a rainy season. You would then need to pressure wash it with mildew cleaner and water to remove the buildup.
- Composite decking needs to be treated against rot. Because half of the material is wood, it will still disintegrate over time and could cause a walking hazard. The only way to combat this is to have it treated against rot.
- In some hot climates, the boards can get too hot to walk barefoot on or touch.
Fiber Cement Decking Options
Some people want to keep things simple and opt for a Fiber Cement deck. It is an improved, environmentally friendly alternative to wood, composite, and PVC. It is made up of a mixture of cellulose fibers, cement, and glass.
Unlike wood and composite decking, fiber cement doesn’t absorb moisture, crack, break down, swell, or attract insects. It doesn’t fade or peel in the sun and can be made to resemble wood and its coloring. There is no maintenance required except for the odd pressure wash.
Because it never peels or fades, it will only require repaint if you want to change the color. It lasts a lifetime, and some companies give warranties of up to 50 years.
Fiber cement is one of the most affordable decking materials, but the installation can hike the costs of this option up. So, it might be best to do it yourself; you can find fiber cement planks at most local hardware stores for as little as 0.70 cents a single piece or $5 a square meter. If you have this professionally installed, it could cost up to $12 000 just for labor.
Advantages Of Installing Fiber Cement Decking
Because of its durability and versatility, there are more pros to installing fiber cement decking than cons.
- It has a realistic wood appearance. It appears more natural than the PVC alternatives.
- It doesn’t fade, chip, or peel in the sun. So you get the look of real wood without all the maintenance that goes with it.
- You never need to repaint or stain fiber cement unless you want a different color.
- There are different styles and sizes to choose from. So if you don’t want a wood look, you could opt for a smooth finish or a rough stone feel.
- Fiber cement can be stained or painted in more than 18 different colors and can easily be matched to the rest of your home.
- They are not only insect, moisture, and UV ray resistant but also naturally flame retardant.
- Fiber cement decking is extremely user-friendly and can be installed by most carpenters and builders.
- Fiber cement is not only easy to install and long-lasting, but with all the different designs and colors to choose from, your deck will be very ascetically pleasing.
- The price of fiber cement installation makes it a better DIY option as some can cost $12 000 to have installed.
Disadvantages Of Installing Fiber Cement Decking
While fiber cement decking is one of the best decking materials on the market, there are some cons to consider.
- Fiber cement installation is very expensive. It will, however, save you money in the decades to come.
- Fiber cement is heavy, and you might need to special order larger quantities as most hardware stores won’t keep such heavy planks on hand.
- While it is eco-friendly, fiber cement is not recyclable.
- It might not be available in your area. Because of its weight, some stores would rather order it when needed and costs extra to deliver.
- You have to get it through a hardware store or mediator, as you can’t order directly from the manufacturer.
It can be confusing and very hard to decide on the best option when it comes to decking material. You have to admit that real wood looks good, it does have its pros and cons, but it is beautiful. Composite decking is a great alternative to wood, but it can be more costly. In the end, you need to choose a decking material that suits your needs and wallet, is not too hard on maintenance, and lasts a long time.
Other alternatives are more eco-friendly but will cost more in the short term but save more in the long run. If you consider weather, price, availability, and maintenance, some options have much more appeal than others. I have to admit that some of the decking materials surprised me, and I am happy to share the information we gathered on our decking journey.
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