Building a great deck can take a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort. A sleek, well-maintained deck can be a beautiful addition to any home. If you’re thinking about building a deck, one of the first decisions to make is which material to use. Natural materials may seem like the only option, but there is also a wide range of eco-friendly building materials available.
One of the most natural looking building materials is composite timber. Composite decking timber is made from recycled wood and plastic, making it denser and stronger than standard timber. While classic timber is still a good choice, modern options like composite are quickly becoming a popular alternative.
Planning Your Deck
Before you begin building, it’s important to have a plan. The more time you spend planning your deck, the more effort it will save.
Something that’s often forgotten is to check local building codes. Ensuring you have the right permit will mean your deck is verified, documented and safe – which will benefit you if you decide to sell.
When choosing between natural and composite timber, looks, cost and climate are all part of the decision. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, but no matter which you choose, you’ll still end up with a beautiful deck for years to come.
Natural timber is the standard choice for decking and comes in a wide range of styles and colours. Prices for natural timber depend on the type of wood and availability in your location. Popular choices in Australia include jarrah, merbau and treated pine.
- Low cost: Depending on your choice of wood, natural timber is less expensive in up-front costs than composite decking.
- Bigger range: Natural timber has a much wider range of choices for style and colour and can be stained or painted for even more customisation.
- More flexible: Natural timber is heat resistant and maintains a much cooler temperature under direct sunlight than composite. It can be sanded back or resurfaced if necessary, to change the decking or make spot repairs.
- Safety: Splinters can be a frequent issue with natural timber. Chemical treatments, and sealants for the wood can also be a concern. Slick, coated decks can be slippery, and may be unsafe for pets and the elderly.
- Not as durable: Humidity will cause natural wood to expand and contract, which can lead to warping. Natural wood is also vulnerable to mould. If left over time, this can lead to rot and structural damage. Colour and stain of the deck will also fade over time, regardless of treatment.
- More maintenance: More care and maintenance is required to keep natural timber decks safe and in good repair. They need to be stained and sealed repeatedly, stripped every few years and occasionally sanded. Natural timber decks also face more frequent repairs.
Composite timber comes in a large range of styles and colours. The brand of manufacture will dictate the look and feel, as well as the general quality of the timber. Certain brands include the option of ‘capping’ the timber, which adds a thin layer of veneer for added protection.
- Tough Exterior: Composite wood is more resistant to stains, water, insects and fading from UV rays. When capped and properly installed, it is fully resistant to mould, warping and rot. It’s stronger and denser than a wood equivalent and less likely to split or delaminate while being worked with.
- Low maintenance: Composite decking requires much less maintenance and upkeep than natural timbers. Unlike regular timber decking, it doesn’t require staining, painting or sealing, ensuring a better return on investment over time.
- Environmentally friendly: The plastic and wood in composite timber is typically sourced from recycled material. This helps to repurpose waste and avoid damage to the environment. Composite timber also reduces demand on production of chemical stains and sealants.
- Fire resistant: Unlike traditional wooden decks, composite wood has the benefit of being additionally resistant to fire. Depending on the quality and brand, it can even be rated for use in areas with a high risk of fire.
- Higher cost: Composite wood is typically more expensive as an initial cost. Although this cost does balance over time due to reduced need for maintenance and repairs.
- Protection: Composite wood can still be susceptible to scuffing and minor scratches if uncapped and may show signs of wear or fading over a long time, though normally much less than natural timber. Composite wood may also generate a low amount of static depending on climate.
- Less flexible: Composite cannot be sanded back or resurfaced for spot repairs. It will retain more heat under direct sunlight, and may swell under moisture if cut areas are left exposed. However, if a quality product is purchased it usually carries a 25-year warranty for added peace of mind.
Inspection and Maintenance Tips
Regardless of choice, maintenance will be the deciding factor for how long your deck will last. Regular upkeep, particularly of natural timber decks, is also crucial for maintaining safety.
Splinters and heavier structural damage can all make your deck unsafe, which means it’s important to check it often and make sure it’s sealed to prevent larger problems. Start by checking for warping, cracks or rotting in surface areas – in some cases, you might be able to replace the affected area. If the damage is spread out however, it may indicate deeper internal damage, meaning the whole deck will need to be replaced.
Normally by the time damage shows on the surface, it’s already spread elsewhere. Testing the railings of your deck can help to indicate this decay. If railings feel loose, it might indicate deeper, unseen damage. Also check the areas around screws and nails. The expanding and contracting of the wood can push them up and make them dangerous hazards.
Properly maintaining your deck will give it a long, rich life which you can enjoy for years to come. What type of deck will you choose for your next project? Leave your response in the comments below.