Decking Materials 101
Navigating all the options for decking materials can be overwhelming, but have no fear. We'll help you sort through traditional wood options, including cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated pine, as well as an ever-expanding market of alternatives.
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Wood Decking: Pressure-Treated
Treated with chemicals to repel insects and water, Southern pine or fir is the most common and least expensive type of decking. Although pressure-treated wood requires yearly washing, sanding, and sealing when finished with a clear sealant, it will last up to 30 years if maintained properly.
Cost: $3.35 per square foot, uninstalled.
Wood Decking: Naturally Durable
Tropical hardwoods, such as ipe, ironwood, and balau, are beautiful, dense, and long-lived, but can be expensive. Below are a few of the advantages and disadvantages of naturally durable wood choices:
- Repels bugs
- Resists decay
- Prevents the spread of fire
- Lasts 20-30 years with yearly washing and regular sealing
- Soft and prone to marring and denting
- Two to five times pricier than pressure-treated lumber
Cost: $6.50 per square foot, uninstalled.
Wood Alternatives: Composite Decking
Made with recycled materials like wood waste and plastic sacks, composite decking requires minimal maintenance, doesn't need to be sanded or painted, and is generally weather-resistant. It also comes in a variety of colors and styles. However, some composite deck materials can be slippery and prone to mildew, and might require special fasteners.
Cost: $11.28 - $45.50 per square foot, uninstalled.
Wood Alternatives: Synthetic Lumber
Looking for a deck that will last a lifetime with no staining and sealing? Synthetic lumber is your answer. Made from materials such as vinyl, polystyrene, or cellular polyvinyl chloride (PVC), synthetic lumber includes options for slip-resistant designs and smart drainage systems so that the area under your deck stays dry no matter the weather.
Cost: $7.50 per square foot, uninstalled.
Wood Alternatives: Aluminum Decking
For a seriously low-maintenance deck, look to aluminum. The durable material doesn't try to look anything like wood and can be interlocked to prevent rain from dripping through.
Cost: $8.98 - $12.98 per square foot, uninstalled.
Sustainable Decking Materials
Go green with these three great options for sustainable deck-building materials.
Reclaimed Wood: Second-hand wood decking gains new life when reused and tends to have beautiful grain.
Ipe Wood: This attractive wood is strong, naturally water-resistant, and a stylish substitute for typical redwood or teak decking.
Recycled Composite: This alternative decking material prevents waste from going to the landfill. Ensure it is more than 50 percent recycled before purchasing.
Tips for Choosing a Deck Material
Planning a deck makeover? We'll help you select the best deck materials for your style and budget. Your outdoor oasis awaits!
Plan Ahead: Decking Checklist
Before hitting the home improvement center, make sure to have your deck's measurements ready as well as a list of questions. Here's a start:
- What is the product made of?
- Is it slip-, scratch-, fade-, and stain-resistant?
- How long is the warranty?
- When and how often will it need to be stained?
- Will it mildew?
- Will it require special tools to install?
- What are the pros and cons of this particular product?
To prevent breakdown, seal a wood deck as soon as it's built. But with so many options -- water-resistant, mildewcide, UV protection -- how do you choose one? Start with the basics.
Clear: Use for cedar, redwood or pine. Provides protection without color. Repeat every year.
Toner: Use to create a cedar or redwood look and highlight wood grain. Mild color with more protection than clear.
Semitransparent: Slightly opaque. Provides some wood-grain highlighting. Repeat every 2-3 years.
Solid Color: Full-on paint that hides wood grain. Provides the highest level of protection by guarding against UV light. Repeat every 3-5 years.
Decking Details: Railings and Balusters
Add personality to your deck with an ornamental railing. Custom options include woven-branch rails and ornate post caps for composite decking. Synthetic rail systems can be trimmed to fit your deck and need virtually no maintenance. Low-maintenance balusters are also available from most composite companies.
Decking Details: Lighting
Don't let the fun stop when the sun sets. Deck lighting is worthwhile and can be an inexpensive investment. Low-voltage deck lighting abounds, whether you prefer cap lights on end posts or rope lighting under rail caps. Tape lights are an easy-to-install option that come in different colors that you can control with a remote.
Decking Details: Storage
Stash outdoor decor, such as furniture cushions, umbrellas, and rugs, away from the elements with built-in deck storage. Look to a fun kit that allows you to build a box into your composite deck for cheap.
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