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Wood vs. Composite: The Ultimate Guide to Decking Materials

Learn the pros and cons of wood decking and composite decking.

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It's the most important decision you will ever make. Okay, not really, but your deck will be around for a long time. I'm Lacey Howard. Don't be overwhelmed by all the choices. Here's all you need to know to choose a material that will be beautiful for years to come. The two main categories for decking materials are woods and synthetics. Wood is the classic choice for a deck. Each species of wood has a distinct color and grain. Pressure treated lumber is the least expensive wood option. Pine or fir is infused with chemicals to make it extremely rot resistant. Pressure treated lumber manufactured after 2004 is arsenic-free and considered non-hazardous, but be sure to ask about the chemicals contained in any wood you select. Cedar, cypress, and redwood are naturally rot-resistant. They're all great choices for a deck. Cedar, cypress, and redwood costs more than pressure-treated lumber. Expect to pay about twice as much in material costs, but when you build a deck with these woods, you get a structure that, with proper maintenance, can last for 20 years or more. Exotic hardwoods have cool names like ipe and Pau Lope. They're so tough they only need an occasional rubdown with oil. These woods are becoming more readily available, but they are still the most expensive wood option. Exotic hardwoods are not suitable for DIY projects. Plan to hire an experienced contractor. Wood weathers to brown and then to gray. If you want to retain the original color of a wood deck, you should apply a clear sealer every year, or after several years of sun and rain, a wood deck requires a tinted stain to bring back its color. With the newest stains in the market, your deck can be any color under the sun. Not sure what you're looking for? Grab a sample. Try a color on for size. Need to give your deck a quick facelift? Consider covering a staple but unattractive deck with interlocking rubber-backed tiles. Deck tiles are topped with wood or composite material in dozens of patterns. Just remember to remove them during cold weather. If you crave low maintenance, then synthetic decking is right for you. Plastic and vinyl decking are available in lots of colors and require only an occasional power wash. Each piece of decking is molded for strength. Special skills and tools are often required to work with these materials, so be sure you or your contractor is up to the task. Composite decking looks like wood but with one major difference--it's made from recycled plastic, wood fiber, and epoxy. Some types of composite decking require special tools and hardware, but a seasoned do-it-yourselfer can work with this material. For stronger boards, look for composite decking that contains polypropylene. All decking materials impact the environment, synthetics don't require stains and paint but they're plastic-based products. By contrast, most woods require an ongoing application of chemicals but many are now sustainably harvested. So ask questions and investigate all your options. You'll find the material that's just right for you and your deck.