Choose the Right Material: Decking

Wood vs. Composite: The Ultimate Guide to Decking Materials
A new deck both boosts home value and ramps up your yard's fun factor. Not sure how to choose among the many types of deck options? Learn about popular deck materials, costs, and care, and discover one that fits with your lifestyle and location.

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.

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: Rot-Resistant

Cedar, cypress, and redwood are naturally rot-resistant. These woods cost more than pressure-treated lumber, but will last many years with proper care. You'll find them readily in coastal areas of the West and South for their ability to withstand salt spray. Redwood is the most expensive, while cypress isn't as strong as other wood types.

Wood Decking: Naturally Durable

Tropical hardwoods, such as ipe, ironwood, and balau, are beautiful, dense, and long-lived, but can be expensive. These woods may not be suitable for DIY projects, so you'll want to hire an experienced contractor. 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. For stronger boards, choose one that contains polypropylene.

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 low-maintenance 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. Special tools are required for assembly, so be sure that you or your contractor is knowledgeable. If you choose vinyl, purchase a brand that has UV inhibitors processed directly into the vinyl and not sprayed on after production. Regardless of which type of material you use, synthetics cannot be used for structural supports. These will need to be real wood.

$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

All decking materials impact the environment since they either use plastics or require ongoing chemical maintenance. For a greener option, try one of these three 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.

Whether you're planning a new deck or a deck makeover, here's what you need to know to select the best deck materials for your home, budget, and lifestyle.

Watch: 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?

Decking Finishes

To prevent breakdown, seal a wood deck as soon as it's built. Wood naturally weathers to brown and then gray. If you want to preserve its look, ongoing maintenance is required. 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.

Deck Tiles: Interlocking rubber-backed tiles topped with wood or composite material. Use them to refresh an dated, unattractive deck. Tiles must be removed in cold weather.

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.

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

Watch: The Ultimate Guide to Decking Materials

See an overview of all the decking materials we covered to help you come to a decision, plus check out the different types in action!

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