Choose the Right Material: Decking

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 decking-building options? Learn about popular deck materials, costs, and care, and discover one that fits with your lifestyle and location.

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    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.

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    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

    $6.50 per square foot, uninstalled.

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    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.

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    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.

    $7.50 per square foot, uninstalled.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    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?

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    Decking Finishes

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

  • Next Slideshow Deck Decor Ideas

    Deck Decor Ideas

    These deck decorating ideas show you how easy it is to transform your deck into an outdoor living space that reflects a sense of style and charm. Get inspiration for utilizing your space, choosing furniture and accessories, and adding comfortable amenities that wow.
    Begin Slideshow »

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