Decking materials can be divided into three main materials -- wood, composite, and PVC. Here are the basics and maintenance for each type of decking.
Wood is a primary choice for decking material by most homeowners, says Frank Pologruto of Decks and More in Georgia. But the quality of deck you get depends largely on the wood you choose.
Wood is typically sold by grades. This refers to several hardiness traits as well as overall quality. In general, stronger wood with a better appearance -- fewer knots, smoother surface -- has a lower grade number. Wood decking can also be one of several varieties -- cedar, ipe, or pressure-treated (often pine) wood; the primary shared characteristic is rot resistance. As grades of wood differ in price, so do the types of wood. Pressure-treated decking is most often the least expensive.
Maintenance: All wood decks must be regularly cleaned; it may also be prone to rotting, splintering, and warping. If not stained, it will weather to a natural gray color, which, to some people, may be unattractive. The deck's location may also affect its appearance and upkeep. "If you have a lot of tree cover, for example, the color of your deck may fade more slowly," Pologruto says.
Because decking rails and other accent pieces are not subject to foot traffic, you may want to consider painting them, Pologruto says.
Composite is a material that's composed of wood and plastic waste fibers. If the composite decking has a protective layer, it is sometimes called capped composite, Pologruto says. Composite decking is typically more expensive than wood. Composite decking materials are often attached with special fasteners which supply a cleaner, crisper finish, Pologruto says.
Maintenance: Composite decking is very heavy, but it also does not need staining or painting. However, composite decking must be cleaned regularly. If manufacturer care directions are not followed, any warranty may be void, Pologruto says.
PVC is another viable option for decking, Pologruto says. This is made of plastic or another synthetic material. Composite and PVC decking are less stiff than wood. PVC decking is available in a variety of colors and finishes with grains to replicate wood; it is also lighter than wood. There are also several ways to attach the PVC decking materials, including fasteners.
Maintenance: PVC decking materials need to be regularly cleaned and may fade.
For any deck, Pologruto recommends lighting. "It's like jewelry for decking," he says. There are lighting options for the posts and rails, as well as under stair treads and recessed lighting in the floor. "Go with LED bulbs as well -- they last 5 to 10 years."