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"What are the most common materials for deck building?"
Based on the kinds of practical differences that homeowners typically consider when adding or replacing a deck – price, appearance, durability and practicality – we see five different groupings. From least to most expensive, they are:
Pressure Treated Lumber
Pressure treated lumber is the most common decking material, probably because of its low cost and ability to accept a wide variety of stain colors. Typically made from pine and treated with chemicals to be rot and insect resistant, pressure treated wood decks require annual cleaning, and should be refinished every 4-5 years.
Natural wood decks are valued for their natural beauty, and ability to resist rot and insects. Most natural wood decks are built with redwood or cedar. Natural wood decks require regular cleaning and refinishing to help prevent cracking and warping.
Composite decks are made from recycled plastic and wood particles. They are highly resistant to rot and insects, rarely warp, and come in a variety of colors and surface finishes.
Plastic decks are typically made with PVC or polyethylene. They are highly resistant to rot and insects, very durable, low maintenance, and won't crack or warp.
Homeowners looking for an alternative to standard decking materials can consider expensive tropical woods like ipe or tigerwood. Exotic woods are rot and insect resistant. Like all natural woods, exotics require regular cleaning and refinishing to maintain their beauty and help prevent cracking and warping.
"What are the main differences between wood decks and composite decks?"
The main differences include:
Composite decks are available with a wood grain finish that mimics the appearance of wood, and this technology continues to improve. Also, composites come in a variety of wood-like colors. However, composites are not wood, and don't look or act quite like wood. If natural wood's texture and appearance is really your thing, get wood. If you want an attractive deck that's very low maintenance, composite might be the perfect choice.
Composite decks can be cleaned once a year (or less), and do not need to be sanded, stained, or refinished. Wood decks need to be cleaned annually, and refinished every 4-5 years to maintain their appearance and prevent cracking. On the maintenance front, composite wins.
Wood is prone to cracking and warping over time, especially if not regularly maintained. Composites are prone to fading and staining over time, but do not crack or warp in most cases.
Wood decks are generally less expensive than composite decks, although lumber costs fluctuate over time, and vary by region. Exotic woods are more expensive than composites.
Composite decks can get too hot for bare feet with prolonged exposure to the sun, more than wood decks in most cases. Wood decks on the other hand, can splinter if not well maintained.
Composite decks can become quite slippery when wet. That's less true with wood decks.
"Should I repair or replace my old, existing deck?"
Considering repairing your deck if: problems are minor and isolated, e.g., a small number of boards are rotting; there's no safety concern, i.e., the beams, posts and railings are in good shape.
Consider replacing your deck if: beams and joists are rotting; the foundation shows signs of deterioration; repair costs are high (half or more of the cost to build a new deck); decking materials are at the end of their life expectancy.
"Who should I call to build a new deck?"
To some extent it will depend on the decking material you choose (e.g., wood, composite) since some contractors and builders have specialized experience, while others may have general deck building experience.
Deck Builders. Deck construction companies focus on installing and repairing decks, and are knowledgeable on all types of common deck materials. Residential Construction Contractors/Builders. Decks are relatively common, so many general contractors have experience in deck building. Carpenters. Carpenters with expertise in wood deck building can provide expert knowledge on wood decks, and wood deck problem solving. Deck Manufacturers. Leading deck manufacturers can assist with design and material selection, and provide referenced to local builders.
For help finding a deck building pro near you, fill in the form at the top of this page.
Also, before hiring a deck builder, make sure they have experience with local building codes and permits.
"Do I need a permit to build a new deck?"
Most new deck builds require a permit. Check with your local city building department before building, or have your contractor do this.
The need for a permit is often determined by the size and height of your planned deck. Common permit requirements relate to:
attachment to the house or other nearby structure, guardrails, handrails, and stairs, footing depth.