There are so many varieties of decking material that it’s difficult to know which one is best. We are here to help you make sense of all the options.
After all, each situation is different, and what is best for you might not work for someone else.
It all depends on your budget, the time you plan to spend in your home, and the ways you use your outdoor spaces.
Types of Decking Material
There are four main types of decking material to consider: wood, plastic, fiberglass, and aluminum. Each has benefits and drawbacks, so you need to evaluate each material to see which is the right material for your needs.
Wood is one of the most popular decking materials both in the past and in our current time. For many homeowners, there is just nothing like the look and feel of real wood decking when considering options for their outdoor decking material. Within the broad category of wood decking, there are many options to consider.
Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure-treated wood is one of the most cost-effective choices for decking material overall. Manufacturers take Southern yellow pine and put it through a chemical process to harden it and make it more resistant to insects and moisture.
However, while this wood is inexpensive, it does require constant maintenance like coats of stain and sealer and pressure washing to keep it looking its best. Also, decks made from pressure-treated wood will require sanding to keep them splinter-free. Even so, these boards will crack, warp, and shrink over time and exposure to harsh weather.
Cedar and Redwood
Cedar and Redwood decking are also a popular choices with homeowners. These are both woods with lovely, rich color and inherent beauty. In addition, they contain natural tannins that make them resist rot and insects.
Redwood decking is more expensive than pressure-treated wood and has about the same maintenance requirements. Cedar is more abundant and less expensive. than redwood and requires the same upkeep as pressure-treated wood and redwood.
Exposure to the full sun will fade the natural color and cause these boards to shrink and split. Therefore, be prepared to pressure wash these decks and apply a sunblocking stain and sealer at least every three years to avoid fine splits developing in the wood decking and to preserve the color of the wood.
If money is no object, exotic hardwoods make for a beautiful and lasting deck. The most popular tropical hardwoods used for decking material are Ipe, Tigerwood, Garapa, and Teak.
- Ipe – Ipe is a Brazilian hardwood that is the most popular type of exotic woods used for decks. It is a dense wood with beautiful natural color and texture. With the proper maintenance, this wood decking will last 40-50 years without needing to be replaced.
- Tigerwood – As its name suggests, Tigerwood has a gorgeous striped pattern. It is a dense hardwood and has a natural resistance to rot, but unlike other hardwoods, it has a smaller lifespan of about 25 years.
- Garapa – Also known as Brazilian Ash, Garapa has a light golden color and density that is similar to other hardwoods. It has a natural resistance to rot and insects, and it is a more affordable option than other exotic wood deck material.
- Teak – Teak is considered one of the best deck material options because of its natural oils which allow you to avoid all the routine maintenance of stain and sealants. However, because of its natural properties, it is also an expensive option.
Pros and Cons of Wood Deck Boards
Natural wood is a popular choice for decking, but it is not the right option for everyone.
- Appearance – People love the look and feel of a real wood deck. While synthetic decking materials will try to mimic this look, it is never the same as natural wood decking.
- Cost – Pressure-treated lumber is the most cost-effective form of decking material.
- Maintenance – Wood decking is some of the most labor-intensive deck materials as they need maintenance on an ongoing basis.
- Durability – Most wood decking other than exotic hardwoods, will need to be replaced quicker than synthetic decking material.
There are three main categories of plastic decking: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are full plastic while composite decking materials are constructed from plastic and wood composite.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) decking is a modern decking option that allows you to build a deck that is long-lasting and virtually maintenance-free. These boards mimic the look of natural wood and have additives that make it rot and insect repellant.
In addition, these boards can be recycled after use which gives them a smaller environmental impact than wood boards.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) decking is similar to PVC decking in that it is 100% plastic. It also tries to replicate the look and feel of natural wood with wood colors and wood grain patterns.
However, unlike PVC decking, it does not give off toxic chemicals as a result of its production.
Composite decking material is crafted from a combination of wood fibers and plastic. These boards have a look that resembles wood more than plastic decking. Also, it is more comfortable on bare feet than 100% plastic boards. While not maintenance-free, this is a low-maintenance material that does not require the same upkeep as a wooden deck.
Pros and Cons of Plastic Decking
Plastic and wood composite decking work well for some people, but there are also reasons why it doesn’t work for everyone.
- Maintenance – Decks made from plastic require very low maintenance in order to keep looking great.
- Durability – These types of decks are durable and last anywhere from 25-50 years.
- Environmental impact – Some of these products are made from recycled plastic and many of them can be recycled after use.
- Appearance – While manufacturers are trying to mimic the look of real wood, plastic decking still looks like a synthetic material rather than natural wood.
- Cost – This is one of the more expensive materials for decking.
- Feel – Plastic boards get very hot in the sun and can feel uncomfortable on bare feet. Wood composite decking is more comfortable that 100% plastic decks.
Fiberglass is a synthetic option that works very well in environments with extreme temperatures. Yet, it is also a good option for homeowners in moderate climates because it creates a durable deck that is resistant to moisture and insects.
Fiberglass Pros and Cons
Fiberglass is not a common option for decks, but it does work well in some situations.
- Durability – This is a long-lasting solution as these decks can last 25-30 years with the correct maintenance.
- All-weather – Fiberglass is good in extreme temperatures like in areas of the far north that are exposed to harsh winters.
- Cost – The initial monetary outlay for a fiberglass deck is high.
- Appearance – Many people do not like the look of fiberglass decks as their smooth surface is not like wood. Also, there are not the same range of color options available as with other synthetics.
Aluminum decking is one of the smallest subsets for deck material, but it is a great option for some people. Because it is synthetic, it will not need constant maintenance like wood decking. It is not subject to rot and decay, nor does it attract insects.
Also, it is a durable option that will last around 20 years with proper upkeep. However, while the look of aluminum decking tries to mimic that of natural wood, it cannot capture the texture and look of real wood.
Pros and Cons of Aluminum Decking
Aluminum decking works very well in some situations like around swimming pools, but it has some drawbacks to consider as well.
- Durability – This is a long-lasting decking material option. It will last around 20 or more with the proper maintenance.
- Feel – While darker aluminum decks will get hot in the sun, because these boards have a hollow core, they cool down fast. Also, most aluminum decking has a non-skid surface that keeps users from slipping.
- Maintenance – Constant maintenance is not required to keep these decks looking fantastic.
- Cost – Aluminum decking materials are more expensive than other options like wood. However, if you stay in your home for many years, the cost will be more worth it as you will not need to replace your decking boards as much as with real wood.
- Appearance – Many people do not like the synthetic look of these boards compared to real wood.
Cost of Decking Materials
Cost is an important factor when you are thinking about deck material. The average person will spend anywhere from $3,000-$8,000 on a new deck. Let’s consider the cost of each material per square foot. These ranges do not include installation costs.
- Pressure-treated wood – $4-$8 per square foot
- Cedar – $4-$8 per square foot
- Redwood – $7-$8 per square foot
- Exotic Hardwoods – $8-$15 per square foot
- Full plastic decking – $5-$13 per square foot
- Wood composite decking – $4-$12 per square foot
- Fiberglass decking – $9-$16 per square foot
- Aluminum Decking – $15-$20 per square foot
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What kind of decking material is best?
The “best” decking material will vary according to each person’s needs. If you are on a strict budget, you should consider a low-cost option like pressure treated wood or cedar. Yet, if you choose this option and try to maintain it by staining and sealing it when it is needed or at least every three years. If you have a larger budget, consider a composite decking material that has a mid-range price but will last much longer and with less maintenance.
What is the longest lasting decking material?
The longest lasting deck material is plastic decking as much of it has a warranty of 50 years. Ipe wood is another long lasting option.
What is the most cost effective decking material?
Cedar is one of the most cost-effective decking materials in terms of cost and longevity. Cedar is not as inexpensive as pressure treated wood, but it is close. Yet, if you maintain cedar, it will last longer than pressure treated wood.
Is composite decking worth the money?
Composite decking material is worth it if you have the budget and if you are planning to live in your home for many years. The longer you have a deck made from composite materials, the more your initial outlay will pay off.
What is the lightest decking material?
The two lightest decking materials are plastic and aluminum.
Decking Material: Conclusion
Your decision to invest in a deck is an important one, and before you do, you should research all the material options that are available to you.
While wood used to be the primary choice, there are many other great options if you don’t want to put in the time you need to maintain it.
After all, it is a space that you will use for years to come. It is worth some time and effort to make the best decision possible for your circumstances and budget.