Choosing the Right Decking Material for your Deck

Choosing the right decking material for your deck

Choosing the right decking material for your deck

When people talk about choosing decking material they are usually talking about the wood on the deck floor.

The deck floor is exposed to the elements and gets most of the wear and tear. Besides the deck railing it is the most visible part of your deck.

The part of the deck you don’t see is usually called the sub-structure and I won’t be discussing this part of the deck in this article. You can see a good picture of the substructure for our deck at the top of this article to the left.

So it’s important that you pick a material you like, is functional and you can afford. Because it covers the largest of your deck, it is usually the most expensive part of your project and it is important you consider the price when planning your deck.

Deck material is usually priced per square foot and you can quickly calculate the cost if you have a rough idea of the size of your deck. If you haven’t created a plan for your deck yet, you should read the 3rd article in this series titled: Five Reasons Why Deck Plans are Necessary and How to Create them for Free.

The structure under the deck can be made with a different material because it can be hidden by your deck. In this case you can choose a material that is cheaper and more durable like pressure treated lumber. Or if your deck is covered in vinyl like ours, you can use standard building material since it will be totally covered and protected from the elements.

Some people may pick their deck material very quickly and for others it may take some time. If you are not exactly sure what you want, I recommend you take your time and see what is available. We talked to our contractor and found out who his suppliers where. Then we visited their shops and show rooms and asked to see samples and get their advice on the different material available.

It was interesting to see the different information and recommendations we received. This was the first time I heard about Ipe from one of the suppliers. Ipe is an ultra hard wood and the one supplier that brought it in really liked it and was very excited talking about it.

I was also surprised by all of the information we received from the suppliers. This included product brochures, samples and personal preferences. One decking supplier even had several small decks built using the different materials that you could look at and step on. This included the fastners they recommended. So you could see how they looked when they were finished. Which is nice because some hidden fasteners are not really hidden. The demo decks were also located outside and you could see how they handled the elements.

We really wanted a natural wood deck and we were thinking of cedar. We were a little concerned about the yearly maintenance and we also looked at composite decking material. We had heard some bad press about composite, but this was older material and the newer composite material is a much better. But it’s good to remember that all composite material is not made the same. So look around and get references.

As I mentioned earlier, we eventually went with a vinyl deck. We really wanted a natural wood deck, but we have a second story deck and wanted the patio underneath to be covered and water proof. To have a wood or composite deck, we would also need a waterproof layer underneath. Basically, we would have two deck floors and it would cost us an extra $8,000. And there was also concerns if the warranty would be covered based on having a wood deck on top of another deck. So we decided on vinyl decking.

To understand what decking material is available, here’s a list of the common materials with their pros and cons.

Pros and Cons for the top 6 decking materials

Like most things in life, you usually get a better quality product if you pay more. This is true with the different kinds of decking material. You might find a cheap composite material or pressure treated lumber, but check around to make sure it is good quality and comes with a warranty. It is also really great if you can get a reference from a friend or someone who has had the product installed for a few years.

Cedar:

  • Pros – Looks great, naturally resistant to decay, rot and insects. Soft wood so it is easy to work with.
  • Cons – You may need to stain or paint every couple of years. Scratches and dents easily. Can split and crack, so good idea to do yearly maintenance especially as it gets olde.

Composite:

  • Pros – Good quality composite can look very similar to wood. Doesn’t scratch or dent very easily. Will not chip, split or get slivers. Low maintenance and you do not need to paint or stain it.
  • Cons – Can be expensive.

Hardwoods like Ipe, Teak and Mahogany:

  • Pros – Looks great, naturally resistant to decay, rot and insects. Very durable wood, especially Ipe which has the same fire resistance as metal.
  • Cons – Expensive, hard to work with and heavy. Make sure you take into account the additional weight when planning your deck structure.

Plastic:

  • Pros – Made from recycled material. Like composite materials it doesn’t scratch, dent or get slivers.
  • Cons – Doesn’t look like a natural wood deck.

Pressure treated wood:

  • Pros – Inexpensive, but you can spend more for better quality pressure treated wood.  Resistant to decay, rot and insects.
  • Cons – Usually a green color wood but you can paint over it. The stringers on our deck are made with treated wood and our contractor recommended we wait a year before painting it. It can split and crack, so good idea to do yearly maintenance especially as it gets older.

Vinyl:

  • Pros – Easy to take care. We pressure wash it in the Spring and it’s good for the year.
  • Cons – Nicer than a vinyl kitchen floor, but it doesn’t look like a wood deck. It can get cut, but I was told by the vinyl installer that it’s easy to repair. Our deck is a few years old and no cuts yet.

As you can see there are lots of different choices of decking material. Something for every budget and style. Just make sure you take the time to see what is available, what you like and consider the cost.

Have you picked out your decking material? Love to hear the details in the comment section below.

This is my third article on building a deck. For the first article, please read: Steps to build a deck.

Comments

  1. Cindy Tesler says:

    Thanks for listing the pros and cons of the most popular types of deck material– especially the cedar option. With cedar, you go on to mention that it is naturally resistant to decay but needs to be restained or painted again every couple of years. You also mention that since it is a softer wood, it could scratch easily. I think it’s important to make sure that when choosing a deck material, determine how often you are planning on going out barefoot (or if you have children who are going to be playing on it). If this is the case, you might want to consider plastic decking so that it doesn’t splinter.

  2. Jasper Whiteside says:

    I like the considerations put towards vinyl decking. It is unfortunate that it doesn’t look perfectly like wood. I think that wood is very pretty. However, because it would take less work to maintain the vinyl than the wood, it might be a better choice for me.

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