How Do I Pick The Right Deck Material?

Buying materials for a new deck is a bit like buying a new car. You see a color that catches your eye. You envision it becoming a part of your home and your life. You run your fingers over it and maybe even take it home for a test drive . . . only to find out it’s more trouble than it’s worth!

But instead of dealing with a smoking engine, you have to deal with warping panels. Instead of burning oil, you have to cope with pests and ice damage.

So how can you pick a good deck material that you won’t regret later? Keep the following advice in mind.

Deck Material

Your deck, like your car, needs regular maintenance to stay in good shape. And like many cars, some types need more maintenance than others, especially in extreme conditions. When picking a deck material, you need to choose a type that suits your environment—you wouldn’t drive a low-rider convertible in a blizzard when a four-wheel drive pickup would keep you out of the snow.

Here are the three main categories of decking materials to consider when building a new deck:

Traditional

As a general rule of thumb, traditional decking materials such as cedar and redwood are more economically priced than any other decking option. In terms of visual appearance, traditional decking tends to create a slightly more rustic appearance than the alternatives. Despite their low price points, cedar and redwood are renowned for their natural resins which act to deter rot and decay, making them a great value overall.

Exotic Hardwood

As the name suggests, exotic hardwood decking materials are imported from around the world; the specific species used for decking are hand-selected for certain traits which cannot be matched by local cuts, such as their natural beauty, durability, and almost complete lack of knots. Some popular examples of exotic hardwood used for decking include Brazilian Redwood, Mahogany, Tigerwood, and Red Balau.

Exotic hardwood materials are sold at a higher price point that traditional decking materials, but many experts believe that exotic hardwoods still provide an excellent value relative to their price. In addition to their aesthetic beauty, they also offer high degrees of reliability, durability, and longevity. If you want a natural wood deck and are willing to spend a little extra, exotic hardwoods are the way to go.

Composite

Composite decks use artificial (often recycled) materials instead of real wood. They come in a wide variety of styles and are often molded and textured to imitate the look of real wood. The biggest advantage of composite decking, which has led to its ever-increasing popularity, is the fact that it is very low-maintenance. If you shudder at the thought of re-applying paint or stain to a wood deck on an annual basis, a composite deck would likely be a better fit for you.

When building your deck, remember to keep your climate in mind and to treat your deck appropriately. You will need to seal some woods so they can better resist weather, while others only need the occasional cleaning. If you live in an area with cold, harsh winters and hot, dry summers, then you might want to choose a composite material to keep maintenance to a minimum.

Wood vs Composite Decking

When selecting your deck material, keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to wood. Just as you don’t have to limit yourself to driving one kind of car, you don’t have to limit yourself to one kind of decking material.

Manufacturers create an alternative to wood, composite decking (like EverGrain, Fiberon, and TimberTech), from plastic and wood fibers blended together. They require minimal maintenance—with only the occasional sweep or wash with the hose to keep it clean.

Composite Decking Pros and Cons

Composite decking has gained popularity because it looks and feels like wood without the hassle. It doesn’t need staining or maintenance, and termites won’t damage it. Composite decking’s recycled materials also make it friendly for the environment.

Unfortunately, composite decking costs substantially more than treated lumber. Additionally, patio furniture or debris easily scratches composite decks, and unlike wood, composite panels can’t be refinished. You can only repair the damage by replacing the plank completely.

Wood Decking Pros and Cons

You can’t go wrong with a wood deck. Decks made from cedar are more resistant to rot, while higher grade woods like mahogany are extremely durable, making them resistant to splitting or cracking. With the proper treatment, they age well with little to no maintenance.

In general, however, wood decking (especially cheaper woods) needs more elbow grease than composite decking. Pine decks often chip, and the boards may twist and warp as they dry. Additionally, you should stain and seal wood decks every few years. If the deck is dirty, you may have to hire a professional cleaner to clean the deck for you, as power washing it can strip the wood.

When in Doubt, Ask a Professional

A deck makes a big impact on the appearance of your home—so you should put as much effort into it as you would when you buy a new car. And don’t hesitate to ask a professional for advice. Many local home improvement stores have knowledgeable staff on hand who can give you reliable suggestions. As long as you ask for advice and use the information above, you won’t walk away with a lemon of a deck.