Deck Materials: A Breakdown

hard wood and concrete wall

The materials you select to build your deck will influence the look and vibe of your outdoor space. Make sure the design is compatible with the style, colors, and era of your home. Additionally, the materials you select for the deck will influence the appearance of your home. As you work out the budget and deck construction plan, consider the appearance, durability, maintenance, and cost of deck materials.

Whether you settle on wood or non-wood decking, durability is a huge factor. Some materials hold up much longer than others. Durability includes how long your deck appears fresh, holds up to wind storms, rain, snow, and yard debris. You can review the charts below for specifics - but even synthetic deck materials have varying durability.

If you like to power wash, air dry, and re-stain the deck every year or two, then you can handle anything the deck will throw at you. But if you're not that guy or gal, maintaining the deck surface needs to be a simple task. It might be best to look at synthetic or non-wood materials with a record of resisting mildew and stains.

Generally, higher grade materials will require less maintenance and hold a longer lifespan. The lifelong value of your deck is definitely important, but your budget may drive the final selection of deck materials. Costs vary greatly and depend on the “feel” and durability of the material. So, let's go over your options and narrow down the best deck materials for your project.

Wood Decks

Wood is still the most common building material for outdoor construction projects. Traditionally, it's the less expensive material and versatile because it can be shaped into all sorts of forms like matching walkways, fences, pergolas, and screens.

Natural wood is attractive. It fits many home and architectural styles. Natural wood is also very accessible. You can find many wood types locally at home improvement centers and lumberyards including pre-cut and assembled items like stairs, planters, and railings.

When selecting boards, inspect for flaws—warping, twists, splits, sap, and loose knots—and choose the strongest pieces, those with the grain running the length of the board (look for vertical lines on the ends.) And when selecting wood, consider what types are most suitable for outdoor use. It must be durable against rot and insect damage or you'll begin replacing boards within a few years.

Wood Type Soft Hard Decay Resistant Cost Durability
Presuure-treated x   xxx $ xxx
Cedar x   xx $$ xx
Redwood x   xxx $$ xx
Cypress x   x $ xx
Mahogany   x xx $$ xx
Cumaru   x xxxx $$$ xxxx
Ipe   x xxxx $$$ xxxx

Depending on the quality, wood decks are cost effective and have a natural look and feel. Synthetic materials just cannot reproduce the feeling of real wood. However, natural defects in the wood can lead to issues like splinters and rot. It will always require a little maintenance, periodic cleaning, and staining.

Non-Wood Decks

There are hundreds of great reasons to use synthetic materials to build your deck. Non-wood decking has environmental benefits as it can be made of post-consumer plastic and wood waste, last for many years, and require very little seasonal maintenance.

Some types, like composite decking, have not evolved over the past twenty years. But vinyl decking (PVC) has developed new technologies and are quite competitive with the best hardwoods when it comes to longevity, comfort, and natural appearance.

Some benefits of synthetic wood decking include stain and scratch resistance, durability, easy installation, the appearance of either soft or hardwood, and impervious to rotting and insect damage. On the downside, non-wood decks still require periodic cleaning, may leach chemicals or emit fumes, are not as attractive or pleasant to walk on, and require special fasteners.

Type Decay Resistant Cost Durability
Composite x $$ x
Vinyl Capped Composite xx $$ xx
Vinyl (PVC) xxx $ xxx

Composite

Invented in the 1990s, Composite wood decking is made from a mixture of either wood or bamboo flour and polypropylene or polyethylene. Using blended wood waste, plastic filler can be either recycled or virgin plastics. The actual planks are manufactured hollow or in a solid mold which is stronger.

Composite decking is more expensive than wood and only has a 5-7 year lifespan. Moisture tends to creep in and over time, mildew, mold, splits, fading, and decomposition occurs. It is, however, easy to clean with a pressure washer or brush and gentle soapy water. Scratches are common in pet-friendly households and since composite decking cannot be refinished or recycled, it ends up in a landfill.

Recent improvements to composite wood planks are significant enough to reconsider this material. You will find some manufacturers using bamboo instead of wood pulp which increases rigidity and reduces bounce.

Vinyl Capped Composite

Capped composite decking is manufactured similarly to composite boards but includes an additional shell of Vinyl PVC. This extra layer protects the organic wood pulp from moisture and immediate decay. The PVC coating also delays stains, reduces scratches, and weather damage.

Vinyl (PVC)

Cellular PVC Vinyl decking is the most modern and long-lasting synthetic material on the market. It is 100% vinyl plastic and does not hold moisture which means mildew and mold are virtually non-existent. Very little maintenance is required. It's fade resistant, so you won't spend time or money on sanding and staining.

The lighter colors are cool to the touch in the summer heat. Expect dramatic changes in the length of PVC boards in hot weather. UV light causes decay in PVC which results in a whitish powder appearing on the surface over time.

Many PVC boards are designed with a wood texture which provides traction when wet. In cold weather, it is durable with minimal ice buildup. However, PVC Vinyl is brittle at cold temperatures, susceptible to cracking below 32 degrees F.

It’s tough to decide which materials to use for your deck, but with a little research you’ll find the perfect solution for you and your home. Once you choose materials, check out some styles and get a quote to start your project!