Best Decking Material

Monday, February 25, 2013 10:20:00 AM Categories: Decking Home Improvement Tips Outdoor Living

So we have this little place out in the country, right? It’s a small house that we built ourselves on a lot of land. Building a deck was as important to us as building the rest of the house. We needed a space we loved to be in, where we could bask in the beauty of all that nature surrounding us. Figuring out what kind of material to use for the deck, however, turned out to be a real thorn in our sides.

Don’t get me wrong, it was worth it! And we hope you’ll benefit from some of the information we collected on the subject, in this article.

It's All About Choices

composite deckFirst off, choose wood or composite wood. Not tile, not brick, not flat, little decorative river rocks tortured into an interesting pattern. Wood. And in this case, “wood” includes pressure-treated and composite woods as well as solid wood.

After that, things got a little more complicated. Should we choose solid wood for our deck or some type of composite? Soft or hard wood? The world now has an impressive array of exotic imported woods to choose from, including Brazilian ipé, Australian jarrah, Central American mahogany, bamboo, teak, and many more. Those are besides the old standbys such as cedar, pine, and redwood.

Softwoods have very different qualities from the hardwoods. And then there are all the fabulous
new composites that can make your life so much easier.

With all these choices, our minds were spinning, and our tranquility receding. We needed some professional advice. We contacted not one, but two experts from Great Day Improvements and grilled them without mercy on the subject of the pro’s and con’s of the most popular decking materials.

This is what we found:

Expert Advice from Jeff Tice and Brian Hejmanowski- GDI General Managers

 

Type of Wood

Pros

Cons

Pine

Cheapest, easiest to work with. Pine is a softwood that grows fast, so many people consider its use to be semi eco-friendly.

Requires tons of maintenance. Most pine decks will need to be either stained or painted at least once a year. Pine is not ideal in the Northeast, due to climate and building code issues. Highly vulnerable to snow and cold weather.

Mahogany

A beautiful natural material, mahogany is considered a Brazilian hardwood.

Needs lots of maintenance.

Redwood

Attractive, straight grain and red color. Quite durable, comparatively weather-resistant.

Expensive to ship east of California, where it grows.

Cedar

Beautiful color and resistant to twisting and warping.

Somewhat out of date. Can be damaged easily.

IPE

The original Brazilian hardwood is also the hardest of the hardwoods. This wood is resistant to rot and the most extreme weather conditions.

Requires a lot of maintenance.

Type of Composite

Pros

Cons

Trex

The Coca Cola of the composite wood industry, Trex is the first generation of composite woods. It has the advantage of containing more actual wood than other brands.

Vulnerable to mildew and stains.

Timber Tech’s “Earthwood”

The second generation of composites. It’s richer-looking than Trex, and offers Cap Composites, a polymer shield that prevents mold and mildew. Timber Tech’s “Earthwood” product is Brian’s personal choice for decking material. It’s attractive, weather-tolerant, extremely scratch-, sag-, and stain-resistant, and fades minimally.

Higher price tag.

Azek

Another second-generation composite, Azek is 99% maintenance free. This is Jeff’s favorite composite wood.

Higher price tag.

 

Tips from the Experts

Jeff says:

  • “If your deck gets heavy sun, don’t choose a dark-colored material, because it’ll get too hot to enjoy.”
  • “To maintain your wood deck, give it a new coat of stain every couple of years.”
  • “Use a mask and gloves when laying in pressure-treated wood, and never burn it, which releases toxins.” Je
  • “If you don’t want to double your construction time, don’t choose a tropical hardwood. They’re so tough, you’ll have to drill into it first, before you can even think about driving a nail. Brazilian hardwoods are typically an expensive option, but they do last longer.”

Brian says:

  • “All wood grays over time in the sun, but you can help your new deck keep its color for quite a while if you give it a coat of sun-block finish on a regular basis.”
  •  “Scrub down your composite deck with the recommended cleaning product in order to avoid mildew.”
  •  “For a tropical hardwood deck, the first year you have it, you’ll need to power wash it and let it dry completely, then stain. Reapply the stain finish every couple of years.”
  • “Never stain a brand new deck made of pressure-treated wood. Wait for at least a year, or you’re liable to cause permanent damage.”

 

General Observations

best deck materialThe less expensive the wood, the more maintenance it will require over time. The less the required maintenance, the more the cost will be.

When it comes down to a choice, Brian would buy decking material that’s maintenance free and last longer. “You’ll save money on labor and stain over time,” he says, “if you just get maintenance-free.”

Here’s the way Jeff sees it: “It really all comes down to how much you want to pay up front. You can either pay less up front and more over time… or vice versa.”

 

Building Codes

A word of warning from Brian about building codes: “Make sure your deck plan and the material you use is up to code for your region. There is no structural integrity in fascia or composite boards, so the frames underneath must comply with regulations.”

 

Love Those Forests?

If you’re looking for decking material that’s planet-friendly, get FSC-certified lumber, harvested from sustainable forests.