Outdoor decks are a homeowner favorite, valued for their ability to extend the living area of the house in the spring and summer. Decks can require significant seasonal maintenance, however. The choice of decking material is the main factor in determining the time and cost required to keep a deck looking new. This article reviews the most common types of decking material, including their pros, cons and costs.
Pressure-Treated Deck Boards
Wood decking is popular for its warm, natural appearance and ease of installation. Wood decking material must be naturally rot and insect resistant, and must be periodically refinished to maintain an appealing look. Pressure-treated pine is the most affordable option, though not as pleasing in appearance as more expensive wood products. Pine is strong, and can span 24" between joists, but the pressure treating makes it susceptible to warping after it dries. Pine can be left unfinished, and it will eventually turn gray in color. Pine decking is susceptible to developing green mold after several seasons without coating. One increasingly prevalent concern with treated material is exposure to the chemicals used in the preservative treatment during installation.
Cedar Wood Deck Boards
Cedar s one of the most popular products for wood decking. Cedar costs approximately twice as much as pressure-treated pine, but is valued for its warm, red appearance. The most common types of cedar used for decking are Western red cedar and Alaskan yellow cedar. Cedar is a relatively soft wood, so it should be screwed to the joists with stainless steel or coated screws (galvanized will cause dark stains). Yellow cedar is denser, and therefore more difficult to stain than red cedar. Red cedar tends to move more after installation, and may require renailing every few years. Cedar quickly turns gray in appearance. The red appearance can be restored by using deck brightener, or the the deck can be stained to preserve the color longer. Cedar is not as strong as pine, and therefore can only span 16" over joists.
Redwood Deck Boards
Redwood is beautiful and costly wood, prized for its deep hues and denseness. It costs approximately four to five times more than pressure-treated pine decking, but requires slightly less maintenance than cedar or pine (though it should still be recoated every two to three years). Redwood is extremely stable and is naturally resistant to both decay and insects. It is easy to work and holds finishes well.
Exotic Wood Deck Boards
Purple heart, mahogany, spruce and other woods are available for use as decking material. Costs vary, and these woods must be specially ordered as they are not routinely stocked in builders' supply stores. Tropical hardwoods such as Meranti and Ipe are durable and attractive, but frowned upon because they not normally harvested in a sustainable manner. Ipe is very dense and durable wood product, but extremely expensive. Meranti is imported from Malaysia and the Philippines. It is also called Philippine mahogany or lauan.
Composite Deck Boards
Composite decking is a product made from recycled plastics and waste wood fibers. Available in a limited range of colors and textures, composite decking offer the advantages of low maintenance, easy workability and long-term durability. Because the product is not as subject to degradation by UV rays as wood, maintenance is limited to an annual power washing. Some of the composite wood products are stainable, allowing homeowners to customize the color. Consumers should select composite products carefully, since less expensive brands provide less resistance to slips and mildew than more costly versions. Costs of composite decking range between about $425 to $650 per 100 square feet of deck area. Because it contains recycled content, composite decking is growing more popular among consumers interested in purchased earth-friendly products.
Plastic Deck Boards
Plastic decking is a less popular option to wood and composite decking. Typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene, plastic decking offers the strong benefits of a wide selection of colors, easy installation, rot and mildew resistance. It costs somewhat more than standard wood or composite decking, running about $525 to $625 per 100 square feet of deck area. Plastic decking is criticized for a tendency to sag between joists, a somewhat cheap-looking appearance and slipperiness.
Metal Deck Boards
Metal decking is the least popular product for residential decking, though it offers the advantages of superior durability, strength, low maintenance and traction. Metal decking is more costly than other materials, running about $700 per 100 square feet. It is more commonly use in commercial applications due to its cold look and installation requirements.