The Different Kinds of Decking Materials
No matter how you design your deck or how you gussie it up with planters and pergolas, it still boils down to a big, flat walking surface. That makes your choice of decking materials your number one design decision, and a big factor in the total cost of your deck.
Today, there are more choices than ever for decking materials. Most decking boards come in specially milled or manufactured sizes that are thicker than 1 inch (called 5/4, or “five-quarter”), and are 4 to 6 inches wide with rounded edges that resist splintering. Here’s what you need to know.
One of the least-expensive decking materials you can buy, pressure-treated decking is used on about 75% of all U.S. decks. It’s chemically treated to resist rot, mold, and insects. However, it usually made from inferior-grades of pine or fir that tend to crack and warp over time, making maintenance an ongoing chore. In the past, pressure-treated wood was treated with chromated copper arsenate, a suspected carcinogen. Today’s P-T wood uses safer, less-toxic preservatives. Cost: $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot.
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For aficionados of natural wood, cedar is a natural choice. Widely available, lightweight, and strong, cedar decking makes for a beautiful deck. The wood has tannins and naturally occurring oils that are resistant to rot and insects, but protecting the wood with stain and sealer helps keep the wood free of cracks and splinters. Without protection, both cedar and redwood will eventually turn a soft gray color. Cost: $3.75 to $5 per square foot.
Similar in characteristics to cedar, redwood is the classic choice for natural wood decking material. Although redwood decking is generally available in the West, it can be harder to find in the eastern regions of the country. It’s pricier than cedar, with select, clear grades of redwood commanding top dollar. Cost: $6 to $8 per square foot.
Composite decking boards and related synthetics are the fastest-growing segment of the decking board industry. They’re made from wood fibers and recycled plastics, they won’t warp or splinter, and they’re impervious to insects and rot. Composite and other synthetic decking has the advantage of being virtually maintenance-free. Improved manufacturing has helped composite decking boards look and feel like real wood.
Cost: $7 to $10 per square foot.
Ipe and other tropical hardwoods are the luxury choice and they’ll last up to 50 years. Because ipe is so hard, it doesn’t accept stains or clear finishes very well; use an oil-based penetrating sealer formulated for tropical decking boards. Make sure the tropical hardwood decking boards you buy come from sustainably harvested sources.
Cost: $8 to $12 per square foot.
Prefinished aluminum decking is strong, weatherproof, and (of course) rot, rust, and insect-proof. The decking “boards” are lightweight and easy to cut with special saw blades. The extruded aluminum planks are finished with a thick, slip-resistant coating that comes in many colors and is maintenance-free. Special fasteners are required to secure the decking to your deck’s substructure. Cost: $6 to $8 per square foot.