The deck, a classic American backyard retreat, celebrates outdoor living, conjures images of festive social gatherings centered around the grill and fosters relaxation in a peaceful setting. When it comes to materials for building decks, there are nearly as many options as there are potential shapes and sizes.
What follows is a look at some common decking options, along with their pros and cons. This list is designed to help you find the right deck to suit your home, personal preferences and budget.
Pressure Treated Lumber
Strong and easy to install, pressure-treated wood — usually Southern yellow pine — is one of the most popular decking materials. Although it’s inexpensive and relatively durable (it can last 15 years or more), it does come with certain downsides. Despite being treated with chemicals to resist decay and insect damage, it’s still prone to rot, splintering and warping and it requires an annual cleaning and periodic upkeep (staining or painting, if desired).
Cedar and Redwood
Naturally resistant to rot and insects and boasting a life span of 20-plus years, cedar and redwood are smart choices for those who want the lasting warm and beauty of wood without potentially harmful chemicals. Despite being lightweight and reasonably strong, both woods are soft and can be easily damaged by ordinary foot traffic. Sun exposure over time weathers both to a silvery gray color unless surfaces are protected with a UV-blocking stain.
Hard, durable and long-lasting (up to 25 years, in most cases), tropical hardwoods such as Ipe, Ironwood and Cambara are becoming increasingly popular due to their rich hues and ability to hold up well against weather and insects. However, they are expensive, heavy and can be difficult to work with (pre-drilling is required for installing with either nails or screws).
Made from a blend of recycled wood fibers and plastic, composite decking offers the best of both worlds: It’s easy to cut with power tools like most wood, but doesn’t splinter or need to be painted or stained (boards come in a variety of colors). Composites do have their drawbacks, including a higher price tag, added weight and the need for fairly regular scrubbings to stave off mildew.
PVC and polystyrene decks are finding their way into more backyards due to their light weight, impressive strength, low maintenance and 25-year-to-lifetime warranties. Some install with clips while others use a tongue-and-groove system that hides screws, which provides a neat, uniform appearance (with a non-slip surface and faux wood graining to boot). Be prepared to pay for the privilege: These materials can cost two to three times the price of standard pressure-treated wood.