Wood is still the king of decking materials, but the widespread acceptance and availability of manufactured “plastic” lumber has continued to grow. Which material is best for your new deck or deck-remodeling project will depend on factors including decking color, available board sizes, maintenance requirements, and, of course, price.
Natural-wood decking products can be roughly divided into three categories: pressure-treated lumber, redwood and cedar, and tropical hardwoods. You’ll find most types of wood decking at your local lumberyard, although availability may vary depending on where you live.
This ubiquitous green-tinted wood has been the best-selling decking material for several decades and still is today. Each year approximately 75 percent of all new decks are covered with pressure-treated (PT) decking. The understructure frame—posts, beams, joists—of virtually every deck is made of PT lumber.
Redwood and Western Red Cedar
These two western softwood species are treasured for their rich crimson color and natural beauty. In addition, redwood and cedar tannins and oils make them naturally resistant to rot, decay, and voracious insects, so they don’t need to be pumped full of chemicals. These two woods are also lightweight and easy to cut and fasten with nails or screws. They’re stable and much more resistant to warping and splitting than PT lumber. The most common sizes of redwood and cedar decking are 2 x 6 and 2 x 4.
Composite decking, such as Trex, TimberTech, and Veranda, is a hybrid product that’s composed primarily of wood fibers and recycled plastic. The result is a dense, heavy, and weather- and stain-resistant deck board that won’t splinter, warp, rot,or split.
The appeal of composite decking is that it’s virtually maintenance-free. It never needs to be sanded, scraped, refinished, or stained. An occasional scrubbing with warm, soapy water will remove most dirt and grime. A little diluted bleach can kill mold and mildew that grow in damp, dark areas of a deck.
Plastic decking—such as Azek Deck, Evolve, and Forever Deck—is made from 100 percent plastic (recycled and/or virgin) and contains no wood fibers or fillers. It’s highly stain-resistant, doesn’t require finishing, and won’t ever crack, warp, or splinter. Plastic decking comes in many more sizes than other decking options, in some cases up to 12 inches wide and 20 feet long.
The downside of plastic decking as compared with the other options is that it’s designed as part of an overall system—therefore, it must be installed with strict adherence to manufacturer’s instructions. This often requires purchasing special fasteners, fascia boards, and trim pieces.