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Your New Outdoor Deck: What Type of Material is Best?

Many homeowners spend years thinking about a new outdoor deck before they actually make the decision to build one. When the deck starts to become a reality, and people start to research options and designs, they end up wondering what type of material to use. This is, after all, a huge part of how the deck will turn out.

You could go with a natural wood surface, or a pressure-treated material. On the other hand, you could choose a composite decking material. There are many variables, and it’s important to make the right decision up front in order to avoid regrets later.

Natural wood or high-tech composite?

House with swimming pool, outdoors

First off, it’s good to determine whether you want natural wood or modern composite material for your outdoor deck. There are different types of natural wood, and various brands of composite—but in general, what are the pros and cons of each?

Certain types of wood, such as cedar and redwood, are naturally resistant to insects and weather damage. They also give you a fantastic natural appearance. But even the most naturally resistant woods will break down over time. Keeping them in top shape will require regular maintenance (including stripping, sanding, staining, etc.). Over the course of years, these maintenance costs can add up.

Composites all but eliminate these factors. These artificial blends of wood fibers and plastic are highly resistant to weather and insects, requiring very little maintenance over the course of decades.

Is one type of natural wood better?

Natural woods that are commonly used for outdoor decks include cedar, redwood, pressure-treated woods of all kinds, and various tropical hardwoods (ipe, tigerwood, etc.). It’s important to choose a wood that is already established as a good choice for outdoor decks. Otherwise, you could end up with serious problems with a year or two.
Rare tropical hardwoods are imported and usually cost more than redwood and cedar. Whichever type of wood you choose, opting for professional installation and treatment will ensure the most reliable long-term results.

PT lumber

Pressure-treated wood is actually the most popular decking material on the market today. Yellow pine is usually used, and the pressure treatment process gives it anti-aging properties similar to cedar and redwood. The price point is also lower—hence the popularity. Warping and cracking, however, are common drawbacks of PT lumber.

Composite decking materials

Although they come at a higher price point, composite decking materials have the power to save you money down the line. That’s because they are composed of recycled wood and plastic elements, which gives them superior strength and longevity. Composite materials need very little maintenance and have longer lifespans than natural or PT materials. Composites do not crack or splinter, and the look/feel of the material has improved drastically in recent years.

Which one is right for me?

Budget, maintenance needs, and stylistic preferences will all come into play when choosing between these popular decking materials. If you aren’t sure which way to go, getting in touch with a respected outdoor deck contractor can give you valuable perspective. It might also give you an idea of how much a professional result will cost, and whether it fall within your budget.