Choosing the best decking material in 2022

Diana Sawyer

August 31, 2022

What is the best material for building your dream deck? If you want to add outdoor living space to your property, you have to make sure it fits in with the existing structure and environment because a good deck can last you up to 25 years.

The best decking material for your circumstances shouldn’t have to sacrifice your house’s existing style. Try to keep in mind the environment where you will build your deck to avoid mildew and rot from forming. What is the weather like throughout the year? Will the sun turn your deck into a heatsink?

Above all else, you need to know what goes into maintaining certain decking materials. Don’t let maintenance costs slip your mind.

Wood decking

Wooden decks are some of the most common and popular decks out there. Depending on the availability, these materials can be some of the most cost-effective and stylish options on the market.

Pressure-treated

This type of lumber is specially treated with anti-rot chemicals and pesticides. This process helps to prevent infestations and enhances the wood’s resistance to rot.

Pressure-treated wood is one of the most popular materials on the market because of its cost-effectiveness and lightweight. A single square foot will net you around $1.50 to $6. This also makes it perfect for construction or DIY projects.

The price mostly depends on the grade of the material. A higher grade means a higher price but also better quality assurance.

Pressure-treated wood fades from a darker brown to a lighter hue in a matter of months. It’s normally a good idea to let the sun dull the wood before you start staining it a different colour anyway.

Pressure-treated woods require a lot of maintenance. Wet and humid weather tends to warp or split the wood over time. Regular sanding, washing with a pressure washer and staining help to prevent any unwanted cracks from forming.

It is important to note that older pressure-treated wood can release its chemicals into the air if the wood is burnt. Always apply a special sealer whenever you restain your deck to prevent this.

Cedar

Cedar and other natural woods are of a higher quality than pressure-treated woods. They outperform pressure-treated lumber by being both lightweight and stronger. There are two types of Cedarwood. Heartwood is harder than Sapwood. Heartwood comes from the denser inner part of the tree and lasts longer. Be aware of this distinction if you choose to buy Cedarwood.

Cedar is perfect for quick and reliable construction. It is the most cost-effective natural wood option. Cedar ranges from $9 to $12 per square foot.

This lumber produces a chemical called tannins. Tannins are a natural chemical that protects the wood from rotting, infestations and other forms of decay. This brings down maintenance costs in one sense but raises them in another. 

Tannins can leak from the wood if not prepared properly. This leaves yellow-brown stains on the surface. You’ll have to maintain and refinish the wood more regularly.

Hardwood

A hardwood deck is by far the most expensive structure regarding material costs. A deciding factor in the price of this high-quality lumber is where you are buying from.

Hardwoods like mahogany and tigerwood take very long to mature and don’t grow in abundance. The average price per square foot ranges from $15 to well over $20.

Hardwoods aren’t classified as such without reason. Their density makes construction very difficult. On the plus side, this is thanks to its natural tannins, which means the wood is resistant to rot and infestation.

If you are willing to deal with these constraints, hardwood can last for very long, especially if you oil the wood regularly and maintain it often. Hardwood lasts longer than most other woods and arguably looks better with age. But this only comes from regular upkeep.

Composite decking

This is a moderately priced decking material ranging from $4 to $12 per square foot. It’s also a very affordable option in the long run. Composite decking doesn’t require a lot of upkeep beyond regular washing. Even with this little maintenance, some composite decks can last up to an astonishing 25 years. That’s ten more than most wood decks.

A composite deck is more scratch-resistant than other wood materials. Its synthetic composition protects it from environmental conditions, like rotting and infestations.

No sanding or staining is necessary as the material keeps its colour even in harsh natural conditions. Composite decking is also very customizable. Its wide range of textures and colours leaves a lot of room for personalization, and it can mimic natural woods to an extent.

This is all thanks to the materials that make up a composite deck. Wood shavings and thermoplastics are sourced for their production. This means you can make each plank out of up to 95% of recycled materials. When compared to other materials – and even some woods – composite decking is certainly the most environmentally friendly option.

Composite decking’s wide range of production materials also makes it hard to narrow down the price range. Depending on what materials are used in production, composite decks can get exceptionally expensive. Some prices even mirror the costs of hardwood.

Something to watch out for is where you build your deck. Darker coloured composite decks tend to capture a lot of heat when exposed to the sun. On an 80˚ day, the surface temperature can reach up to 150˚.

Building a deck in the shade has its own drawbacks. Composite decking is prone to grow mould or mildew in damp and humid conditions. Luckily, regular washing can help prevent this.

Although you’re not likely to be using your deck while it’s raining, the material can still be very slippery when it’s wet. Walk with care whenever you clean your composite deck.

PVC Decking

Polyvinyl chloride or PVC is a very lightweight and resilient material. PVC is some of the easiest to work with when constructing a deck compared to other materials.

The vinyl-based or polyethene-based material is incredibly resilient to wear and tear, depending on where you buy it from. The effects of rot and infestation are virtually non-existent. There is little to no maintenance required beyond regular washing.

The $10 to $15 per square foot price tag places the material above most woods. But beyond this initial expense, your deck is likely to last for years without extensive upkeep.

PVC also comes with a wide range of colours and patterns that can mimic wood, much like composite decking. Although this would fit a modern style, PVC colours tend to fade over time. Lighter colours can even take on a “chalky” appearance.

Another similarity between this and composite decks is the way it retains heat. Minimising the amount of time a PVC deck spends in the sun also helps keep the colours from fading too quickly. Remember to wash your deck regularly to prevent mildew and mould growth.

Its impact on the environment keeps PVC from being the best decking material. It’s very brittle unless it’s made from its original materials. This means you’re unlikely to find a quality brand that uses recycled PVC.

Contact your local deck builder to learn more about your decking options.

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