Let’s work from the ground up. Typically, pressure treated lumber is the preferred choice for footing and structural materials. Pressure treated lumber is widely available and decay and insect resistant, making it an efficient, cost-effective option. Of course, you can always use cedar or redwood, as these are naturally rot resistant, but they are pricier and harder to find.
Whichever wood you decide to use, make sure that you choose the flattest pieces of lumber you can find, and ensure that there are no splits or large knots,as these reflect weaknesses in the wood itself. Additionally, check the grade stamps stapled to the tags of the wood to make sure that they are approved for a level of .40 ground contact retention. This ensures that your wood has been properly treated for direct contact with dirt, soil, bugs, and water.
Once you have chosen the structural lumber, you can move onto the fun parts. As the surface of your entire deck, whatever material you chose to use will set the tone for the rest of your space. From exotic imported wood to composite materials, there are hundreds of options to choose from. We’ll walk you through some of our favorites, but keep in mind that the lumber you choose should reflect not only your style, but also the function of your deck.
FOR COST’S SAKE- TRADITIONAL WOOD
A true, American classic. Despite the growing number of options, this ubiquitous, cost-effective wood has remained the top choice for decking materials. Pressure treated lumber is widely available, easy to cut, and affordable. In order to weather-proof it and make it insect-resistant, the lumber is treated with special, environmentally-safe chemicals.
A traditional wood deck is a great option if want your deck to feel like a natural sanctuary, but it does have its downfalls. Pressure treated lumber requires yearly maintenance, like power-washing, and should be treated with a finish to help preserve the wood. Even when perfectly maintained, traditional wood has a tendency to warp and crack.
NATURALLY A CUT ABOVE- REDWOOD & CEDAR
Admired for their natural beauty and dulcet color, cedar and redwood are the only options for the true purists. Thanks to naturally occurring oils, these woods are resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestations, and do not need to be treated with chemicals.
However, be wary when selecting this type of lumber as the degree of weather and insect resistance is reliant on how much heartwood is in a particular board. Heartwood is the wood located in the center of the tree. It is relatively hard and extremely resistant to rot and decay, unlike sapwood, which grows towards the outer edges and is much softer. These are the priciest wood options, so if you are looking to cut costs, opt for pressure treated lumber or a composite material. Like traditional wood, redwood and cedar require yearly maintenance and finishing. Additionally, if you want to maintain the natural color of the wood, we recommend putting a clear stain on it as well.
TROPICAL TIMBER- EXOTIC HARDWOODS
Tigerwood, ipe, red tauari, Phillippine mahogany, massaranduba, and cumaru. These woods don’t just sound exotic, they are exotic. Found in the tropics, they are naturally insect and rot resistant and extremely durable. In fact, these woods are so hard that it’s often impossible to drive a nail or screw into them without a pilot hole. This makes them incredibly long-lasting but also difficult to work with, so this type of lumber is probably not a good option for a DIYer without a large arsenal of tools and helping hands.
Tropical hardwoods are not as readily available as other decking options and are typically more expensive. Still, they are beloved for their rich, natural colors and durability. The majority of these woods are too dense to effectively stain, so opt for pressure treated lumber if you are looking for a particular color. However, if like most people, you’ve fallen in love with the deep, unrefined tones of exotic hardwoods, all you have to do is brush on a clear UV resistant finish and you are good to go. Also, when buying exotic hardwoods, check with the supplier to make sure that they sustainably sourced, as these trees are not as populous as those of traditional lumber.
OUT OF THE WOODS- COMPOSITE DECKING
For low maintenance, affordable decking, composites are the clear choice. Composite decking typically consists of a mixture of resourced plastics and wood. Though many people balk at the idea of using manmade decking, composite materials offer several bonuses that you will not find in natural wood.
Primarily, composite decking is extremely low maintenance; it will never need to be stained, refinished, or sanded. This doesn’t mean that composite decking is invincible though, as it can be a platform for mold and mildew growth in damp, shady areas.
Composite decking also has the largest color range of any of the decking materials. Having this many options may seem overwhelming but most companies like Destination Decks-approved Trex, will send you several color options so you can see what you are getting before you actually purchase.
Finally, composite manufacturers typically offer balusters, handrails, and other decorative decking options, so if you are interested in a modern, monochromatic look, composite decking is your best option.
THE DARK KNIGHT- ALUMINUM DECKING
Lighter and stronger than the majority of decking materials, aluminum is underused and undervalued. We aren’t talking about the same aluminum used on the roof of that rundown shed on the side of the road either.
Aluminum used for decking has been specially treated and coated so that it never rusts, warps, cracks, or splinters. And, unlike composite decking, aluminum is mold and mildew resistant.
Aluminum decking planks have interlocking edges that create a watertight surface, making them perfect for multilevel decks because they keep the area beneath them dry. Built-in channels direct and dispose of rainwater to ensure that it doesn’t collect on the deck’s surface.
The only downfall of aluminum decking… the price. Aluminum is far and away the most expensive at three times of the cost of composite decking.