There are a number of factors to consider when selecting the best material for your decking. Options range from several varieties of hard and soft wood to composite materials, which combine plastic with wood fibers. In addition to cost, elements to evaluate include the material’s level of resistance to rot and insects, its tendency to warp and splinter over time, and its ability to retain its finish through the years.
Burt's Company Estimator & Lumber Specialist Daniel Fazziola, who's been a fixture at Burt Lumber since 1978, shares his insights on the best woods for decking, and the primary differences between wood vs. composite.
REAL WOOD stands alone for those desiring an all-natural, authentic look and feel. Typically more inexpensive than composite, wood decking does require a bit more maintenance to counteract the wear and tear of the great outdoors. Each type boasts its own unique benefits and features.
Pressure Treated Lumber is generally durable, resistant to damage, and commonly used to build the support systems for decks for this reason. Quite cost-effective, it requires little maintenance, stains nicely, and can be installed on or above grade. This type of lumber is available in 5/4x4, 5/4x6, 2x4 and 2x6.
Select Tight Knot (STK) Grade Cedar Decking is naturally resistant to rot and insects, and is best used in above grade decks, as well as for vertical elements such as the balustrade of a railing. Considered a softwood, cedar requires a stain or clear preservative coating every three to five years, depending upon its exposure to the elements. It is available in 5/4x4, 5/4x6, 2x4 and 2x6.
Mahogany Decking boasts a beautiful, rich color, and is considered one of the higher-end types of wood. It is long-wearing, with a tight grain, and must be installed at a minimum of 18” above grade—no exceptions. A stain or clear preservative coating should be applied every three to five years. Mahogany is available in 5/4x4, 5/4x6, 2x4 and 2x6, at a variety of lengths.
IPE Decking is a natural hardwood and typically has a rich, brown color. It is long-wearing, durable, and requires minimal maintenance. IPE is often finished with a hardwood oil, such as Penofin, and can be installed on or above grade. It is extremely strong (3/4” materials can be used as decking), and is available in 1x4, 1x6, 5/4x4, 5/4x6, 2x4 and 2x6, at random lengths.
COMPOSITE DECKING is generally a bit more expensive initially; however, its low maintenance enables customers to recoup costs over time. Composite is a rather broad category, taking in numerous manufacturers, branding variations and colors. Each type falls into one of three divisions.
Base Composites are best used for entry-level decking, as they require little-to-no maintenance and cleaning. They are made of wood fillers and recycled plastics, and available in a wide variety of colors. Extremely cost-effective, base composites are generally quite dense, and therefore have a fairly low coefficient of thermal expansion. A drawback is that stains from barbecue grease and wet leaves may be difficult to remove.
Cap Stocks boast all the positive attributes of the base composites, minus the detriment of their tendency to stain, as they are also wrapped in a PVC coating, creating an extra layer of protection. Depending upon the manufacturer and specific product line, the thickness of the cap stock may vary. This product represents about 80% of all decking sales.
Cellular PVC Decking is comprised solely of plastics. It has a higher coefficient of thermal expansion than base composites, but is very durable, and great for use on or above grade, as well as around pools. Its softer surface makes cellular PVC a bit more prone to dents and scratches from heavy furniture.
Regardless of the material chosen, it is important to note that all decks require a certain degree of maintenance, and will need to be cleaned periodically in order to keep up appearances. In some instances, application of a sealer may be recommended.