Wood or composite decking—or something else? Like any major home purchase, decking materials vary in looks, durability, and cost. Start your research by becoming familiar with different types of authentic and synthetic decking. Also, you might want to use certain types of lumber or decking for structural parts of your deck project, and other decking timber for surfaces and railings—the parts on which you will walk and actually see.
Click Play to Learn the Pros and Cons of Wood and Composite Decking
Learn about the materials most widely used to construct a residential deck, from railings to floorboards, including the pros and cons of each type.
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Natural Wooden Planks
Wood is the original and traditional material used for decks, and many professionals prefer it for its value-adding capabilities. Wood does require maintenance, but it has a more classic look and feel than other materials. The Atlantic City Boardwalk—the first oceanside wood boardwalk in the United States—was made of wood and wood continues to be a popular choice for most residential homeowners' deck projects. Some hardwoods can be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Hardwood floors have a natural warmth and feel, and some types of woods (mainly softwoods) can be an inexpensive decking material. Some types, include ipe, can be expensive, though, and wood must be maintained and well cared for to prevent splitting, cracking, and discoloration.Pros
Authentic and natural
Some types are inexpensive
Can be expensive
Requires regular maintenance
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Also known as composite, wood alternatives, or synthetic decking, wood-polymer composite has become a popular decking material for residential use.
Composite decking is an environmentally friendly lumber alternative that combines plastic and wood fiber.Pros
Won't splinter or rot
Variety of colors
Can look fake
Can be slippery
Not resistant to mold and mildew
Shows signs of age and decay
Can sag and bend more than wood
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Less durable woods, like Southern pine and Western fir, are treated with preservatives. This makes them more resistant to the elements, rot, and insects.
Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) is a wood preservative containing chromium, copper, and arsenic. Starting in the 1940s, CCA was used to make pressure-treated lumber. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified CCA as a restricted-use product. Since 2003, the pressure-treated wood industry discontinued the use of CCA for residential use. Arsenic-free alternatives include alkaline copper quatenary (ACQ), borates and copper azole.Pros
Durable and resistant to the elements, rot, and insects
Warps or bends easily
Contains chemical preservatives
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High-density plastic lumber (PL) is made from recycled polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. That means your old milk, water, and juice containers and detergent and shampoo bottles may be recycled into the plastic lumber that is used to construct your deck.Pros
Doesn't need to be stained
Easy to clean
Continue to 5 of 5 below.
May expand or contract in extreme heat and cold resulting in cracking
Colors and textures don't always resemble wood
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There are lots of good reasons why aluminum is a near-perfect decking material: it's weather resistant and won't rot or decay. Have you ever heard of termites drilling their collective way through an aluminum structure? It doesn't burn, either. It's too bad aluminum is so expensive. Looks-wise, you really won't mistake aluminum for a plank of teak or redwood.Pros
Lacks the traditional appearance of wood
Gets hot in the sun
Couturier, Marie et al. Enhanced degradation of softwood versus hardwood by the white-rot fungus Pycnoporus coccineus. Biotechnology for biofuels, vol. 8, no. 216, 2015. doi:10.1186/s13068-015-0407-8
Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Chromated Arsenicals (CCA). United States Environmental Protection Agency.