Wood remains the most cost effective and efficient material for deck floor boards.
While composite wood and PVC (Trex, Azek, TimberTech) have strong advantages, both are brutally expensive. Even the cheapest off-the-shelf composite decking costs more than most woods below. Plus, it barely looks like wood and has a paltry 16 inch joist span.
By contrast, wood looks like wood, spans greater distances, and you can pick it up in the store today.
But not all wood is the same, and you have more board choices than you might think.
|CA-C||Cheap, available||Average appearance|
|Ipe||Distinctive, hard||Highest cost option|
|Redwood||Maintains color||Low availability|
|Red Cedar||Can be left untreated||Weathers to silver-gray|
|Hem-Fir||Cheapest option||Must be highly preserved|
|Pallet||Free||Unsuitable for walking|
Pressure Treated or CA-C Wood
Pressure treated wood is the classic low-cost deck board. PT wood in longer lengths (10' or greater) and wider widths (6' or greater) can work as an effective deck board, but with limitations.
Soft woods like Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Southern Yellow Pine, and Ponderosa Pine easily decay and provide tasty morsels to termites and carpenter ants. Forcing the preservative Copper Azole, Type C (CA-C) into the wood turns it into a useless food source for bugs and wards off fungi.
Cost: About $2.50 per square foot, based on a 2" x 6" x 10' board.
Advantages: Easy availability is PT wood's strong suit. Your local home improvement store or lumber yard will always have this board in stock. Because you can pick it up yourself, no shipping costs are involved.
Pitfalls: Since these are soft woods, PT deck boards will eventually splinter and crack if not regularly maintained.
Precautions should be taken when cutting PT board due to the preservative content. Cut ends of PT wood need to be individually daubed with preservative.
Whatever you call it--Brazilian Walnut, Tabebuia Serratifolia, Pau D'Arco, Ipe Tabaco, or Bethabara--this hard exotic wood is the premium board to use for decking.
Cost: $6.86 per square foot for ungrooved 1" x 6" x 8' board. $7.66 for double-grooved board.
Advantages: Ipe is a gorgeous wood that maintains its appearance with only minimal maintenance.
Pitfalls: Once installed, ipe has few disadvantages as decking material. However, due to its sheer hardness, ipe can be difficult to work with and it can blunt your tools. Clips will be needed to fasten the boards to the joists, which drives up cost. Also, unless you are lucky enough to live close to an ipe supplier, high shipping prices will add to the overall product cost.
Once commonly used for fences, play structures, and decks, redwood is becoming harder to find. Redwood remains an excellent choice for deck floor boards. Heartwood costs about 25% more than the less desirable sapwood.
Cost: Sapwood: $4.50 per square foot, based on a 2" x 6" x 8' board. $5.70 for heartwood.
Advantages: No preservatives are required to maintain redwood. Redwood weathers to an attractive deep red color.
Pitfalls: Slim availability makes redwood a less desirable choice for decks. Redwood will begin to get splintery over time, making it unsuitable for walking on with bare feet.
Red cedar is most often used for fence boards. Because it is an oily wood, it falls in the class of other woods (like redwood) that can be left untreated, if so desired. Red cedar can be painted.
Cost: $4.00 per square foot, based on a 2" x 6" x 10' board (green, not kiln-dried)
Advantages: Red cedar can be left untreated and it will maintain its structural integrity for many years.
Pitfalls: Red cedar looks great at the onset, but as quickly as two weeks later it will begin to turn its distinctive silvery-gray color.
So, red cedar must treated with a preservative if you do not want gray. Most of the kiln-dried cedar is only available in 1" thicknesses. Two-inch thickness kiln-dried can be hard to find.
Untreated dimensional lumber is not often used as decking boards, due to the ready and cheap availability of PT wood and other materials that hold up better against decay.
But with its fantastically cheap price, hem-fir certainly can be used, as long as you take precautions against insects and deterioration.
Because Western hemlock and Amabilis fir grow in the same forests and look nearly identical, lumber mills process them together and treat them as interchangeable. Hem-Fir is not a species cross-breed. When you see a stack of Hem-Fir at your local Home Depot or lumberyard, some boards may be hemlock, some fir.
Cost: $1.10 per square foot, based on a 2" x 6" x 10' board.
Advantages: Untreated hem-fir is the lowest cost wood decking board (except for pallet wood). Because it is strong, it has a great joist distance span. If a painted solid color is what you want in a deck, choose a wood like hem-fir.
Pitfalls: Preservation is the Achille's Heel of untreated hem-fir. Initially, the wood must be quickly treated with a preservative. Alternatively, the wood may be primed and painted. Site-treated wood (vs. PT wood that is pressure-treated in a factory) needs constant maintenance.
No longer confined to shipping bays, trendy pallet wood can be found everywhere now--brewpubs, coffee shops, restaurants, offices, and even in residences.
Pallets are constructed of softwoods and are usually considered expendable by their recipients. Because they get thrown outside after use, they achieve an interesting silvery-gray weathered patina.
Advantages: Pallet wood has no advantages for flooring other than its zero cost.
Pitfalls: Pallet wood is best confined to walls, as the inevitable splinters, holes, and protrusions make them an uncomfortable, unsafe walking surface.
Also, breaking up pallets in order to loosen the intended deck boards is difficult to do without cracking the wood. Finally, short board lengths (40 inches) mean multiple boards are needed to complete one row.