Wood is often the most cost-effective and efficient material for creating deck flooring. Wood looks great, weathers well, spans wide joist distances, and is easily available.
Natural wood's closest contenders, composite wood and PVC, are very durable and friendly to bare feet. But they are expensive and have short joist spans. All of this means that wood still holds a strong position as the decking floorboard of choice.
From familiar favorites like pressure-treated wood to hardwoods like ipe and including a few rarities like pallet wood, which wood is the best to use for your deck flooring?
|Types of Wood Deck Floor Materials|
|Pressure treated wood||Cheap, available||Average appearance, splinters easily|
|Ipe||Distinctive, hard||Highest cost option, difficult to screw into|
|Redwood||Maintains color naturally||Low availability|
|Red cedar||Can be left untreated||Quickly weathers to silver-gray|
|Hem-fir||Cheapest option||Requires preservatives|
|Pallet wood||Free||Unsuitable for walking on with bare feet|
Pressure-Treated Wood Deck Boards
Pressure-treated wood is the classic low-cost deck board. Pressure-treated wood in longer lengths (10 feet or greater) and wider widths (6 inches or greater) can work as an effective deck board, but with a few limitations.
Softwoods like Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Southern Yellow Pine, and Ponderosa Pine easily decay and provide an attractive food source to termites and carpenter ants. Forcing the preservative copper azole, type C (CA-C) into the wood transforms it into a useless food source for bugs and wards off fungi.
Pressure-treated wood boards are easy to obtain at your local home center or lumber yard. Because you can pick it up yourself, no shipping costs are involved, as long as you have a truck or a vehicle with a roof rack. You can also paint the wood. Since these are soft woods, pressure-treated deck boards will eventually splinter and crack if not regularly maintained. Precautions should be taken when cutting pressure-treated board due to the preservative content. Cut ends of pressure-treated wood need to be individually daubed with preservative.
One way to install pressure-treated wood decking is to side-fasten the boards with hidden deck fasterners. These fasteners use proprietary jigs that help you drive the fasteners at the correct angle, just below the top level of the boards.
Soft enough to drill and cut
Many dimensions can be found
Cut ends must be treated
Appearance-grade pressure treated wood usually costs extra
Ipe Wood Deck Boards
Ipe is a hard exotic premium deck board that goes under names such as Brazilian Walnut, tabebuia serratifolia, pau d'arco, ipe tabaco, or bethabara. Ipe is a gorgeous dark-brown wood that maintains its appearance with only minimal maintenance. Once installed, ipe has few disadvantages as a decking material. However, due to its sheer hardness, ipe can be difficult to work with and it can blunt tools. Clips are necessary to fasten the boards to the joists, which drives up the cost. Also, unless you are lucky enough to live close to an ipe supplier, high shipping prices will add to the overall product cost.
Good resale value
Maintains its looks naturally
So hard that it is difficult to cut and drill
Local stores may not carry it
Redwood Deck Boards
Once commonly used for fences, play structures, and decks, redwood is becoming harder to find. When available, redwood is still an excellent choice for deck floorboards. Heartwood costs about 25-percent more than the less desirable sapwood. No preservatives are required to maintain redwood. Redwood weathers to an attractive deep red color. Since redwood is difficult to find on the open market, this makes it a less desirable choice for decks. Redwood will begin to get splintery over time, making it unsuitable for walking on with bare feet.
Natural preservatives in the wood
Gorgeous color either when sealed or left as-is
Good span strength
Difficult to obtain
Red Cedar Wood Deck Boards
Red cedar is most often used for fence boards. Because red cedar is an oily wood, it falls in the class of other woods, such as redwood, that can be left untreated and left to weather naturally. Red cedar can be painted or stained, too, if desired. Even untreated, red cedar will maintain its structural integrity for many years.
Red cedar maintains its look at the onset, but as quickly as two weeks later it will begin to turn its distinctive silvery-gray color. So, red cedar must be treated with a preservative if you do not want gray. Most of the kiln-dried cedar is only available in 1-inch thicknesses. Two-inch thickness kiln-dried cedar wood can be hard to find.
Low to moderately expensive
Attractive red appearance as long as it is kept sealed
Appealing smell when first cut and installed
Weathers to a color that some homeowners may find unattractive
Difficult to find the correct dimensions for flooring
Hem-Fir Wood Deck Boards
Due to the ready availability of inexpensive pressure treated wood and other materials that hold up well against decay, untreated dimensional lumber such as hem-fir is not often used as decking boards, But with its low prices, hem-fir certainly can be used as long as precautions are taken against insects and deterioration.
Hem-fir is not a species cross-breed. Western hemlock and Amabilis fir grow in the same forests and look nearly identical, so lumber mills process them together and treat them as interchangeable. When you see a stack of hem-fir at your local home center, some boards may be hemlock and others fir.
Except for pallet wood, untreated hem-fir is the lowest cost wood decking board. Because it is strong, it has a great joist distance span. If a painted solid color is what you want in a deck, you can choose a wood like hem-fir. Preservation of hem-fir is difficult. Initially, the wood must be quickly treated with a preservative. Alternatively, the wood may be primed and painted. Site-treated wood, as opposed to wood that is pressured treated in a factory, needs constant maintenance.
Easy to obtain
Excellent joist spans
Must be painted
Dimensions not appropriate for flooring needs
Pallet Wood Deck Boards
No longer confined to shipping bays, trendy pallet wood can be found everywhere now, from restaurants to residences. Wood pallets are constructed of softwoods and are usually considered expendable by their recipients. Because pallets are often left outside after use, they achieve an interesting silvery-gray weathered patina with rusty nail marks and other signs of distress.
Pallet wood is best confined to walls, as the inevitable splinters, holes, and protrusions make it 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, using short board lengths (40 inches) means that multiple boards are needed to complete one row.
Pallet wood, though generally a poor deck floor material, can be used in a pinch, when funds are tight, or as a temporary flooring material.
Easy to find
Often too distressed to use
May be embedded with grease or hazardous substances
Too short for most deck joist spans