If you’re planning a new deck or upgrading an old one, choosing the right type of decking is the most critical decision you'll make. And it's not easy because there's a wide range of decking material options and price ranges. Here's a guide to help plan your deck.
6 Deck Material Options
Not too long ago, redwood and cedar were just about the only options. But today's decking materials are much more varied. Here are 6 common types:
#1 Pressure-Treated Wood for Decks
Made of fir permeated with anti-rot and insecticide agents, pressure-treated decking is a low-cost favorite. The anti-rot treatment once included arsenic, but since 2004 relies on less poisonous agents, such as copper, which poses a health hazard only if burned. The basic tan or brown color of pressure-treated decking can be enhanced with stain. Pressure-treated lumber can last for decades, but requires refinishing with a clear sealer or stain every other year.
Cost of pressure-treated decking: About $2.35 per sq. ft. (labor is extra).
#2 Cedar Decking
The natural beauty of real wood is unmatched. In addition, this perennial decking favorite is inexpensive and easy to work with—a good choice for the do-it-yourselfer. Buy the darker-colored heartwood—anything else is sapwood and can rot within a few years. Look for “heartwood common,” which has more heartwood than the cheaper “construction common.” Expect annual refinishing and a life of 15 to 20 years.
Cost of cedar decking: About $3.75 per sq. ft. for material only (labor is extra).
Once the very last word in decking, redwood is expensive and now available only on the West Coast. It's lightweight, strong, and easy to work with. Select only high-grade decking lumber with little of the cream-colored sapwood, which can deteriorate rapidly when exposed to the elements. The darker-colored heartwood is naturally rot-resistant. With regular maintenance, redwood will last 15 to 20 years.
Cost of redwood decking: About $7.75 per sq. ft. for material only.
#4 Vinyl Decking
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) decking is the new kid on the block and rapidly gaining favor as a material that is as close to maintenance-free as decking will ever be. PVC has no wood content. Premium varieties have a cellular core wrapped with an exterior layer of solid PVC and come with a 25-year warranty. Color options include white, gray, browns, and tans.
Cost of vinyl decking: About $7.50 per sq. ft. for hollow core; $9.50 solid core
#5 Composite Decking
Made of wood fiber combined with recycled polyethylene, composite decking is a good-looking, low-maintenance material. Composites come in a broad range of colors and textures that closely approximate real wood. It also offers design versatility: Pros have apparatus for heating planks so they can be bent to make eye-catching in-laid designs.
Premium varieties come with a 25-year warranty. Although maintenance is low, the wood content can host mold if not cleaned with a deck wash every three to four years.
Cost of composite decking: About $7.80 per sq. ft.
A popular South American hardwood, ipe is beautiful, naturally resistant to rot, and durable. It's also extremely hard, making installation labor-intensive. To maintain its rich appearance, ipe must be sealed every year. It can last 25 years or more.
Because it's imported, its price can fluctuate. Reliable lumber suppliers should offer assurance that these woods are seeded or naturally renewed. To confirm that the supplier engages in sustainable practices, check in with the Forest Stewardship Council.
Cost of ipe decking: About $12 per sq. ft. for material only (labor can double the cost because it is hard to work with)
Wood decking of any type requires annual refinishing to hold its original luster. If you do it yourself, plan on paying about $13 per 100 square feet for deck cleaner, $15 for sealer. If you’ve skipped a season, add $10 per 100 square feet for brightener.
In tough climates or when maintenance has been long deferred, a wood deck will need to be washed, stripped, sanded, and resealed, a process that can cost $2.50 per sq. ft. if you hire it out. Do that twice on a cedar deck and you would have been better off buying synthetic decking that needs only an occasional washing and has a life expectancy of 25 years.