Choosing the Right Type of Deck Wood

Residential Deck with Furniture
© Ruth P. Peterkin / Fotolia

When preparing to build a deck, choosing the right materials can have a major impact on both your budget and the final outcome. Aluminum and plastic deck materials have gained some popularity, but wood remains the most popular option.

The following are different types of wood commonly used in decking, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Composite Woods

Close Up of Newly Installed Composite Deck
© davidmariuz / Fotolia

Composite wood has been around for a while, but is only just becoming popular. It is created using a blend of plastic and wood particles. They resemble regular wood and may be either hollow or solid in construction.

The Basics

Despite a poor early reputation, advances in composite wood have made it a much more durable product that is slightly more expensive than natural woods but with far less upkeep.

The price per square foot for composite decking generally runs between $7 and $14, although the brand and any additional factors, such as UV protection or scratch resistance, will affect the cost.

You may also choose to buy composite made from recycled plastics instead of virgin material for a more environmentally-positive project.

Pros

Composite wood requires far less maintenance than natural woods. They are also more resistant to infestation from pests such as termites. Unlike natural wood, you will never have to worry about splinters, knots, sanding, refinishing, or cracking.

It is also available in a wide variety of colors, and most companies also offer railing and other options to complete your deck.

Cons

Composites often behave like real wood. This means you will be dealing with heat expansion, mold, scratching, and fading. You may combat the latter two by purchasing scratch-resistant or UV-treated boards, although this increases the price.

Additionally, it is almost impossible to paint faded composite wood without it chipping soon after. Hollow boards suffer less from expansion, but tend to warp in one place and can retain water internally, leading to decomposition and mold.

Hardwoods

Close Up of Ipe Deck
Photo Credit: Brad L.

If you are willing to invest more into your deck, hardwood might be the ideal choice. Hardwoods are usually tropical and may be imported from other countries. However, the higher cost is balanced by the lowest need for maintenance.

Pros

There are quite a few perks to buying hardwood for your deck. Hardwoods tend to have rich grain patterns and high durability. They are also naturally resistant to rot and infestations. The most popular varieties are mahogany and ipe, although there are a large variety of alternatives on the market.

Cons

There are a few major drawbacks to using hardwood. The first and most obvious is the price tag. Hardwood isn’t cheap, and imported varieties are even more expensive. Second, the wood is so dense that you will have difficulty using nails or screws. Drilling a pilot hole will help to some degree, but the job will still be time-consuming.

Finally, hardwoods can fade over time, yet are resistant to most forms of stain. You will need to allow the new deck to weather for up to three months to get rid of any excess oils and help prime the deck for finishing.

An oil-based penetrating stain specifically formulated for hardwoods will then need to be applied, including over both ends. You may choose to alternately use a UV-blocking preservative every three to four years, slowing the fading process.

Pressure-Treated Wood

Pressure Treated Wood Deck
Photo Credit: ntm1909

The cheapest option for a wood deck is also the most popular. Various surveys in 2009 estimated that 75 percent of all existing decks were composed of pressure-treated wood.

In recent years, the treatment process has been done using increasingly safe chemicals to decrease toxicity, although the wood has retained its trademark greenish tint.

Pros

Perhaps the biggest draw for deck builders is the low cost for this material. It is easy to cut, and may be held in place with either nails or screws. The wood is usually southern yellow pine, which is both plentiful and attractive.

As a result of the treatment process, this wood also has the benefit of being highly resistant to fungi, rot, and wood-burrowing pests such as termites.

Cons

Despite being resistant to several common wood issues, pressure-treated wood can also require the most maintenance, which drives the cost of your deck up over the years. It is prone to cracking, splitting, or warping.

Additionally, you will need to reapply preservatives or stain every few years to help prevent damage.

Softwoods

Cedar Deck
Photo Credit: gemteck1

Carrying a medium cost, softwoods such as cedar and redwood are often considered the most attractive option for deck lovers. These woods are naturally resistant to many common problems without the need for chemical treatment.

Quality Considerations

When purchasing softwood, it is important to determine whether the boards are heartwood, sapwood, or sapwood-streaked. Each type has its own qualities which can affect the price as well as your deck’s resilience over time.

  • Heartwood comes from the center of the tree. It has higher levels of the tannins and oils which make softwood resistant to rot and infestation. The wood is also denser and less likely to have defects.
  • Sapwood consists of the younger outer layers. Cheaper than heartwood, it is also much softer and less resistant to decay.
  • Sapwood-streaked wood is the middle ground between heartwood and sapwood. It is the most common type used for deck construction because of the compromise between price and quality.

Pros

Cedar is one of the most desirable woods for construction, both for its beauty and the pleasant scent it gives off. Variants, such as red cedar, are available throughout most states and may be purchased with or without knots and other features present.

Likewise, redwood is very popular and attractive. Heartwood boards are highly resistant to decay, infestation, and rot. This reduces the amount of maintenance needed compared to pressure-treated wood, although some maintenance is still necessary.

Cons

Softwood rests on the financial middle ground of deck materials, costing approximately three times as much as pressure-treated wood. A stain will need to be applied to maintain the original color, as softwood will fade to a grayish hue over time. You will also need to treat the wood with a new finish or preservative every three to four years.

Price Comparisons

Finding the perfect option for your deck is a complicated process. Thankfully, Mataverde compiled a detailed price comparison of the most popular materials based on a 2016 survey. Please note that the prices listed are for the wood itself, not for additional decking costs such as finishes or hardware.

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