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Wood and Composite Decking: Pros and Cons

What Type of Wood or Composite Decking Should You Use?

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Wood or composite decking -- or something else? Like any major home purchase, decking materials vary in looks, durability and cost. Start your reseach here, becoming familiar with 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 that you will see and walk on.

What follows are descriptions of the materials most widely used to construct a residential deck, including the pros and cons for each type.

Wood

Wood is the original and traditional material used for decks. The Atlantic City boardwalk -- the first oceanside wood boardwalk in the United States -- was made of wood, and, according to some studies, continues to be the top choice for most residential homeowners' deck projects. Hardwoods -- all woods, really -- should be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Pros:

  • It's the real deal -- authentic; has a natural warmth
  • Smells good
  • Looks natural, because it is
  • Some types of wood -- often softwoods -- can be among the most inexpensive decking material available

Cons:

  • Hardwoods like ipé can be expensive
  • Unmaintained wood can split, crack and change color
  • Availability and price are determined by region

Pressure-Treated Wood

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 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 ACQ, Borates and Cooper Azole.

 

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • More available than wood in some areas
  • Good for surface decking and structural parts

Cons:

  • Unnatural color
  • Warps or bends easily
  • Contains chemical preservatives

Composite

Also known as wood-polymer composites, wood alternatives or synthetic decking, composite has quickly become the fastest-growing decking material for residential use in the past dozen years. Composite decking is an environmentally friendly lumber alternative that combines plastic and wood fiber.

Pros:

  • Weather resistant
  • Stain resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Won't splinter or rot
  • Low maintenance

Cons:

  • Some look obviously fake or cheap
  • Some brands can be slippery
  • Not resistant to mold and mildew, especially in shade
  • Eventually shows signs of age and decay
  • Tend to sag and bend more than wood

Plastic

High-density plastic lumber is made from recycled polyethylene (ReHDPE) 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. An eco thought.

 

Pros:

  • Weather resistant
  • Doesn't need to be stained
  • Lightweight
  • Eco, recycled, green
  • Easy to clean, using a hose or mop

Cons:

  • Requires more substructure compared to wood decking
  • Colors and texture don't always resemble wood

Aluminum

There are lots of good reasons why aluminum is a near-perfect decking material: it's weather resistant, won't rot or decay. Have you ever heard of termites drilling their collective way through an aluminum structure? It doesn't burn, either. Too bad it's so expensive. Looks-wise, you really won't mistake aluminum for a plank of teak or redwood.

Pros:

  • Tough and strong
  • Slip resistant
  • Color lasts indefinitely
  • Textured finish
  • Stays cool
  • Won't rot, spliter or warp, like other decking lumber
  • Fireproof
  • Recyclable

Cons:

  • Most expensive decking
  • Does not resemble wood

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