Types of Decking 101 [All You Need to Know]

An elegant gazebo dotted with flowers or a poolside bar with lounge chairs — what does your dream deck look like?

Whether you plan to host sophisticated dinner parties or use your outdoor deck for family get-togethers, a wooden deck surface is perhaps what comes to mind. Indeed, wood remains one of the most popular decking materials — and for a good reason.

Versatile and timeless beauty in one, wooden decks feel cool under your feet, and you can get them almost anywhere. However, not all kinds of decking are made equal. 

From budget considerations to style preferences, many factors can sway your decision when choosing the perfect materials for your refurbished deck. So, without further ado, read on to know more about the types of decking that will spruce up our outdoor space.   

Types of decking 101 1

While natural wood decking gets a bad rap for being hard to care for, a few wood species may be more resistant to the primary causes of deterioration. Alternatively, some homeowners enjoy the rich colors and aesthetic beauty of a traditional wood deck without any of the fuss by opting for synthetic decking. 

Either way, these deck boards can make your patio, terrace, backyard, or pool deck look equally gorgeous and inviting. All you need to do is pick the right one to suit your needs. 

Let’s take a closer look at what each type of decking material offers.

Natural Wood Decking Materials 

Every home improvement enthusiast would agree that wood looks excellent — even in its all-natural glory. Here are some of the best natural wood decking options you can choose from:

1. Redwood

1. Redwood natural wood decking materials

As the name suggests, redwood has an earthy brown color with reddish undertones that bring a touch of elegance to your outdoor space. However, if left untreated, the natural color turns darker and eventually fades, giving way to a silvery hue that may or may not be to your liking. 

If not, consider applying a sealer every year and re-staining it to keep its original splendor alive. 

  • Pricing

With over 30 grades, the cost of redwood deck boards varies widely. For instance, if you are willing to loosen your purse strings, you may want to look at heartwood-grade redwood. Although expensive, these premium deck boards are kiln-dried and will last for decades with proper care.

On the other hand, cheaper redwood grades, including the merchantable heart, may not be sturdy enough for a deck. Alternatively, you can opt for mid-range grades, such as deck heart and construction heart, which are durable but not entirely knot-free. 

What’s more, redwood is native to the Pacific Northwest, and the cost increases as you move further East from the source. 

  • Durability 

Traditional materials for decking, such as redwood and cedar, are considered reasonably durable as they are naturally resistant to warping. At the same time, lower-grade redwood and cedar may hold moisture and are thus susceptible to rot, mold, and mildew.

However, this spells good news if you diligently use a sealant annually as it allows deep penetration of such products. 

  • Maintenance 

Most experts recommend that you powerwash and apply a re-sealer annually for long-lasting, beautiful redwood. Ensure that you sand the wood properly before applying a penetrating sealer to make the most of the product

With proper maintenance and care, both low-grade and high-grade redwood can last for decades. In fact, it is common for the more expensive and durable heartwood-grade deck boards to survive as many as 40 years. 

2. Teak 

Teak natural wood decking materials

Well-loved by homeowners and architects alike, the durability and protective properties of teak are only made better by its warm and inviting colors. Combined with its strong appeal, the aged and tawny hue makes it a versatile choice for exterior and interior purposes. 

For instance, it works as a regal flooring material that goes great with an elegant theme. At the same time, the golden warmth brings in an air of homeliness for a family-friendly and cozy setting. 

  • Pricing 

When it comes to natural decking products, teak boards are considered to be relatively maintenance-free. That said, this hardwood may lean towards the more expensive side of things — at least among real wood decking material.

In fact, decks made of tropical hardwoods, such as teak, can cost as much as composite decks. Needless to say, buyers can expect to pay more than they would for pressure-treated lumber, redwood, or cedar.  

  • Durability

Teak borrows its signature shine from natural oils, which provide much more than just an aesthetic edge. Indeed, its high oil content works as a natural insect-repeller, which keeps termites and other wood-feeding bugs away. 

And that’s not all; the oily layer serves as a moisture-repellant. As a result, you won’t have to worry about mold or mildew stains any time soon. Needless to say, this is an excellent option for wet climates and poolside decks, even without a sealant to protect it. 

  • Maintenance

Known for its tensile strength and hardiness, teak may retain its structural integrity for decades. However, it oxidizes and loses its warm hue over the years, fading into a pleasant silver-grey shade. If you do prefer its honey-tan color, consider sanding it regularly. 

Either way, it is best to nurture a habit of washing and brushing your deck. Combined with a yearly treatment using a specialist teak deck cleaner, your deck should last a good 10 to 20 years. 

3. Mahogany

Mahogany natural wood decking materials

Kitchen cabinets, staircases, doors, guitars, and decks — mahogany is everywhere. After all, this hardwood doesn’t give in easily to wear and tear, which is an especially favorable trait for a deck that sees sun, rain, foot traffic, and more. 

But of course, what many people love most about mahogany is its signature deep red color that ties an entire room, or deck, together. 

  • Price

Priced steeply per square foot — mahogany is considered one of the most expensive hardwood options and is only expected to become more valuable. Indeed, this decking material is far from a budget find, especially considering how its interlocking grain makes it difficult to cut and install. 

It is also worth noting that genuine mahogany is slightly tricky to identify, and dubious sellers on the market may peddle inferior products, such as Sapele, to make a quick buck. 

  • Durability

Dense and heavy as can be, mahogany is indeed an investment that may even outlive its buyer. Apart from its luminous color, many deck builders prefer to use this hardwood due to its rot resistance and durability.

  • Maintenance

A mahogany deck can last for up to 40 or even 60 years. The secret to keeping it looking young and vivid is regular maintenance, of course. That said, treat your deck with a wood stain every two years. However, you may have to increase the frequency of treatments if your deck is exposed to direct sunlight. 

4. Ipe

Ipe natural wood decking materials

Sourced from the forests of Central and South America, ipe may be sold under various names, including Brazilian Walnut. True to its moniker, premium Brazilian Walnut of the highest grade boasts a rich and deep brown color, with purple highlights. 

  • Price

Ipe is a highly sought-after decking material, and the price tag reflects this as well. That said, this hardwood is priced almost three times as much as pressure-treated lumber and cedar. In addition, it is a highly dense wood that is challenging to cut, drill, fasten, and install. 

  • Durability

Also dubbed “ironwood,” ipe is well-known for its extreme hardness, which protects against scratches and dents. 

Interestingly, this hardwood also has a Class A fire rating. In other words, it is as fire-resistant as concrete and steel. Furthermore, the natural composition repels rot, termites, and other insects that harm its structural integrity.

  • Maintenance

With regular treatment, your durable ipe deck can last for up to 50 years. For starters, ensure that the surface of your deck has minimal exposure to water. In addition, powerwash the deck annually or every two years, and follow up by re-sealing and staining it. 

Synthetic Decking Materials 

A wide variety of synthetic decking materials in the market have made it easier to trade in natural wood for much more low-maintenance options. At the same time, these alternatives are made of different materials that mimic the look and feel of the real deal. 

However, before you decide to install a synthetic deck in your home, ensure that you get prior written permission from the local building department. That said, your final choice of deck boards and building materials should meet local code requirements. 

Here are the synthetic decking materials you can choose from: 

1. Traditional Composite Materials

1. Traditional composite materials

Traditional composite decking products, or composite lumber, may be made from recycled materials, wood fibers, recycled plastic, and so on. Once these components are compounded and mixed with other additives, they are extruded into heavy deck boards and embossed to mimic wood. 

  • Pricing 

Apart from being virtually maintenance-free, composite decking offers more than traditional lumber in a few ways. Although the demand for composite decking materials has seen a steady rise in the last decade, they remain relatively expensive decking options. 

As a rule of thumb, buyers can expect to pay about 20% more than they would for pressure-treated lumber. 

More recently, manufacturers have offered a wide variety of composite decking products to suit different budgets. For a better idea, consider how these competitive prices are comparable to those of premium tropical hardwoods, such as teak and mahogany. 

Anyhow, the price differences do not reflect a variation in quality. In fact, when you invest in costlier composite decking materials, you pay for a better-looking, wood-like finish. 

Moreover, composite decks involve a more complicated installation process and tools, which may require a professional eye or a careful eye, at the very least. For instance, the joist spacing requirements for products vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so buyers may have to hire a deck builder for this meticulous job. 

  • Durability

A composite deck is durable on its own — in that most products do not crack or splinter. Some deck boards are even engineered to resist insect damage. And to top it all off, most manufacturers offer 10 to 25-year warranties. 

While these products trump pressure-treated decking when it comes to longevity, traditional composite decking materials are not ideal for supporting framing. So, even though they are excellent for decking needs, you may want to stick to wooden materials for load-bearing constructions, such as staircases.

What’s more, the composition of these deck boards does not do well under heat. That said, buyers should consider building a shade structure to protect the deck from direct exposure to sunlight. Not to mention how it may also keep away rain and snow.

For a more slip-resistant alternative, be sure to check out cellular PVC decking materials.

  • Maintenance

Despite its premium prices, the trend of opting for composite decking is slowly gaining momentum in the home improvement market. Most of its appeal comes down to the fact that this type of decking is virtually maintenance-free.

Simply put, you won’t have to make a yearly appointment to re-seal and stain these deck boards. However, be sure to clean and regularly remove any debris from crevices, especially if you opt for textured models. 

Although different patterns and styles provide a much more realistic effect, the uneven surfaces may prove to be a breeding ground for mold and mildew. 

2. Premium Composite Decking

2. Premium composite decking

First developed in the 1980s, traditional composite decking materials have had an exponential growth curve. Given its enormous potential as an eco-friendly wood alternative, the industry refined the formula to create a better version in premium composite decking. 

That said, composite decking came with its own problems — the most glaring being its water-absorbent quality. Premium composite materials seek to rectify this issue and take the style factor up a notch by offering innumerable patterns and colors. 

And much to the delight of deck builders and DIYers, these products are lightweight and easy to handle. After all, they are made of rice hulls and other additives that do not include wood by-products. 

  • Pricing

Given the tedious engineering process of each plank and the added features that separate it from its traditional counterparts, premium composite decking projects are relatively expensive. 

However, buyers can cut their losses knowing that most of these products come with a 25-year warranty. In other words, you will probably be saving hundreds of dollars, which you would otherwise spend on replacements and repairs. 

  • Durability

Formulated to be denser than traditional composite options, premium composite decks are on par with the older version in terms of durability. That said, these deck boards are scratch-resistant and won’t splinter. 

Where it does significantly exceed its predecessor is in moisture resistance. Considering how it does not absorb moisture quickly, premium composite decks are suitable for heavy rainfall regions. Rest assured, you won’t be witnessing any instances of mold or mildew from these materials. 

What’s more, manufacturers may offer up to a 25-year warranty when you pick this option. 

  • Maintenance

While most premium composite products are relatively easy to install, newer models may require special tools or components. So, if you are attempting to build the deck by yourself, don’t overlook the instruction manual provided by the manufacturer. 

Also, remember to make allowances for the contraction and expansion of the planks. Alternatively, you may want to hire a professional to finish the job. Anyhow, this low-maintenance type of decking does not require much post-installation attention, apart from regular cleaning. 

3. Cellular PVC Decking

3. Cellular pvc decking

A leader and pioneer in synthetic decking material, cellular PVC decking gives us a glimpse of a greener future. After all, it is a no-waste alternative that contains zero wood particles. 

Indeed, these realistic and elegant boards are made out of polyvinyl chloride and other additives to provide optimal functionality and minimum hassle. And that’s not all; leading brands have perfected their cellular PVC decking materials to offer everything you may need. These include easy installation, rich colors, and, of course — low maintenance. 

  • Pricing

Rated moderately high as compared to all other types of decking, cellular PVC may be well worth the price. This point rings increasingly accurate since PVC decking may cost as much as premium composite decking. Not to mention how cellular PVC decks are comparatively easy to put together. 

Indeed, if you have experience working with traditional wooden decks, you need not look too deep into the product manual. That said, you can install cellular PVC planks over pressure-treated pine, and they do not require any pre-drilling. 

  • Durability

It is safe to say that cellular PVC decking improves on both composite and natural wood decks in terms of durability. Most manufacturers ensure that their products resist stains, insects, mildew, mold, and scratches. What’s more, the composition of the deck boards itself contains additives that offer UV protection, making them ideal for outdoor use. 

At the same time, durability depends on the quality, cost, and manufacturer from where you choose to buy. Truth be told, there have been instances of PVC flooring coming apart, which incurred hefty financial losses in repairs. 

Fortunately, many companies offer 50-year warranties that may even extend up to a lifetime warranty. 

  • Maintenance

Among all the decking materials, cellular PVC may be one of the most low-maintenance options. Due to its unique composition that is free of any wood, you will rarely encounter common issues associated with wooden decks, such as splintering and warping. 

For the same reason, buyers need not paint, stain or re-seal their deck for many years, if ever. And in case of any spills, a simple washcloth or stain remover will be sufficient. 

Types of decking 101 2

Final Words

Style, cost, durability, and maintenance — these are the four pillars on which your final choice rests. 

Considering how the modern world is increasingly gearing towards sustainable solutions, you could opt for eco-friendly and waste-free composite decking materials. Anyhow, this type of decking imitates real wood to the T, hovers in the middle of the price range is durable, and is also absolutely low-maintenance.

At the same time, some buyers may want to stick with the classics. While cedar and redwood provide an affordable option for the purists, they are accompanied by maintenance challenges.

Alternatively, adorning your deck with valuable wood, such as ipe and mahogany, can indeed shoot up your entire property value. With all this in mind, pick wisely before decking up your house!

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