Decking Buying Guide

  • Getting Started

  • Decks are an outdoor reflection of the family’s lifestyle. While some are smaller and just used for relaxing, others will be extensive, may use several levels and include an outdoor kitchen, spa or sauna, and several seating areas.

  • What to Consider

  • Local building codes may have an impact on the size of the deck and the materials to be used. Check with the Building Department before making any purchase.

    Slope of the property or level of the structure on which the deck is to be attached. Second and upper floor decks will require additional supports. Yard slopes will have an impact upon the supports to be used.

    The activities to be conducted will have an impact on the materials used, the size and shape of the deck.  If cooking on the deck, or installing a fire pit, preplanning is vital. The weight of a spa or sauna will require extra supports.

    If the deck boards are to be installed in a pattern, consider that extra support may be required.

    Family members and pets will be using the area, so heat and splinters produced by the deck may be a consideration.

    Location on the property or on the structure is important. Consider privacy from inside and neighbors; shade may be important to the activities and will have an impact on the deck board materials.

    Budget is vital. It will have an impact on the material used, the size, the installation methods, and the desired result.

  • Materials

  • Pressure-treated deck boards: The least costly and most often installed material for decks, Southern yellow pine is treated with one of several preservatives:

        •  Waterborne, copper based preservatives prevent termite attack and fungal decay. Copper Azole (CA) and Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ) are used in exterior residential, as well as commercial and agricultural construction.

         •  Micronized Copper Azole (MCA) contains micronized copper and biocides, providing less copper leaching from the material. For use in outdoor and landscaping projects.

    Pine must be kept clean and maintained frequently to reduce swelling, cracking, splitting and warping. Standing water also will cause the deck boards to deteriorate. Splinters may surface over time and use. Pine is a softer wood and will require supports at frequent intervals, such as 16” on center when using 5/4 X 6 boards.

    Redwood has a natural color desired by many homeowners ranging from a light beige to a full red. The natural oils of redwood make it resistant to insects and rot so it will not be treated with chemicals, but note the beige outer areas do not contain the natural resins that resist insects and decay.

    Redwood is graded for use by its appearance, with over 30 grades  determining its use. Redwood’s red color is the heartwood; cream shades are the sapwood. Deck boards can be chosen from heartwood grades or sapwood grades, but if the redwood will be on or near the soil, heartwood grades — Clear All Heart, Heart B, Deck Heart, Construction Heart — should be used. If not coming into contact with water or soil, Deck Common, Construction Common, Clear, B Grade, Deck Common or Construction Common may work well.

    A stable wood, redwood will not warp or split easily; although it should be kept clean and maintained every few years with a clear finish to keep its natural beauty and reduce moisture absorption. Redwood decks have a lifespan of about 20 years.

    Cedar — Western Red Cedar — is frequently used as decking materials due to its beauty and natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. Cedar decks have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Dimensionally stable, Cedar does not warp; lightweight, it is easy to handle and install.  Unfinished Cedar ranges in color from a light amber to a reddish brown with a satin luster. Cedar accepts stains and finishes easily.

    Grades of Cedar from the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association range from Architect Clear — to be used when only the best will do — to Custom Clear — encompassing A & Better, B, C and D & Better S4S. Knotty grades include Architect Knotty and Custom Knotty, which is used as an economical choice when building knotty decks.

    Hardwoods, especially tropical hardwoods are popular due to their durability and long life span. Hardwood decks, when installed correctly, can be expected to last from 25 years to 50 year, depending upon the species and regular maintenance. Tropical hardwoods naturally resist mold & mildew, insect infestation, and fire. Strong and dense, tropical hardwoods can handle heavy foot traffic. They also do not shrink and expand extensively in changing temperatures and climates.

    Hardwoods can be more difficult to work with; dense, they do not cut as easily and may need predrilling for installation. Darker colors are hotter to bare feet. If natural fading colors are not desired, oil finishes must be applied to retain original colors. Hardwoods are more expensive than alternative wood decking materials.

    Tropical Hardwoods should be kiln-dried. Cut ends should be sealed with a oily wax sealant and butted to the next cut end during installation. Ventilation around the deck boards and underneath the surface is important when using hardwoods. While hardwoods absorb less moisture and will expand less than softwoods, space is needed between and underneath so the boards to not cup. 

        •  Ipé (pronounced e-pay) is the most popular of the tropical hardwood deck materials. A Brazilian wood, the color runs from dark brown to olive brown. It turns gray with    age.  Ipé does well in wet areas, such as around pools, Ipé is the densest of the tropical hardwoods and should be pre-drilled for screwing during installation. It is stronger and heavier than other hardwoods. . Available from some suppliers as pre-grooved or tongue and groove for installation with a hidden fastener system.

        •  Massaranduba is a Brazilian hardwood also known as Brazilian Redwood due to its dark brown color and straight grain. It is dense and strong, and works well in shaded areas as it will fade if not maintained. Available as tongue-and-groove or pre-grooved for installation with a hidden fastener system.

        •  Cumaru is called Brazilian teak for its warm golden to reddish brown coloration with dark grain accents, but is denser and stronger than teak. Cumaru is almost as hard and dense as Ipé.

        •  Garapa is a Brazilian hardwood with a yellow or amber coloring; known as Brazilian ash. It will gray over time, but the lighter color makes it less hot to bare feet. Regular maintenance should retain the natural yellow/amber coloring. Available in pre-grooved and tongue-and-groove boards for easier installation.

        •  Tigerwood is a Brazilian hardwood with light golden brown to reddish brown with dark brown streaks. Available from some suppliers as pre-grooved or tongue and groove for installation with a hidden fastener system

        •  Teak is one a fine choice for decking due to its natural oils, which eliminates the need for preservatives or sealants.

        •  Cambara is a South American mahogany with a light to medium brown coloration and course graining. While it looks like mahogany, it is harder and stronger than mahogany. Cambara can be stained or painted and should be regularly maintained for a long life. Cambara is not termite resistant. Available from some suppliers as pre-grooved or tongue and groove for installation with a hidden fastener system.

        •  Machiché is a tropical hardwood of reddish brown to dark brown hues with a large grain known as Caribbean Cherry and Black Cabbage. With a density similar to Ipé, it is easier to work with.  It will patina to a silvery tone naturally. Available from some suppliers as pre-grooved or tongue and groove for installation with a hidden fastener system.

    Composite decking is a product of combining wood fibers or recycled paper with recycled plastic. It will not splinter, warp, crack or peel. Due to the manufacturing process, the composite material will not attract termites. Low maintenance, it does not require much upkeep other than a sweeping and washing — be careful with powerwashers, though. If used on high, powerwashing may damage the surface of composite decks. Even though wood is contained in the product, these boards do not absorb significant amounts of moisture. Because they contain plastic, they will expand in high heat climates. The life expectancy on composite decks is at least 25 years.

    Colors range depending upon the manufacturer, and surfaces may be smooth or grained to look like wood. Colors fade, as with natural wood. A plastic surface may be applied over the composite to resist staining and scratching and to reduce facing.

    Profiles may be slotted or tongue-and-groove to assists in installation with hidden fastener systems. Boards are produced in several profiles, including scalloped, hollow, open flange, or textured both sides, smooth both sides or a combination of the above.  

    Each manufacturer will provide advice on installation systems. If boards are not slotted or flanged for installation, face screwing is recommended. Some manufacturers offer color-coordinated screws. Boards should be supported every 16-inches and space between board ends considered depending on the climate.

    Since these boards contain plastic, several types can be heated and curved to provide design considerations not available with wood products.

    Plastic deck boards are produced from pure plastic (PVC) with no wood fibers. PVC will not rot, stain or fade nor will it absorb moisture. PVC decking weighs about half of many composites. These boards can be installed at 24-inch joist spacing.  Plastic deck manufacturers may offer a lifetime warranty on the decking materials.

    Aluminum decks are created from powder-coated aluminum to reduce heat build-up on the material. Waterproof, stain and insect proof, the aluminum will not warp and is fireproof.

    Aluminum decks are installed gapless making them appropriate for second and third levels of a building as they do not leak and provide a waterproof area below.  Aluminum decks support 240 lbs per square foot live load so upper level decks are safer and snow loads will not damage them.

    Finishes have non-skid surfaces and are created in several colors, even wood grain designs. No painting or preservatives are required, making them maintenance free.

  • Cost Considerations

  • Material choice will be the biggest portion of the budget.

        •  Tropical hardwoods, especially Ipé, are more expensive than the other materials; Cumaru costs about 2/3 of Ipé with the other hardwoods falling in the middle of those two.

        •  Pressure treated deck boards are the least expensive of the choices.

        •  Cedar is cost effective with Redwood, but Redwood heartwood will be slightly higher in cost.

        •  Composite decking varies widely depending upon the manufacturer, the profile, and the color. The price of composite materials is more than the softwoods available and less than the tropical hardwoods.

        •  PVC decking costs more than Composites but less than Tropical hardwoods.

        •  Aluminum decking will be more expensive than softwoods but less than Composites, PVC or tropical hardwoods

    Maintenance should also be considered when looking at the budget:

        •  Composite, PVC and aluminum will need no or little maintenance. If the composites scratch, a sanding will remove scratches. Oily liquids should be wiped up immediately.

        •  Woods will need maintenance to maintain the beautiful colors. Scratches and stains can be removed by sanding. Penetrating oils will need to be applied every 2 to 3 years, or more frequently to retain the beauty of wood. If the deck is in full sun, annual application of preservatives will be necessary.

    Installation costs can increase depending upon the method used. Face screwing is the quickest, least expensive option, but will leave a rough edge. Hidden fastener systems add to the time for installation and the costs due to the price of the system.

        •  Ipé is so dense that predrilling of screw holes is necessary. These can then be plugged with matching material to make them invisible. Other tropical hardwoods are less dense but the price of the material suggests using a hidden system or plugging screw holes to maintain the beauty of the surface. Stainless steel screws should be used in tropical hardwoods.

        •  Cedar requires the use of stainless steel screws as other materials will stain the cedar. Screws should be one-third longer than those used in hardwood.

        •  Composite and PVC deck manufacturers will recommend specific installation systems. If face screwing, leave room from the edge of the board to eliminate damaging the edge face

        •  Aluminum decks are purchased with an installation system that permits the boards to hook into the next board, but an adhesive or sealant is required in the hook area to create a waterproof unit.

        •  Grooved or flanged boards will make using hidden fastener systems quicker and easier. These boards cost more to purchase, but save time in installation.

    Lifespan is a consideration. How long does the homeowner plan to live in the house and use the deck? Pressure treated decks may need replacing in 15 years; tropical hardwoods last from 25 to 50 years; Composites will last at least 25 years and PVC decks are warrantied for the lifetime of the owners… Read warranties.

    Designs in the deck, such as angling the floor boards or creating a medallion in the middle, will increase the cost due to time for installation and extra materials needed to create the designs.