Deck Materials, Helping You Choose

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Photo Credit: Incase Designs

Last time I talked about decks I got wildly out of control, and nearly crashed my computer into a tree.  I regaled you with how to plan your deck for total neighbor envy and with many similarities to the grotto at a famous mansion.  For this–I apologize–but I will not apologize for my love of all home improvement projects that involve decks. This time I promise to be more brief so you don’t have to keep swapping windows before your boss catches you dreaming about your dream deck.  This time–I’ll cover (yes, yes, briefly editors!) decking materials.

Pressure Treated Lumber Pretty standard stuff–and probably the most used decking materials around.  It’s relatively cost effective, natural looking (sort of), and easily acquired.  What I like about pressure treated lumber is the cost.  You can use regular lumber for your framing members, but I definitely advise using PT lumber for most anything that will be exposed to the weather.  An easy way to help protect your non-treated framing members is to cut strips of an asphalt like roofing paper or a rubber-like roofing membrane and stapling them to the topsides of the framing members before screwing on the decking materials.  Downsides to this–is there will be some maintenance on the framing–eventually.  What I do not like about PT material is the chemical process used to make it.  While there is some debate as to what it can do to you–I can tell you from experience sawing, and using it can be nasty.  I recommend beyond a shadow of a doubt respiratory protection when working with this stuff.  Also–slivers and splinters should be removed immediately.  They can fester and get pretty ugly.

Composite Decking Material As long as this stuff has been out–there has been the back and forth about it.  It is touted as being green as most of it is made from recycled wood (roughly 50% or so) and other materials such as plastic bags, and other landfilling stuff.  The argument is that the energy cost to produce it negates the recycled content.  I do not know, and do not pretend to know which side of the argument is correct.  I do know that a lot of composite decking materials make for really nice looking finished decks.  Some composite decking also needs a bit more framing as it cannot span as far as PT or natural wood.  I also know that it can be cost prohibitive to a lot of people as it is up to three times more expensive than natural wood.  Any sawing or fastening mistakes such as a wiggle or gouge will show up on this material a lot more so than wood.  Composite decking also is virtually maintenance free.  Once it’s down–all that will really occur to it is some fading from the sun–but any material is going to do that.  Composite decking also seems to have a bit more expansion than PT material and natural woods I have used.  Something to consider–but again–it all depends on your tastes, and your idea of what is acceptable maintenance, and what is not.  I personally like composite materials–if nothing else for the finish look it gives you.

Natural Wood There is no denying that natural wood is a great decking material choice.  However, maintenance has be done with it–and there are some ecological and social concerns when choosing a natural wood.  For instance–some wood is not as sustainable as others–but still logged and milled for markets that use the wood.  However, one can make a good informed choice regarding  natural wood that resists weather and sun.  From a carpenter’s stand point natural wood is the easiest/safest to work with.  Natural wood is just that–thus eliminating any of the chemical process that happens with Pressure treated lumber, and isn’t synthetic like the composites–a consideration if your home is one that is surrounded with natural elements.  Many naturally sided homes look absolutely smashing with a complementing natural wood deck, and conversely synthetically sided or roofed homes can look weird with a natural wood deck.

In the end–what fits your tastes and your budget is what will carry the day.  I’ve built a lot of decks out of all three materials, and can find numerous pros and cons with each.  I’ve really got to get going now before the editors cut m–

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5 thoughts on “Deck Materials, Helping You Choose”

  1. Todays PT wood just isnt what it use to be yrs ago. It seems to have way to much moisture content in it. They say its dried down to 19% but dont beleive it. The stuff is soaked when you get it. The shrinkage is much more than the old days also.

    Composites are ok and expensive but look nice. One of the problems with composite is it adds more weight to the floor joist. If your floor joist are at there max lenght span you may get deflecton on the joist with composite. Lowes sells Choice Dek. They thought the product out pretty good. On the underside of the decking there are radius channels that help reduce the weight of the product. Pricing is much cheaper that Trex or Azek.

    Azek has a cool product for flat roof top application. There composite pavers that lock into a rubber matt system that allows for drainage. They even have pavers for walks and driveways. I not sure how hot they get in the sun.

  2. Hi Evan! Thanks for the link. Good points to be sure. In the end it will be what you decide will look/feel the best. Cedar and Composites are a toss up in my opinion. As a carpenter, I would choose the cedar, but that is just my building preference. We carpenters just build it–and let you homeowners do the maintenance.


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