A well-planned deck can be an essential link when uniting your home’s interior and exterior spaces. Whether you’re looking to create big ideas on a small budget or simply resurface your existing deck, we’ve got you covered with the basics of common decking materials.
To get started, keep in mind that all decking material can be classified into two broad categories: wood and wood alternatives.
The most common decking material is lumber, but almost all alternatives still resemble wood in their finish. Depending on the type, real wood can add rustic authenticity or modern elegance to your outdoor space.
Although properties vary between trees and their lumber, there are a few generalized pros and cons when using wood for your deck:
- Resisted slips best in a wet and dry friction test
- Wide range of prices
- Maintains rigidity well
- Can fade, crack, or stain without upkeep
- More susceptible to sun damage
This is the cheapest and most popular material for decking. Pressure-treatment uses chemicals to block moisture and insects from causing decay, usually used with Southern yellow pine and fir trees.
Treated wood lasts around 15 years. Because the chemicals used are highly corrosive, stainless steel fasteners will support your deck for longer. Also take note that pressure-treated wood should never be burned due to toxic fumes released in the heat.
These woods are naturally dense and durable. Their heavy weight, deep hues, and resistance to infestation and decay rack up prices, but they last around 25 years. If your deck will reside in direct sunlight, stick to lighter colors to avoid scorching your feet on sunny days.
Examples of tropical hardwoods include:
Composite materials are made from a blend of recycled materials like plastic and wood fibers. They do not splinter or require staining or painting, but they are heavier and usually cost more than wood. A few things to keep in mind about composite decking:
- Minimal maintenance
- Weather resistant
- Design flexibility
- More sustainable than authentic wood
- Can be prone to mildew
- Less stiff than wood
- Increased movement from temperature change
Boards come in several different forms. For instance, some composite materials have double-sided texture (the same on both sides). This makes for easy installation with less opportunity for error. Another option boasts a “reversible” style—different textures on each side. You can get creative with these and use them for design, or just enjoy the ability to switch things up when you’re ready.
Finally, some composite decking has grooves on the underside. This reduces the weight of the material and makes room for hidden fasteners, smoothing the surface for a clean finished product.
Plastic remains splinter-free and requires minimal maintenance. It’s about three times the cost of natural wood, but it has many benefits unique to plastic.
- Resists rot in high humidity
- Lightweight (about 50% of the weight of wood-composite)
- Design flexibility
- Slip-resistant even when wet
- Looks less like wood than composite
- Needs special fasteners
Two popular types of plastic decking material are PVC and polystyrene. PVC boards often have hollow channels inside to stiffen them, and some also have rubber strips to reduce squeakiness. Screws are hidden beneath the surface for a tidy look. Polystyrene is light and sturdy and looks more like real wood than most plastic decking materials.
 “Decking Buying Guide”. Consumer Reports, March 2017. www.consumerreports.org
 “Decking Materials”. This Old House. www.thisoldhouse.com
 “Decking Materials 101”. Better Homes & Gardens. www.bhg.com
 “Comparing Deck Materials: Wood, Wood-Composite, PVC”. The Spruce. www.thespruce.com