Decks come in many shapes and forms from small patios big enough for a few people to relax on along with second-story decks that can handle your whole family. While size is important, so is the material your deck is made from. You may think traditional wood decking is the best choice for you, but there could be better options available depending on the climate in your area and your overall needs.
Wood, Plastic or Metal?
There are several styles of decking available on the market today, but it all comes down to three basic materials with wood, plastic, and metal. Before you can decide which material is best suited for your region, you first need to understand a little more about the materials themselves.
There are a few types of metal decking options commonly used, but only one style is typically found on homes. That would be aluminum decking, and it’s the only material that can outlast you… and your home when properly taken care of.
Aluminum decks are stiff, but still lightweight and won’t flex underfoot like plastic or composite boards. It also provides better slip resistance than any other material aside from natural wood and powder coated aluminum can resist fading and scratches with the best of them.
Are you worried about termites and rot? Well, that’s not an issue with metal, and aluminum can even be recycled if you decide to move to a different style of decking later on. It’s also one of the easier forms of decking to install due to the way it’s designed although we still recommend hiring a pro unless you are extremely handy with tools.
Aluminum Decking Cons
While the pros of aluminum decking may sound great, it definitely is not the best choice for everyone. It’s more expensive than other types of decking and can be triple the price of cedar or even composite decking. If your budget is not a concern, the overall style and the way it feels could be.
You won’t mistake aluminum decking for wood, and it certainly feels different underfoot. It’s what we would call an acquired taste although it’s arguably the best all-around decking when durability, slippage, and weathering is a concern. Color selection can also be an issue as you won’t have nearly the selection of hues, so we hope you like off-whites and greyish tones.
Best suited for…
Aluminum decking is one of the best options for wet climates. That means pool decking or states that receive a lot of rain seasonally are all year long. We’re looking at you Seattle. It’s also perfect for upper deck as there are interlocking products that are watertight with built-in channels to direct the rain instead of letting it drip. Cold climates are an option as well considering it won’t contract and expand like other materials. If you’re on the fence about aluminum decking but it’s in your price range, this guide may help clear things up.
The next alternative decking material is PVC or plastic planks, which are sturdier than they sound. While they can’t hold a candle to aluminum or wood in that regard, they offer some interesting advantages that make it an excellent choice for homeowners. Like most decking, there are a several styles of PVC decking available, but the main thing you will need to remember is capped vs. uncapped considering capped boards offer an extra layer of protection.
While PVC isn’t as hard as Jatoba or even domestic Oak, capped products can keep your decks from fading for several decades. Uncapped boards handle UV rays better than wood as well, but the former tends to offer better slip resistance. As there are no organic materials in PVC boards, they won’t rot, splinter or split and they will never need to be refinished or stained. Scratch-resistance is top-notch, but again, capped products are a better choice in that regard as well.
PVC Decking Cons
PVC decking options are fairly expensive, and the best products are only a few dollars cheaper per square foot than aluminum planks. That said, there are budget-friendly products if you are willing to go uncapped. Your color options are also limited as well, so you need to consider a shade carefully considering you can’t change the look of these decks.
Aside from the price, the biggest disadvantage to PVC decking is the fact it can sag or feel spongy under your feet. It can’t handle weight like other materials, and while textured caps help, it does not resemble wood. It can also get very hot in the summertime compared to aluminum or wood, can be slippery and is harder to work with and install than other styles of decking. If you want to know a little more about PVC decking, be sure to check out our guide which touches on brands, reviews, and PVC pricing.
Best suited for…
Do you have large dogs? If so, PVC decking is a great choice due to its scratch and stain resistance. You won’t have to worry about accidents on your deck, and their nails aren’t going to gouge or beat up the plastic. PVC decking is best for wet areas as it can come in contact with water, but you’ll want to keep slippage in mind. It’s also the perfect choice for consumers that deal with a lot of UV rays and want something that is extremely easy to clean.
Things are pretty clear cut when you are dealing with aluminum or PVC decking, but composites tend to complicate things. A composite deck board is largely made of plastic but uses real wood by-products in the mix including sawdust. That means there is a small amount of organic material in this style of decking, so it looks and feels more like wood than capped PVC.
Advantages of composite decking far outweigh the negatives as it doesn’t need to be refinished and can be cleaned and maintained easier than regular wood. It has some weight to it which means you will get more stability from these boards, and newer generations of this product have excellent warranties that can run between 25 – 50 years.
Composite decking comes in more colors than aluminum or PVC, and there are multiple price points ranging from premium to the budget class. Regular boards resist stain and UV rays well, but a capped product that’s covered on all sides increases its resiliency considerably. Alternatively, a scalloped 3-sided board is extremely cheap which makes composites an attractive option when your budget is tight.
You can work with composite decking just like traditional wood, so it’s one of the easier materials from a DIY standpoint. Slip resistance is solid with premium textured boards, and you can find finishing techniques similar to what you’ll see with hardwood flooring.
Composite Decking Cons
Boards made from a mix of wood and plastic are heavier than pine or cedar planks and will cost a bit more as well regardless of the grade. Like with PVC, with most products, you’re stuck with the original color, so you can’t strip and change the color of your decking like you can with wood. Mildew and moisture can also be a concern if you don’t buy a capped product and live in wet areas or plan to use it around a pool.
Best suited for…
This versatile decking option can be used in almost any climate including California and the Pacific Northwest where the weather can take a toll on wooden decking. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or effort keeping these decks clean, and it’s the closest thing you can get to real wood without the serious drawbacks. You can find out more about composites and their price ranges in our Ultimate Decking Guide.
When you want something traditional, wood is the only option that should be on your radar. It was the top option for decades before composites came along, and is still a great all-around choice today as well. It offers consumers more variety in terms of species and colors than any other deck and is the only form that allows you to switch up your style on a whim.
Whether you’ve dreamed of a wooden deck that looks like Ebony or prefer Pink, you can have it if you choose wood. Wood can be stained or painted to match any color in the rainbow, or you can simply coat it with some clear protection and enjoy its natural luster. Softer woods like Pressure-treated Pine, Cedar, and Redwood, are extremely cheap compared to aluminum or PVC and nothing can replicate the feel and warmth it adds to your home.
If you are concerned about durability, scratches, and dings, tropical hardwoods like IPE are also an option. While Brazilian Walnut decking can be more expensive than a solid composite, there are other exotic alternatives like Tigerwood as well. While all are pricier than domestic species, the trade-off could be well worth it as some are naturally resistant to insects and decay.
Wood Decking Cons
As much as we love wood, the weather can be hard on it. Sun will fade it, and moisture can get into the planks and cause them to swell or crack. Have you ever gotten a splinter in your foot? Well, that’s bound to happen with a wood deck eventually unless you keep it in tip-top shape.
The overall cost of maintaining a wooden deck is higher than any other type of decking material, and you may spend a lot of time cleaning your decking of the course of its 20 – 50 years lifespan. As it’s organic, some species can quickly rot or become fodder for carpenter bees and other insects if not properly treated.
Best suited for….
We feel wood is best suited for people that don’t mind maintenance and want something that brings depth and warmth to the outdoors. Simply put, there is no material that looks more natural than a wooden deck, and the ability to change the color is a huge bonus most consumers overlook. Wood is obviously not ideal if you live in a swampy area, but some woods like IPE are perfect deserts or wet area and can even handle the heat from wildfires due to their density.
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