Deciding to add a deck onto your home is exciting, but can also be overwhelming given the number of building materials available to homeowners today. From PVC decking to aluminum and composite boards made from recycled materials, there are truly a wealth of options if you’re interested in building a deck. None have the charm and warmth of natural wood, however.
While wood is the preferred form of decking for millions of consumers across the United States, it’s not the perfect material for outdoor use. In this guide, we are going to talk about the pros and cons of the most popular types of wood used for deck building, and let you know what to expect when it comes to pricing as well.
Wood Decking Pros and Cons
Before we delve into domestic and exotic hardwoods, it’s time to take a minute and talk about the pros and cons of wooden decking as a whole. While we feel there are far more advantages than disadvantages to using wood for decking, there are a few factors every homeowner should be aware of.
Wooden Decking Pros
No matter how good manufacturers get at producing synthetic decking that resembles wood, there is no mistaking it for the real thing. Natural wood, regardless of the species, allows your deck to blend in with the outdoors instead of standing out due to its plastic nature. While inconsequential in the cooler months, wooden decking also remains cooler underfoot in the summer.
When compared to composite decking or PVC, wooden deck boards can be considerably cheaper. Some species like IPE, Redwood, and Teak can be just as costly, however. Pressure-treated pine and domestic species are the most affordable, and any type of wood gives you unlimited possibilities when it comes to the design and style of your deck.
Natural wood can be stained, sealed, or painted, and there are hundreds of hues to choose from. It can also be coated with rubberized plastic to make it waterproof or capped with a protective vinyl-coated for additional protection. While you can stain or paint composites, it’s not as easy, and wood allows you to change the color of your deck every few years when it’s time for heavy maintenance.
The last wood decking pro we want to talk about is the fact it’s an environmentally-friendly building material. Trees are a renewable resource, and wood is recyclable as well. With that in mind, if you want to ensure your decking is green, you’ll want to source your lumber from a company that uses responsible harvesting practices and look for FSC certified wood.
Wooden Decking Cons
The advantages of wooden decking may make choosing natural timber seem like an easy choice. Well, it is unless you are concerned about maintenance or want a deck that can potentially outlive the rest of your home.
There are a variety of stains and sealants that can protect your deck from the sun and elements with UV inhibitors other chemicals. No matter how expensive the product is, Mother Nature will have her way eventually. That means wooden decks require resealing or staining every 2-3 years, depending on the conditions in your area.
Wooden decking won’t last as long as aluminum decking, and unless you opt for an exotic species, it won’t outlast high-quality capped composite boards either. Over time, water and weather can cause wood to splinter, warp, crack, and fade, which isn’t an issue when your decking is made from synthetic materials.
The Best Type of Wood for Outdoor Decks
In this part of our guide, we are going to discuss the most popular types of wood used in decking today. While there are a few notable exceptions from our list, we chose the species below because of their availably and resistance to the outdoors. Technically, any type of wood will work for a deck when properly treated, but these species excel in the elements where others falter.
Redwood deck board can range from pinkish to reddish-brown in color, which makes an interesting option outdoors when covered with a clear sealant. The wood has excellent dimensional stability and hails from the largest trees on earth, which can reach heights of around 400 feet.
As it’s a domestic species, redwood decking can be relatively easy to obtain in certain parts of the United States. It’s lightweight and easy to work with as well, although not nearly as hard as exotic species. The domestic wood most comparable to Redwood for decking would be Cedar, which you can read more about here.
Cumaru is a species that’s native to South America. Also known as Brazilian Teak, this species is a hardwood that ranks towards the top of the Janka scale. In its natural form, this wood has gold and red hues that can run from a reddish-brown to golden. It’s referred to as Brazilian Teak as well and sometimes marketed and sold as “Teak” by unscrupulous deck dealers.
The closest wood to compare it to would be IPE, another species that hails from South America. This exotic wood is one of the more affordable options if you’re interested in exotic lumber, and is also an excellent choice for hardwood flooring. Cumaru is more affordable than IPE and can also be easier to acquire domestically.
When you want a natural wood that stands out from the pack and is just as exotic as it looks, you can’t go wrong with Tigerwood. This durable hardwood is known for its streaked appearance, which is stunning outdoors. It also weathers well and doesn’t fade out because of UV rays as quickly as other tropical woods.
Tigerwood comes from two regions as Lovoa trichilioides, otherwise known as African Walnut, is found in areas of Africa. Goncalo alves comes from trees grown in Brazil, where it’s often referred to as Brazilian Koa. Decking dealers may not give the species of their Tigerwood decking, but it can impact the price and availability to a degree.
Genuine Mahogany wood comes from the Swietenia genus of trees, which are found in various tropical regions worldwide. While the family consists of well over 600 species, only a few types of Mahogany are commonly used in the hardwood flooring and decking industries.
As a whole, high-quality Mahogany is easy to work with and has excellent dimensional stability. Boards aren’t as prone to warping and only experience small seasonal changes compared to other type of timber. Sapele wood is in the same family, but denser, darker, and more challenging to work with.
Santos Mahogany, Luan Mahogany and Mountain Mahogany are are names used in the decking and flooring as well but are not actually true Mahogany. Real Mahogany is not used in decking for a variety of reasons, including cost and the fact it’s illegal to export from certain countries. When a deck manufacturer refers to their wood as “Mahogany,” it’s likely from the Shorea family or a similar species.
Wood Decking Comparison
While there are other species suitable for decking, the woods we chose are considered among the best for outdoor use. In this comparison, we are going to compare these species against one another in several key areas like durability, insect resistance, price, and eco-friendliness.
Cumaru or Brazilian Teak is an incredibly durable type of hardwood that ranks high on the Janka scale with a rating of around 3,500. There are only three common woods ahead of it in Curupay and Brazilian Walnut. It is the most durable species on our list from that standpoint, with the Mahogany coming in second at 2,500 to 2,200 depending on the species.
Tigerwood or Brazilian Koa is a bit softer with a rating of 2,160. The closest domestic species is Hickory at 1,820, as Redwood is considered a softwood. Both Redwood and Cedar are ranked towards the lower end of the Janka scale below common species like Oak, Maple, Cherry, and Walnut. Durability is important when choosing a species of wood for your decking, but it can also make it difficult to work with.
When it comes to weather resistance, Cumaru is the leader due in part to its overall durability and the density of the wood. It can repel termites and other wood-boring insects with ease, although it won’t keep its color very long without some protection from the sun.
Redwood is incredibly resilient outdoors as well and has natural fire resistance. The wood is softer but dimensionally stable, so it won’t warp, splinter, or crack easily. It has excellent resistance to insects as well, but will also turn a silvery grey if not routinely sealed or coated. That’s common with any type of wood when exposed to prolonged sunlight, but has a more dramatic effect on some species.
As a Brazilian hardwood, Tigerwood is another exotic species that’s geared towards the outdoors. This dense wood isn’t quite as hardy as Cumaru or IPE but does well against termites, rot, and other factors that would do a domestic species in. As you’d expect, Mahogany is also resistant to the elements because of its tropical nature, but may not do as well against certain types of insects.
The Green Factor
This is where things get complicated for many consumers, especially if you are partial to exotic wood like Mahogany or Tigerwood. Wood is an eco-friendly building product, but only when it sourced and harvested responsibly. In other words, some species are greener than others, and anything considered exotic may come with some stipulations.
Cumaru is considered a safe wood, as it isn’t endangered or on the CITES index. The same goes for Tigerwood, which naturally occurs in a variety of regions from Mexico to the Congo. Redwood may be grown on the west coast of the United States, but it is considered vulnerable because of deforestation in the past and has made an appearance on the IUCN Red List. It’s still available, however, unlike authentic Mahogany.
Authentic Cuban Mahogany has been banned from export since 1946, so you will not find decking made from this type of timber unless it’s on a pre-existing deck that’s close to 50 years old and already attached to your home. It’s an endangered species, whereas Luan Mahogany and other look-alike species are far easier to acquire and legal to obtain.
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Wood Decking Cost and Availability
Wood may be cheaper than PVC decking or composite deck boards, but you will have to pay a premium for some exotic species. Others may be challenging to impossible to find, depending on where you are located and the budget for your decking project. As you can see from our chart, decking prices vary wildly online, and those prices don’t take into account potential shipping charges.
Mahogany decking, in any form, was the hardest for us to track down and also has the widest price range. Redwood was is easy to acquire and surprisingly affordable if you live on the west coast and don’t need Select grade lumber with grooved sides. Tigerwood can be found on both coasts online and locally for a reasonable price as well.
Cumaru, aka Brazilian Teak, is by far the cheapest and easiest wood to use for decking from our list. We were able to find some locally, and there are a number of reputable companies that sell and ship their deck boards online. While it’s still more expensive than pressure-treated decking, it’s the best all-around option of these four materials when cost and availability is a concern.