by Ken Muellers
In recent years, the options available for deck materials have changed on many fronts. Some materials have become available in our new global markets, a few have become scarce from overharvesting, some have been banned for environmental concerns and still others have been created by science. So here is an overview of some of the current choices for outdoor decks.
Pressure treated lumber, which consists of softwood (usually southern yellow pine) impregnated with chemicals to render it more rot and insect resistant, is one of the cheapest options. Lumber treated with CCA has been banned for residential use since 2004 and has been replaced by other options such as ACQ and CA treated lumber. Due to its less attractive appearance and concerns about chemicals, many deck builders reserve this material for the understructure of the deck where it will not come in contact with users.
This leaves three other categories of materials for the deck surface: softwoods (such as cedar or redwood), hardwoods (such as mahogany or ipe) and composites (ChoiceDek, Evergrain, Timbertech, Trex, Veranda or Weatherbest to name just a few brands).
The softwoods have been popular for years for their beauty, natural rot and insect resistance and their workability. Unfortunately, due to this popularity, the availability of quality lumber at a reasonable price has diminished over recent years. This, along with long term maintenance concerns, has led many to look at other options.
Use of hardwoods for decking has been growing in recent years as international sources of materials have become competitive with domestic softwood prices. Hardwoods offer durability and unmatched beauty; however, installation is more difficult due to the inherent hardness of the wood which makes it virtually impossible to hammer a nail into.
As with any natural material, some long-term maintenance is required. For this reason, many choose composite deck materials over real wood.
Composites typically are made from plastics mixed with wood fibers to provide the durability of plastic along with the positive properties of wood. Some of these composites are made of recycled materials which appeal to the environmentally minded. They come in a variety of colors and offer different surface patterns, most designed to create the appearance of real wood. Because composites are manufactured, they are available in greater lengths than natural wood, are splinter-free and are virtually free of imperfections. One slight drawback is that they may become hotter in the sun than natural wood.
Another surface material that is gaining popularity is outdoor porcelain pavers that look like wood. If you are planning a deck at grade (not raised above the ground), this is a good option because you will not have to worry about the understructure rotting out since it is set on concrete.
Whether you prefer the classic beauty of softwood, the elegance of hardwoods, the durability of composites or an at-grade porcelain paver deck, make sure that the deck area you build is designed with function in mind, so you get the most out of your investment. After all, no one wants to play with half a deck.