Comparing Some of the Most Common Decking Materials; Pros, Cons and Average Price
A handful of our readers have been writing in asking about some previous decking posts we have on the site and some of the questions we are seeing are related to comparing pros, cons and average pricing of these materials. So, with the flow of questions, we figured we would try to provide some answers, via a post, of course!
Composite Decking Pros / Cons / Cost
Composite decking materials are decking materials made of a composite of wood and a variety of other products. They began to come into popularity in the 1990s, after some of the major defects of the composite materials had been worked out. The idea of using composites was to be able to retain the appearance of wood, without some of its less desirable properties. Composite decking materials require much less maintenance than pressure treated wood. The big advantage over wood is that they do not have to be regularly refinished or stained every few years. Composites eventually will show some deterioration due to rot, because they are, in part, wood. Another problem which may plague composite materials is that they are subject to mildew and mold, which is a concern particularly in wet or damp climates. Generally composite materials run about $2.50 per linear foot, about 2 ½ times the cost of pressure treated lumber. In order to assess the advantages and disadvantages of composite decking, you need to be informed of your alternatives.
Pressure Treated (Pine) Decking Pros / Cons / Cost
According to an article by Popular Mechanics, about 75% of all new decks are still made of pressure treated wood. “Pressure treated” wood is wood which has had preservatives infused into it through a variety of processes, to make it more resistant to natural deterioration, and pest infestation, and to make it fire retardant. There are about 25-30 different preservatives commonly used, and a number of processes of treating wood, but your local lumberyard or home improvement center will have a selection of the treated woods most suitable to your particular environment. Pressure treated pine is the least expensive building material, costing roughly $1.00 per linear foot. To prevent deterioration, it should be power washed annually, and retreated with preservatives or stains every two to three years.
Natural Wood/ Select Hardwoods Decking Pros / Cons / Cost
A second wood alternative would be to build a deck with natural wood. Pine, unless pressure treated, is too vulnerable to rot and infestation to make it a good alternative. Redwood and cedar, because they contain natural oils and tannins which make them more rot and pest resistant, also have a great appeal because of their natural beauty. Tropical hardwoods, such as cumaru, Philippine mahogany, red tauri, tigerwood ipe, and others are still another alternative. These woods are extremely durable and resistant to both rot and infestation, but they are so hard that it is almost impossible to drive a nail through them without drilling a hole in them first. They are also heavy and hard to work with. All natural woods will start to discolor to the characteristic “silver” of weathered wood if not treated with a stain. Redwood and Cedar, which are cheaper near where they are harvested, can run from $1.25 to $2.00 per linear foot, but can run more, depending upon the grade. Select hardwoods such as ipe can run as much as $4.00 to $5.00 per linear foot, and often must be special ordered.
Plastic or PVC Decking Pros / Cons / Cost
Plastic can now be made to look like wood, and is basically maintenance free. The new plastics are stain and scratch resistant, and won’t rot or mildew. Appearances tend to vary by manufacturer, so you would want to get all material from the same source. To date, plastic decking materials have tended to sag over time, as opposed to the other decking materials. Plastic decking material runs about $3.00 per linear foot. Some contractors also note that plastic can be difficult to work with, which may result in additional labor costs during installation.
Aluminum Decking Pros / Cons / Cost
Aluminum is the ultimate decking material if you are talking either durability or maintenance. Aluminum is impervious to rot, mildew, cracking, or warping. It will not catch on fire, and pest infestation is not a problem. It is lighter and stronger than most other materials and can be cut with regular carbide-tipped saws. The major drawback for aluminum decks is the cost. At roughly $9.00 per linear foot, it costs nine times as much as a pressure treated lumber deck.
Of the three lower cost alternatives, composite decking will probably continue to gain in popularity as technology produces even better composites. Pressure treated wood, although considerably less expensive initially, should be considered to be of roughly comparable cost, when maintenance and upkeep costs are factored in. If you are someone who will do your own maintenance, these costs can be reduced, but if you hire someone to wash and stain your deck at regular intervals, the maintenance costs of the pressure treated lumber will soon exceed that of the composite deck. Plastic, appears to have little advantage over composite until the problem of sagging is adequately addressed.