Choosing the Right Deck Material

Planning to build a new deck in 2019? You may be wondering how long it will last and which material to choose. While there are less sustainable materials available – composites and synthetics – they are not great for the environment and not easily recyclable. Natural woods, on the other hand, are beautiful and enhance outdoor living.

Longevity also depends on the site and elements: how low to the ground the wood sits; how much sunlight, rain, snow and air circulation the deck may be exposed to year after year. Maintenance is another consideration that affects the life of a deck. Longevity is also affected by unforeseen extreme circumstances such as hurricanes, tornados, fire or falling trees.

While synthetics and composite decks may be lower maintenance, most are not considered sustainable in the environmental sense.

Recommended sustainable materials:

Ipe (pronounced ee-pay)

  • Brazilian hardwood that starts out as a rich brown and weathers to gray
  • Insect and rot resistant; more fire resistant than other woods
  • Durability – life expectancy of an ipe deck is more than 25 years
  • Use Ipe certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Price per square foot is fairly expensive at around $5.80 per square foot. Installation costs are also around 50% higher because the wood is so dense – holes have to be pre-drilled due to the density of the wood and we go through many blades and drill bits.

We installed this mahogany deck that will last for years.

Mahogany

  • Most varieties of mahogany are richly colored browns
  • Insect and rot resistant
  • Durability – life expectancy of a mahogany deck is 25-40 years
  • Highly sustainable wood
  • Mahogany tends to be one of the more expensive deck materials per square foot at around $4.75.
  • We’ve built many decks out of mahogany including the “Low Rider” project and “A Place to Swing

Cedar

  • Warm colored wood that weathers to gray
  • Durability – Untreated Red Cedar decking will last 10-15 years; treated cedar can last 15-20 years
  • Although cedar is naturally insect resistant, the resistance is enhanced by staining or treating the wood
  • Cedar is fairly soft and deck furniture can scratch it
  • Price per square foot is approximately $6.60
  • Untreated cedar is highly sustainable

Teak

  • Fades to gray over time
  • Natural oils are insect resistant
  • Durability – maintained teak decks can last up to 40 years (teak is often used on boat decks as well)
  • Easy to clean and maintain but requires maintenance (sealing)
  • Price per square foot is comparable to cedar as well as composite decking

We replaced an insect infested deck with PVC because it was so close to the ground. In this case, moisture trapped moisture under the low deck made PVC the best choice.

A word about Pressure Treated Woods

Pressure treated woods are created using chemicals and a variety of wood grades – not all are created equal, so buyer beware. Higher grade woods are a better investment because they will shrink and warp less. PT decking may cost less than natural woods like cedar, ipe, mahogany and teak, but because there are some chemicals involved in the treatment of the wood, it is less sustainable and environmentally friendly. However, modern PT is a better “green” choice than composite and synthetic decks.

The “Bad Guys” on the Block: Wood-Plastic Composite and PVC

Of course, despite the benefits of wood, many people are still interested in wood-plastic composite (WPC), such as Timber Tech which is made of a combination of wood fibers and plastic or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) decking. These products are prized for their low maintenance—they need to be cleaned but not oiled. Honestly, we’re not fans of either material as neither are environmentally friendly. In fact, although PVC is more toxic when manufactured, we could also make the argument that it’s worse to use a wood-plastic composite because it can’t be separated out and recycled. The moral of the story: we recommend wood – which also tends to be a lot cooler underfoot than plastic decking which has been known to burn toes.

Last word

Our favorite deck material: mahogany. It looks gorgeous, lasts a very long time, and can stand up to our Boston area winters. And when you finish, or refinish your deck, we recommend using Verde to finish natural wood products. It’s a sustainable wood finish that is natural and safe around kids/pets.

Although we clearly suggest using wood decking, it’s not the environmental choice if you know in your heart that you won’t maintain it.  If it isn’t maintained and needs to be replaced in a few years, wood isn’t a sustainable choice. In that case, it may be worth considering composites or PVC.

In the end, well-constructed decks made of natural wood that have sunlight, good air flow and are maintained properly will last a generation or more. They are a solid investment that will add to your home’s value and your family’s enjoyment.

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