Choosing the best materials for your deck

Adding a new deck to your home is a great investment and way to boost your home’s value. Traditionally, wood decks have been the go-to choice of material, but that has changed over the years. Now, with so many options available like composite and PCV, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Follow this guide for a breakdown of choosing the best decking materials.

Benefits of a new deck 

Installing a new deck may be a major project, but it guarantees to bring significant benefits. Adding functional living space to any home is always a smart project, especially for an outdoor space. By adding a deck, your home gains a new area to entertain, relax, cook, or just enjoy the outdoors. It can just as easily be designed to complement your home’s style and enhance how you use the home too.

As for value and ROI, decks boast high boosts and returns on both. According to Remodeling Magazine’s cost vs value report, a wood deck can recoup as much as 72% of the cost. Composite decks can recoup upwards of 67% of the cost. That means that your home’s value can go up by between $9,000 or $10,000 with a new deck.

Factors to consider first 

The deck materials you choose will play a major role in the cost and ROI of a deck, but most will easily recoup around 70% of their value. Before looking at materials there are a few other factors to consider. These may contribute to final costs breakdowns, but they’ll also help narrow down the final choice of material based on things like maintenance requirements and looks.

Budget and cost-effectiveness 

Any renovation or construction work will always start with creating a budget. Once you know your price range, it’ll be easier to narrow down your options. Part of budgeting for a deck specifically should also include factoring in any extra additions or features. These can include railings, pergolas for shade, or alternatively extra maintenance expenses. You should be prepared for the cost of and frequency of maintenance your new deck will require.

In addition to a budget, cost-effectiveness should also be carefully considered. If you choose a cheaper material that ends up costing more to repair or replace sooner, it’s not a good investment. Investing in something more expensive now, though, can save more in the long run. Remember, if you want to see a high ROI on your deck, consider the factors that will affect that. If you plan to sell down the road, choose a material you can enjoy now and benefit from later. If you are selling soon, though, choose a cost-effective material that also appeals to buyers. Once you know each material’s cost and value, it’ll be easier to choose the right type.

Maintenance 

How much care and upkeep do you want to have to put into your new deck? Do you mind a little work, or do you want a care-free material? This is all a matter of personal choice.

Wood decks are the most common type of material used, but they do require more maintenance. Depending on the type of wood you choose, that care will vary. For example, cedar decks can be left without a finish to allow them to slowly age to a gray colour. Other woods will need to be stained and refinished every few years, but that does give the option of choosing a new stain colour. Alternative materials, such as PVC, can look just as great, but without any maintenance.

Appearance 

The way your deck looks plays just as big a role in its value as the material you choose. Composite decking can be purchased in a range of colours, like brown, white, and grey, and still mimic the look of real wood with a wood grain texture. Different grades of real wood will have different styles and features. Higher grades are knot-free, some species have noticeable grain patterns, while others like redwood have prominent colouring. The busier the wood, the more traditional and aged design it will provide.

Cleaner and purer wood grades offer a more classic and sleek appearance. Before choosing a material based on its benefits alone, take the time to look at different styles. Look online to see what type of deck appeal to you the most. Take the time also to consider your own home, and what materials or colours are present. Then, you can either complement it with a similar style or contrast with something new.

Infographic - Choosing the best materials for your deck

Deck materials 

With the budget and considerations in mind, it’s time to discuss the materials. All decking material will fall into one of two categories: wood or alternative. Wood decks refer to a variety of different species that each offers their own styles and price ranges. The alternative category includes materials such as composite, aluminum, and PCV decking. Keep in mind that prices will also vary depending on whether the installation is DIYed or done by a professional.

Wood deck materials 

Wood is commonly used for decking, as it provides a traditional, warm appearance that many homeowners enjoy. Depending on the species, some wood will require more maintenance than others. These are among the most popular species for wood decks:

Pressure Treated Lumber

Pressure-treated lumber is usually pine, infused, or ‘pressure treated’ with a chemical that helps preserve the wood. The chemical can increase the lumber’s resistance to moisture, insects, and rot. This can extend the lifespan of your new deck. It’s widely used by homeowners due to its affordability, low maintenance, and appeal to DIYers. Unlike natural wood, it’s is easier to fasten with screws and cut.

Cost: Pressure-treated lumber is far less expensive than natural wood alternatives like cedar and redwood. It can cost around $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot. If you’re going with this option, avoid the cheapest varieties as they are typically more likely to warp and crack over time.

Maintenance: Pressure-treated wood does not require painting or staining to maintain it’s durability. That is only necessary if you wish to change the colour. Because of the chemical in the wood, some homeowners choose to apply a sealer to the surface to minimize exposure. Otherwise, all that is required to keep it looking good is a pressure wash at the start of the season.

Appearance: Pressure-treated lumber looks like normal wood. When it’s new and hasn’t been exposed to the sun and weather, it might have a slight green tint to it. That is the chemical in the wood. Like cedar and other natural woods, it will fade in time. If you wish to enhance its appearance, you can do so with staining or painting it.

Cedar 

Traditionally, cedar is a top choice among the best decking materials. It naturally resists moisture absorption so it won’t become warped or damaged. Insects, rot, and decay are also not problems, as cedar naturally resists these as well. With the right care and maintenance, cedar can easily last between 15–20 years.

Cost: The type of grading will determine what price range cedar falls into. High-grade cedar, without knots, is very popular but also the most expensive. Lower-grade cedar, ones with more knots, fall into the lower end of prices. Cedar decking ranges between $3.75 and $20.00+ per square foot, depending on the grade.

Maintenance: Thanks to its natural resistance, cedar needs relatively little maintenance. If you do not wish to stain it, it will fade into a silvery grey colour. Twice a year, ideally in spring and fall, take the time to clean and inspect the deck. Only use a power washer if you have a stronger grade of cedar; otherwise, it may cause damage. Instead, use a soapy water mix and regular garden hose to clean the deck. If the you have chosen to stain your cedar, and stain starts to fade, reapply a new coat every 3–4 years.

Appearance: Cedar decks are typically made from the common western red cedar, which boasts warm, earthy tones. Different cedar gradings will create a more rustic, traditional style, with more knots and grain patterns. Otherwise, knot-free cedar will offer a cleaner, more modern look. As mentioned, cedar will naturally fade to grey if it is not stained regularly.

Redwood 

Like cedar, redwood is another top contender when it comes to the best decking materials. Redwood also naturally produces tannins and oils that resist insects and prevents rot and decay. Even without any staining, redwood will continue to maintain its vibrant, red colouring. Most notably, though, it has a low shrink rating, so there is no risk of the wood splitting. A well-maintained redwood deck can last upwards of 30 years.

Cost: Depending on the redwood grade and its availability, the cost can range anywhere from $5.00 to $30.00 per square foot.

Maintenance: Redwood will need the same basic upkeep and care as cedar decks. Sweep off any debris or dirt to keep the redwood clean. An annual wash and scrub will further keep your deck clean and help maintain its appearance. Apply a finish every few years to help protect its colour and prevent any natural weather fading.

Appearance: As its name suggests, redwood offers a unique appearance that is different from any other wood species. Its colours can range from light browns to deep, rich reddish browns that many homeowners and buyers admire. Different grading will also affect the look of a redwood deck. Lower grades will have more streaks of sapwood and more knots, giving it a more natural look. Higher grading will be free of knots and made of robust heartwood, for a flawless, luxurious style.

Alternative deck materials

While wood offers a traditional and warm style, not all homeowners want high-maintenance decks. Instead, there are alternative decking materials that provide either low or no maintenance upkeep. Most materials can still resemble the look of wood, while other materials provide an eco-friendly alternative. Similar to wood, there are many available options for alternative materials.

PVC 

Polyvinyl chloride or PVC is a man-made material that uses only recycled materials. The biggest benefit of this is that there is no risk of any damage from moisture, mould, or mildew. Most PVC is also protected against stains and weathering, so it’s the perfect choice for care-free enjoyment. PVC can also easily last between 10-25 years.

Cost: PVC is generally a less expensive option than wood and will cost between $5 to $13 per square foot.

Maintenance: The only maintenance needed is optional cleaning or sweeping off any debris. A simple water wash with the garden hose or pressure washer will clear away any dirt, and annual inspections will help catch and prevent any damage.

Appearance: PVC can easily be customized with different colours and styles to complement any home. The most common appearance is to have it resemble the look of wood. It will, however, resemble higher-grade wood without knots and clean, tight grain patterns.

Composite 

Often compared to PVC, composite wood is one of the top contenders against real wood. Composite is a blend of wood fibres and recycled plastics, making it both eco-friendly and extremely durable. It resists everything from fading, scratching, rot, and warping as well as insects and splinters. For families with children or pets, this is the perfect material. As for its lifespan, composite can easily last between 25 to 30 years.

Cost: Composite does cost more than wood and other alternative materials, and ranges between $12 to $22 per square foot. Compared to real wood, though, composite can easily pay for itself in a few years as there are no maintenance costs.

Maintenance: Despite having wood fibres, composite decks only require minimal attention. Aside from a soapy wash and sweep now and again, there isn’t any other work needed.

Appearance: Thanks to the addition of wood fibres, composite is able to resemble wood more realistically than PVC. The colours can range from redwood’s earthy colours to the richer browns of Ipe or mahogany. You can also choose from colours like white and grey. Woodgrain patterns and even knots can also be added and customized for a more realistic design.

Aluminum 

Compared to other types of deck materials, aluminum is the lightest choice. Its lightness doesn’t compromise its durability, as it’s also one of the strongest materials. As a metal, there will never be any risk of warping, shrinking, mould, insects, or even rust. Aluminum is also completely water-resistant, so water damage or spills will never be an issue. Despite being a metal, aluminum is a fantastic thermal conductor, so you can still go barefoot in the summer without worry.

Cost: Depending on the material, aluminum can really range in cost. Around $7.00 to $20.00+ per square foot. Without any added maintenance expense and with its many benefits, though, aluminum is still a top contender.

Maintenance: Aluminum is one of the maintenance-free materials since it is resilient against most damage. The only work required is a basic sweep or wash now and again to keep it clean and ready for summer.

Appearance: Like most alternative materials, aluminum can be made to resemble the look of wood. Otherwise, it will look a little industrial. It is also readily customized in various colours and styles that easily complement any home design.

Added deck features

Aside from the materials used to build a deck, the same materials can be used for extra features. Railings, for example, are one of the most common deck additions and often required if the deck is a certain height off the ground. The best materials for railings are generally aluminum or wood. Both materials can be made to match your new deck or customized as focal features that draw the eye.

Pergolas, as well, are beautiful additions and ones that can provide shade in the summer months and a privacy wall can provide both shade and privacy if you live in a busy neighbourhood. Whatever features you choose to add, a good rule of thumb is to make it the same material as the deck. That way, not only will they match, but you already know what the costs will be, and any necessary maintenance.

DIY or pro 

If you have the right experience, time, and skill, a deck can be done as a DIY project. Otherwise, when it comes to ensuring quality and value, always hire a pro. You get the skills and guaranteed workmanship of a professional, but also their design help. A professional can help with factors such as where to build the deck or what added features would look best. They’ll also handle any necessary building permits and ensure your deck is built to local building code requirements.

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