Best Decking Material Review 2015

Best Decking Material for Your Deck; Compare Composite Decks vs Wood Decks

by / Wednesday, 29 January 2014 / Published in Decks, Remodeling, Remodeling Tips & Advice, Top Rated Post

Compare The Best Decking Material


Oftentimes the most difficult decision to make when building a deck is which decking material is the best to use.  The prices from the cheapest to the most expensive decking material is; pressure treated decks, cedar decks, composite decks, PVC decks, Ipe decks.  Composite decks and PVC decks are quickly becoming more popular than traditional decks due mostly because of their low maintenance requirements.  There are several options to consider when choosing the best material for your new deck.  Let’s explore each of your decking options in detail…


Are Pressure Treated Wood Decks The Best Decking Material?

Traditional pressure treated lumber decks are the most economical decking selection and until recently have been the most widely built decks.  The lumber is made from pine wood that goes through a special chemical treatment process to help make the wood withstand the outdoor elements.  With proper maintenance a treated lumber deck can remain looking beautiful for over 15 years.

Pressure treated decks are a good choice if you are willing to properly maintain the deck.

Some people prefer the look of natural wood.  Compared to composite or PCV which mimic the look of natural wood. Treated lumber is a real natural wood so it has that genuine look.

There are several advantages of treated lumber beyond it just being the most economical option.  Although it requires to be sanded and stained every other year, this gives the homeowner the opportunity of selecting a new stain color each year.  With Azek decks or composite decks, whatever color you choose will have to remain that color for the lifetime of the deck.  If you paint your house a new color and wanted to match the deck with your house trim, this is no problem with a treated lumber deck.

A drawback to a treated lumber deck is the required intensive maintenance necessary to keeping the deck looking its best and withstand the harsh weather elements over time.  Most homeowners neglect their deck’s maintenance needs which causes rapid deterioration and ultimately the need to replace the deck.

Another drawback is that pressure treated lumber will inevitably split, twist, warp, and not lay flat on the deck framing.  Nothing really can be done to combat this problem.  The reason that these issues arise is because new treated lumber is full of moisture and over time the deckboards begin to lose moisture and the deckboards begin to shrink at different rates.  Direct sunlight is another killer of pressure treated wood decks.

If you are looking for an economical deck and can be committed to deck maintenance then go with a pressure treated deck.  A ballpark price to construct a treated lumber deck is around $20/ square foot.  But there are many variables and designs options that could make this price fluctuate.

Are Ipe Decks The Best Decking Material?

Ipe is the Lamborghini of decking material.  It is imported from Brazil and easily out performs domestic wood species in every category.  Ipe (pronounced e-pay) is undoubtedly the superior decking selection. Ipe is the only natural decking material that is rated to last over 35 years.  Ipe is also known as Ironwood because of its density and superior strength.  All grades are virtually knot-free, and ipe’s tight grain patterns make this wood impervious to water.  Ipe is so dense that no insects even bother to try to penetrate the wood.

When choosing a contractor to build your new Ipe deck, you want to make sure that they have experience working with this species of wood.  Ipe is actually so strong that it is unlike working with any other decking material.  Special techniques are required when working with Ipe. The same saw blade that could last building several traditional decks would dull only after an afternoon of cutting the dense ipe wood.  So not only is the material more expense, the labor is more expensive as well.

Build your decking using ipe if you want the ultimate deck.  You will not be disappointed with ipe.  Although you might be disappointed in the high cost.  A ballpark price to construct an ipe deck is around $50-$60/ square foot.  But there are many variables and designs options that can make this price fluctuate.

Ipe is the Lamborghini of decking material.

Are Cedar Decks The Best Decking Material?

Before the birth of composite and PVC decking, cedar decks used to be the high-end decking option.  Cedar decks share some of the same qualities as treated lumber decks.  However Cedar has a natural resistance to insects and fungus.  Cedar decks are much more aesthetically pleasing compared to treated wood decks.  Nonetheless, without the proper maintenance, over time the elements can take its toll on cedar just like pressure treated decks.

Cedar decking is very beautiful but also very hard to maintain.

Moisture and sunlight are the two worst enemies of your deck.  Although nothing can be done about the sunlight, cedar does not readily absorb moisture.  Moisture is what creates decks to warp and split, so cedar decks often lay more flat and uniform compared to pressure treated lumber decks.

Hidden fasteners can also be used on cedar decks.  These are fasteners where no screws are visible through the face of decking.  Pressure treated decks contain too much moisture and movement for hidden fasteners.

Another major advantage of cedar over treated lumber is that it is a better looking species of wood.  A clearcoat can be applied to a cedar deck and the natural beauty of the wood will really stand out.

Some people prefer the look of natural wood.  Compared to composite or PCV which mimic the look of natural wood. Cedar decks provide the look feel and smell of natural wood. 

If you are looking for a moderately priced deck and enjoy the look of natural wood then a cedar deck is your best decking selection.  Redwood decks are also very comparable to cedar decks.  But Cedar is more readily available in most areas in the US.  A ballpark price to have a contractor construct a cedar or redwood deck is around $25-$35/ square foot.  But there are many variables and designs options that can make this price fluctuate.

Are Composite Wood Decks The Best Decking Material?

Composite decking is a relatively new material and homeowners around the country are moving toward this new low maintenance deck.  Although composite decks carry a greater upfront cost compared to traditional wood decks, the composite deck pays dividends each year by never requiring any sanding or staining.  Decks are meant to be a relaxing, enjoyable space in your home, not an extra headache that takes up your valuable time trying to keep up with proper maintenance.

Furthermore, composite decks resist cracking, warping, splintering, rotting, mold and fungus. Composite decks are child friendly! No more worrying about children getting splinters or being exposed to chemicals that are found in some traditional decks.

There are numerous color choices available for your composite deck.  It will be easy to get the perfect color that fits your home.  And that color will last for many years without ever having to stain it.

Composite decking is also a green material.  It is made out of recycled wood fibers and recycled plastic.  Your new composite deck will be promoting a healthier environment and no new trees will have to be cut down to provide your decking material.

If you are looking for a low maintenance deck and can afford to spend the extra money then composite may be your best selection.  But beware, not all composites are created equal.  When it comes to composite material, you definitely pay for what you get.  A ballpark price to have contractor construct a composite deck is around $30-40/ square foot.  But there are many variables and designs options that can make this price fluctuate.

Composite decks are low maintenance but remember that all composite decking brands are not created equal!

Is Azek PVC Decking The Best Decking Material?

Azek brand PVC decking is my personal favorite decking material.  Azek is less expensive compared to Ipe but share some of its strong characteristics.  Azek decks often get confused with composite decks but they are actually constructed out of PVC.  As a synthetic decking material Azek decking shares some similar qualities to composite decking.  But Azek is better than regular composite decks.

With Azek decking there is no back-breaking work necessary.  Simply enjoy your deck!

The advantages of Azek decking versus composite decking is that Azek decking is scratch resistance, stain resistance, and it is a stronger material.  Azek Deck Boards have been engineered to withstand heavy deck usage.

Even spilled wine, fruit punch, and hamburger grease are no match for Azek deck’s stain resistance.  And since Azek Decks are scratch resistant, you won’t have to worry about marks from patio furniture or pets.

If price is less of an issue and you desire the most durable synthetic deck, then Azek decking may be your best selection.  A ballpark price to have contractor construct an Azek deck is around $40-$55/ square foot.  But there are many variables and designs options that can make this price fluctuate.

According to Remodeling magazine “Cost vs. Value Report,” you’ll get back nearly 75 percent of what you pay for a deck if you sell your home within the first year after the deck is built.   So whatever decking material you use, it will be a wise investment that you can enjoy over the years.

Hopefully this deck comparing guide will assist you in choosing the best decking material. Visit our deck photo gallery if you want to view more pictures of the different types of decks. Please leave your comments below letting us know which decking material you chose.

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9 Responses to “Best Decking Material for Your Deck; Compare Composite Decks vs Wood Decks”

  1. Jeff says : Reply

    Great post, what would you recommend to endure the brutal Wisconsin winters?

    • Jeff Bowles says : Reply

      Jeff, the key to making sure your deck will withstand Milwaukee area winters is requiring your deck footings to be at least 4’ deep. This ensures that your deck structure is below the level where frost can reach. So when the ground begins to thaw in the spring your deck will remain structurally sound.

  2. Kathy says : Reply

    I need to replace my current pressure treated deck and I am somewhat on a budget. If I want to spend about an extra $2,200 I could get the Azek decking but with pressure treated rails, aluminum round balusters, and the top rail would be the Azek decking board also. But I am not sure how the pressure treated rail would look with the PVC decking. Or, save the extra $2,200 (for another home project) and just have an all pressure treated new deck again but with round aluminum balusters instead. I am not totally decided on aluminum balusters yet; I may have matching wood balusters.

    • Jeff Bowles says : Reply

      Kathy, the most venerable areas on any deck are the decking and the top-rail. So you would be in great shape if you choose to use Azek for the decking and top-rail. Honestly the pressure treated rails with the Azek decking may not look as good as all Azek but that obviously comes with a premium price. I would lean towards Azek decking, Azek top-rails, pressure treated handrails (or maybe even cedar handrails), and metal balusters. If you later decide you do not like the look, you will still be able to reuse the pressure treated post to accept the Azek sleeve. And you will also be able to reuse the metal balusters if you decide to later go with all Azek. Azek is so much better than pressure treated lumber that I would advice against building another treated wood deck. Keep us posted on how your project goes and feel free to ask another question.

  3. Kathy says : Reply

    Great advice! You mentioned that Azek decking, Azek top-rails, pressure treated handrails (or maybe cedar handrails). Are you referring to “top-rails” as the top of the rails going around the deck and the pressure-treated handrails for the steps? My deck doesn’t need handrails for the step since it is really low to the ground. I know I was told that it doesn’t even need a railing but the current deck has it and I like the definition it creates in the yard with the patio furniture in it.

    Can the pressure treated posts and rails (not the top Azek flat rail) be painted later? Such as I would like the posts white possibly. I may go with white aluminum balusters. I like black, but I have a 6′ white vinyl fence surrounding my backyard already and maybe white balusters would match the fence. My patio furniture is black, but I think black against black would not make the black furniture stand out well.

    Another question please. My rails currently are straight on top all the way around the deck. I am considering posts with small caps for a different look. Since the posts are going to be pressure treated, it should be fine to put other caps on them (like from the Deckorators website). Any suggestions for the proper cap on pressure-treated wood posts, or any would be fine?

    Also, do the fasteners show on the Azek decking?

    Any suggestions for the fascia to keep out small animals (rabbits and other similar sized animals)? One side of the deck is about 13″ off the ground and the other is about 7″ off the ground. I was thinking having to install square lattice there, or side-by-side slats with some space in between, or stack larger rocks to the bottom of the deck to fill in the space all the way around.

    Thank you.

  4. Zachary says : Reply

    Hello Jeff,
    After reading your overview of various decking materials, i.e. comparing wood to composite or PVC decking, and the pros and cons of each, I would specifically like to know how you compare Ipe (which you call “the Lamborghini of decking”) to AZEK PVC decking, which you stated is your personal favorite decking material, and that “AZEK is less expensive than Ipe but shares some of its strong characteristics”. Does this mean that if cost was not the overriding factor that you would choose Ipe over AZEK, or would you choose AZEK either way, or if one could obtain Ipe for the same price (or less) than AZEK would you choose Ipe? You also did not mention anything about what if any maintenance Ipe decking requires as compared to AZEK which obviously is a huge factor over the longterm. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts as we are trying to decide on the best decking material for a 16′ x 30′ deck in Clinton, CT. Thank you very much.

  5. Wood Man says : Reply

    I have few hundred of feet of decking that wraps around our house, which we bought 2 yrs ago. Above the deck floor (which is PT wood) is all cedar. The vertical members are solid, the horizontal members all have to be replaced. Most of the board footage is top rail and there are 3 sitting areas (built in seats). In my last home, I replaced all the top rail with Trex (15 yrs ago). It was wonderful stuff. The deck was out in the open and therefore didn’t suffer from any of the problems Trex had with mildew. We live in upstate NY.

    What I’m wondering is…what is your best advice on a composite or manufactured material I can use for the top rail? Currently it is all 1″ X 6″ dimensionally. I have to replace about 180 board feet. My biggest concern is that most composite decking today (I used 1″ X 6″ Trex decking before) has a nasty end profile- so that it would look rather silly on the ends of all the top rails to have a decking profile. The Trex I used before was solid and looked terrific and was easy to install, requiring no end coping or reverse back cutting and fitting of end pieces.

    Please give me your thoughts.
    Wood Man

  6. Len says : Reply

    I love the look of the “composite deck with personality”. Is that really a composite material? I didn’t see a brand or style. Would you please give any additional information on the Manufacturer, style, color,etc. Thanks for your help !!

  7. Wood Deck of course. Being in the wood processing industry for more than 15 years now, have seen wood performing far more better than composite material. And today we have option of engineered hardwood, sustainable environment-friendly solution to all other decking options.

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