By Tim Slamans of Slamans Construction June 30, 2015
Here are the pros and cons of natural wood versus man-made composites for deck materials.
Right before spring starts, my company always gets a lot of calls from homeowners about building new decks. When the conversation comes to the question of what materials to use, it comes down to one question: wood or composite?
The first thing to know about choosing a deck material is that all decks use treated lumber for the framing, which is the structural part of the deck that you don’t usually see unless you’re underneath it. So the decision process usually involves only the materials that will make up the decking surface and railings.
Natural vs. composite decking materials
You have two main categories of deck materials to choose from: natural wood or manmade products – but there are lots of options within each of these categories. The most popular wood products are treated lumber and cedar. Other species of wood such as redwood and hardwoods like Ipe, jutoba and tigerwood are also used on decks, but not nearly as often. Manmade deck material products include composites, PVC and vinyl from manufacturers such as Trex, Fiberon, Timber Tech and Azek.
The majority of decks built today are made of wood. The main reason people choose wood is for the initial cost savings. The main reason people choose composite or manmade deck materials is for the low maintenance required.
So what deck material is best for you? There are numerous factors to evaluate before making a decision. You’ll need to ask questions like: How will the deck be used? Is it in a shaded area or a sunny one? How long do you plan to live in your home? Do you plan on doing your own deck maintenance or hiring a company to do it for you? As you can see, the questions are endless. Like most deck builders, I can’t recommend the right deck material without talking to you and answering these questions first.
Factoring in wood maintenance costs
Although the installation price for a composite is definitely going to be more than wood, the actual cost over time is a good deal closer. This is because wood decks require more maintenance. If you’re willing to do the resealing and repairs yourself, a wood deck will still be cheaper, but if you’re going to hire someone then it would be worthwhile to factor that future cost into your decision at the time when the deck is being installed.
Let’s say the same size treated lumber or cedar deck mentioned above costs $700 to stain the first year. You’ll need to stain it every two years thereafter. A stripping and sanding will be required every six years before you perform the annual deck stain, which will cost about $900 total.
If you’re maintaining your wood deck properly and hiring professionals to do so, I’d say that by the end of year eleven you will have spent more than $4,600 on maintenance, and you’ll still have a wood deck that may crack or splinter, whereas a deck with manmade materials will require little regular maintenance.
Although I tend to recommend composite decks, you need to decide for yourself what fits best for your home and situation. The best way to do that is to talk with a knowledgeable deck building professional that can ask you the right questions and help you make the best decision. Just be honest with yourself from the start about whether you’re going to do the maintenance yourself.