If you’ve decided to have a wood deck installed in your backyard, chances are you’ve been surprised at just how many different options there are for the type of wood decking you can use.
Recent years have seen some positive developments in the quality of a composite deck and a plastic deck—but are they really better than the real thing?
To give you an idea of what we’ll be comparing against, let’s take a few minutes and discuss some of the more common types of wood decks used in residential projects.
Popular on the west coast but used country-wide, redwood is known for its longevity and beauty.
Although when it comes in contact with moisture or even concrete it can create a deteriorating process so it is recommended to use pressure-treated material for framing and support. If properly maintained by keeping a good weather sealant/stain it can last for many years.
Cedar is standard species used for many kinds of decking and construction projects. It has many of the same characteristics Redwood and as such needs the pressure-treated pine for the framing as well as the weather sealant.
Ipe, tigerwood decking and red balau woods, from the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Brazil, have become popular in recent years due to their extreme durability and density and are a great choice for a deck.
The tropical hardwoods probably have the best longevity of all woods. With the heavy density weather sealant is not required unless you don’t mind reapplying about every six months. Relatively affordable considering these types of wood are imported.
Probably one of the most affordable, this type of wood has been treated with a chemical preservative to stave off rot, fungi, and pests and therefore has a great longevity.
You must maintain a good weather sealant/stain applied as needed to keep the appearance up on a pressure-treated deck. It also helps to minimize warping as well as checking.
There was once a time when any serious homeowner or contractor would shy away from composite decking—however, composite decking has made substantial improvements over the past few years, resulting in less fungal buildup, much slower decomposition, more longevity as well as a reduction in price.
Composite wood is made up of wood particles and plastic. The plastic is usually polyethylene, and may or may not be recycled, depending on the manufacturer. Certain brands of composite deck boards are hollow and therefore understandably cheaper but are generally not as strong or sturdy as solid composite boards.
Another consideration is that composite wood can get quite hot if the temperature outdoor gets high enough—as it does here in Dallas, Texas due to the plastic components of the material retaining heat. This heat can be lessened to some degree by the color of the composite wood.
The lighter the wood color the less heat it will retain. It’s still doubtful that anyone would want to walk around barefoot on a composite deck in the middle of August.
Composite decking performs quite well in very humid areas, of which there are a few in our region. The plastic isn’t quite as prone to the absorption of moisture as 100% wooden decking which can possibly lead to a longer lifespan.
Plastic decking has been touted as being low or maintenance free—however, this isn’t necessarily true. As both composite and plastic decking will require a good cleaning at least once a year in order to prevent color fading.
Technically the deck would likely remain functional, but it sure wouldn’t be pretty if left unmaintained. Recent technology in the formula used for plastic or otherwise known as PVC has minimized the effects the sun can have on this material.
The cost of decking, either wood or composite varies quite a bit depending on the quality, brand, grade and type, but it’s safe to say that in most cases, composite materials are not necessarily cheaper than “real” woods. In the low to middle end of the spectrum, composite woods might be a little higher.
To give you an example of the price variances, a pressure-treated wood deck might cost as little as $10 per square foot, whereas a very high-end composite deck could run upwards of $40 per square foot. Ultimately, which material you choose for your decking will depend on preference and budget.
More and more homeowners are choosing to have their outdoor decks constructed with exotic, tropical, imported woods. This isn’t just a stylistic choice either—in many cases, these woods offer a lot of functional benefits in addition to a unique, aesthetically appealing look.
Two such woods are ipe and red balau. Let’s explore each wood and discuss why you might want to use one or the other for your outdoor wood deck.
Ipe (pronounced “Ee-pay”) has become quite popular in the past ten or so years, and for good reason. It’s a tropical hardwood from the rainforests of Brazil, and ipe decks have garnered so much attention stateside as a result of its beautiful appearance and extreme functionality.
The wood is very, very dense, and therefore it can last much longer than standard wood types when properly treated.
To give you an idea of how incredibly hard ipe wood decking is, the pieces will often come pre-grooved for hidden fasteners before your contractor installs the deck. While technically an exaggeration, the wood has often been compared to steel and called ironwood.
There are some other benefits of having an ipe deck to consider as well:
Red balau, comes from the tropical rainforests in Malaysia and is another very dense wood that’s become popular in recent years due to its extreme durability and attractive price.
Red balau is often compared to teak with the exception that balau is much cheaper and much more durable. Balau is often used in projects which require wood to be resistant to water, like bridges or watercraft ramps and boat docks.
Since red balau is a naturally oily wood, it must be properly sealed with oil, otherwise it can dry out and/or absorb spills quite easily. Modern sealants do a good job of protecting the wood but when the wood density it needs to be reapplied often. Red balau decking construction is a great option for homeowners looking to extend their living to the outdoors.
Also like ipe, properly sealed balau is highly resistant to scratching and scuffing. The density of the wood also helps prevent infestations from wood pests, weather damage, and mold.
Decking made of balau also offers homeowners a considerable range of appearance options, as the color of the wood can range from a pale off white to a dark brown, depending on species. The grain is generally coarse and beautiful when finished.
Even though ipe and red balau woods are both imported and shipped in from Brazil and Southeast Asia, respectively these woods are surprisingly affordable. Homeowners looking to improve the value of their property with an affordable investment should be aware that installing an outdoor wood deck is one of the most cost effective ways of raising a home’s value, not to mention it provides an added extension to the outdoors.
High density woods are becoming more popular for their longevity, strength, and comparatively low-maintenance needs. Replacing properly treated ipe or balau as a result of pests or weather damage is practically unheard of.
Whether you decide to go with ipe or balau for your outdoor decking project is largely a matter of preference and current wood pricing. Either of these fine imported tropical woods will serve as an excellent long-term investment into the value of your home.
In the past decade or so, advancements have significantly improved the quality of composite decking, yielding a material that is stronger, longer-lasting, and less prone to warping, deterioration, and other common problems associated with outdoor wooden construction.
Composite decking is generally made from the combination of wood and plastic (hence composite). The wood is usually sourced from lumber byproducts such as wood chips, fibers, and sawdust. The plastics used are often recycled polyethylenes (but not always—you’ll have to confirm with the product manufacturer).
Producers of composite decking take the wood and the plastic products and heat them up, at which point coloring and a preservative agent are added to the “wood soup.” Finally, the mixture is poured into casts to form boards. Once it hardens, the composite decking is ready to be shipped to your local supplier.
Composite decking has become a popular choice for outdoor decks as a result of its durability and resistance to weathering. Composite woods are also more resistant to moisture, making them a great choice for humid areas or as decking for above ground pools.
There are two kinds of composite decking: hollow and solid. Hollow decking isn’t as popular as solid decking, as it tends to look less realistic and isn’t as sturdy as its counterpart, but it does carry the benefit of being less prone to temperature and moisture related expansion and contraction.
Solid composite decking can contract and expand more, but is generally more durable and strong. Which type you choose is largely dependent upon the intended use of the deck and the temperature conditions where you live.
The aesthetic appeal of composite wood has also substantially improved over the years—while a trained eye might still be able to spot it, as it’s not a perfect 1:1 replica of “real” wood, composite wood can often look very natural and pleasing.
A wide variety of grains, colors, and other options are available to homeowners—matching composite wood to the already-existing wood in your home is generally a fairly easy process.
Most composite decking comes with a fairly long warranty—as this material is designed to last quite a long time—but homeowners should be aware that in order to take advantage of the warranty, the deck has to be built according to the manufacturers directions.
Hiring a professional deck builder ensures that your warranty will be valid for years to come.
Composite wood can also be used for parts of your outdoor deck other than the deck itself; for example, suppose you had your deck built out of Trex composite decking. Trex also makes railing out of composite wood, meaning that your entire project can remain uniform.
As a final note, composite decking does require maintenance, though this maintenance is generally considered a bit less intensive than natural wood requires. Typically, composite decking must be cleaned at least once per year.
In addition to its improvements over the past few years, the cost of composite decking has also become much more affordable.
However, a common misconception is that composite decking is significantly cheaper than “real” wood—while this can be true, it isn’t always the case. Just like natural woods, the price of composite decking will vary based on quality and type.
Whether you decide to build your deck using composite decking or natural wood decking, you can expect to find prices similar to each other which offer different benefits—therefore, the smart move will be to base your purchase on the intended use of the deck (e.g., an above ground pool deck may benefit from composite wood’s resistance to moisture).
Maybe you have found yourself wishing that your home was just a little bit bigger? There are a lot of advantages to having more space in your home. The extra room can be more accommodating to your guests, serve as a new place to spend time with your family, or it can simply give you a great place for reading a book and relaxing.
But adding on a new room to your house can often invite more trouble than it’s worth. For one, it can easily approach the realm of being cost prohibitive. The addition of a room can take time, and during that time you’ll have construction workers, dust, messes and noise to contend with.
These are just a few of the many reasons why so many homeowners opt to have an outdoor deck installed onto their home – it’s considerably cheaper, faster, and generally results in a lot more usable space than a single room can offer.
To hire a deck builder for construction of a patio deck on your home provides you with more than just a simple extension to the outdoors, although for most of us that’s the main selling point. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as getting some fresh air while checking your email on your laptop or phone.
A deck gives you a lot of new ways you can use your home:
It’s pretty rare for a homeowner to see an improvement pay for itself by the time they sell their home, but outdoor decking has long been one of the most cost effective ways a homeowner can raise the value of his or her home without breaking their wallets or taking an inordinate amount of time to do it, as deck builders are generally very affordable to hire.
In 2007, Remodeling Magazine had a feature called “Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report for 2007.” It sounds a bit dry, but perk up your ears if you’re considering installing a deck on your home as the article showed that in most cases over 85% of the cost of installing an outdoor deck was recouped by homeowners when they decided to sell their house.
This is quite an improvement over, say, bathroom remodeling (78% recouped) or the comparatively low 69% return seen on room additions. If you’re looking for a way to raise the value of your home, a deck is one of the smartest options at your disposal.
One of the primary concerns for homeowners considering installing a deck on their home is, fortunately, one that can be assuaged relatively easily as outdoor decks don’t require an intensive amount of maintenance and in most cases and homeowners can usually handle things on their own.
If you have a wooden deck installed, the biggest maintenance activity you’d have to undertake is ensuring that the deck doesn’t go neglected for years at a time—generally, this means nothing more difficult than cleaning the deck and reapplying a wood sealant to protect against weathering.
A homeowner might begin deck maintenance by clearing away any plants, furniture, or other items from the deck before giving it a good power wash (power washing units can be rented quite cheaply).
After the deck has been washed, a sealant is applied. Most of these sealants are designed to be safe and environmentally friendly.
For most homeowners, this is a process which demands no more than a single afternoon once every one or two years.