Essential Decking Material Elements to Consider

We all want a beautiful deck to enjoy being outdoors, but the decking we choose will affect our enjoyment. First, understanding the most common decking material options available, along with what each of them has to offer in enhancing our deck. Once you understand their strengths and weaknesses, you will know which one is best for you.

When selecting from the many decking material options, we must consider Initial cost, heat retention, maintenance and durability. Decking material varies in these qualities, affects our level of enjoyment.

Let’s begin with decking options and then examine what areas they are strongest and weakest at. Just buying what your neighbour has or what you saw in the last flyer will leave you disappointed. Knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.

Types of decking

Pressure Treated Decking

The most common decking material used in North America installed as 2×6 or 5/4×5.5 decking. The 5/4 decking often comes with a radius edge profile, providing a smooth round edge. Comparing decking costs, pressure-treated is an economical option. Requiring regular staining to extend life its life, add to the overall cost of the deck over its lifetime. With a Life expectancy of 8-10 years if not regularly stained but with proper care can last 15-20 years. I have even heard people claiming 50 years, but I think they are confusing it for incised PWF lumber, which does not make good decking.

Since 2004 treated with Alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) or copper azole (CA), which prevents wood rot and insects. It also turns the wood a beautiful brown which I quite enjoy. Life expectancy is depended on the volume of treatment. For non-ground contact decking, ACQ is 0.15 and CA 0.6. Higher levels are more resistant to both rot and insects.

Cedar Decking

Cedar a very popular decking material coming in 2×6 and 5/4”x5.5 decking material. Cedar is loved for its natural wood look and rot-resistant qualities. During initial installation and after the rain has a beautiful aromatic smell.

“If you Love Wood, this is the decking for you.”

Its natural rot-resistant is often overplayed, but expect cedar decking to last 15-20 years, increasing with annual staining and maintenance. Costing about one and half times as pressure-treated decking but still more than half the price of capped composite decking.

Capped Composite Decking

Not the most popular decking option out there but rapidly becoming so. Sold on its maintenance-free aspect. Made of wood fibres and recycled plastic, capped with protective plastic. Earlier versions were not capped, leading to product failure. Currently capped composite is both durable and beautiful.

Composite decking coming a long way in the last few years, improving in both appearance and use. Capping has the appearance of wood decking while increasing tractionOpens in a new tab. from earlier versions. Trex and TimberTechOpens in a new tab., the leading manufacturers of composite decking both, start with 25-year warranties.  TimberTech goes as far as 50 years with its Azek line. All these advantages do not come cheap. Prices vary from models and manufacture but expect to pay six times as much as 5/4 pressure treated decking.

PVC Decking

PVC is the next generation of extruded decking, with increase promise of low maintenance and life expectancy. Made entirely of plastic with no added wood fibres compared to composite decking. Stain-resistant with no risk of swelling of wood fibres off cut ends.

One of the advantages of PVC over composite decking is greater heat dissipation along with better UV protection. The PVC core making the decking just a little cooler, a general complaint with synthetic decking. If you plan to go barefoot on your deck, this is something to consider.

Pricing wise PVC decking will be around seven times the price of Pressure treated Decking. Making PVC initial price makes it one of the more costly decking available.

These are the four most common residential decking materials, Pressure-treated, Cedar, Capped composite and PVC. Not so common, but we should also mention Ipe and Aluminum decking.

Ipe (“ee-pay”) Brazilian Walnut Decking

A natural decking material coming in a range of light chocolate brown to olive. To maintain these beautiful colours, require annual oil treatment. A very dense wood with oil barely penetrating the surface, but it can be left to grey without any treatment while still lasting 70 years.

A very stable decking material not prone to warping when properly acclimatized and installed. Installation requires experienced professionals as the wood is hard to work with, requiring pre-drilling for all screws or grooved decking for hidden fasteners.

A famous place where Ipe decking was used is Coney Island Boardwalk in New York, lasting over 70 years, and then the decking was reclaimed for other wood projects. Durability is Ipe’s most enduring feature. As for lasting decking, it is hard to compete with Ipe’s 70 years Life expectancy.

Ipe’s density also is of value regarding insect resistance. Ipe has been buried for 15 years and suffering no termite damage. The risk of fire is low as it’s Rated Class A fire rating, the same as concrete or steel. It will last in any environment.

Extremely durable but still with a low heat retention rating. Ipe decking allows you to walk barefoot in the summer heat without burning your feet.

Ipe’s durability, beauty and comfort does come at a price. Ipe’s decking is roughly eight times the price of pressure-treated decking. It will last much longer than other decking but at a higher initial price.

If you would like to learn more about Ipe decking, here is a link to Floor CriticsOpens in a new tab., which has a very informative article.

Aluminum Decking

Often used around water, aluminum decking is a long-lasting, low maintenance decking. It is resistant to mould, mildew and staining all while not rotting cracking or peeling. It is one durable deck.

Most aluminum decking comes with a non-skid texture allowing excellent traction. The aluminum decking bonus feature is it stay relevantly cool even on those hot summer days — an excellent barefoot decking, cool with built-in traction.

Appearance-wise aluminum is lacking. Its industrial appearance is not for everyone. It may last, but will you enjoy looking at it for all those years? It also comes with a big initial price tag, costing over nine times the price of pressure-treated decking.

Areas of Comparison

Initial Cost

What’s it’s going to cost me? The second most important decking question after deck use. Regardless of what we like and enjoy, if we can’t pay for it, then it is all irrelevant. 

These numbers are strictly focused on the decking, not the substructure below. The substructure is critically important but makes comparison a little more complicated as decking material dictate adjustments in the substructure. For example, capped composite decking with scallops will require reduced joist spacing to compensate for lower structural strength of the decking. Also, I would recommend with higher-end decking lasting 25 or more years; additional steps be taken to ensure that the joist substructure will also last — additional steps costing additional time and money.

Decking Material Cost for 500 Sq.Ft of Decking Decking Cost per Sq.Ft
5/4 Pressure-Treated $830-1 015 $1.66-2.03
5/4 Cedar $1 438-1 757 $2.88-3.52
Timber Tech Terrain $4 152-5 074 $8.30-10.15
Timber Tech Transend $5 710-6 979 $11.42-13.96
Timber Tech Legacy $6 174-7 546 $12.35-15.09
Azek PVC $5 868-7 172 $11.74-14.34
5/4 Ipe $6 401-7 823 $12.80-15.64
Aluminum $7 647-9 347 $15.30-18.70

Disclaimer: Of course, where you source your material and season will affect pricing. This chart is to give you a meaningful comparison of decking material. These are all in Canadian dollars, sourced from Canadian suppliers.

Pressure-Treated and Cedar Decking Lowes.caOpens in a new tab.

Composite, PVC and Ipe decking Decks TorontoOpens in a new tab.

Aluminum decking Craft BiltOpens in a new tab.

When you are shopping for decking, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. I provided three different levels of the capped composite to show how even within a brand, there are large differences in pricing. Solid versus scallop in composite decking also affecting pricing, pay attention when comparing. Decking requiring joist 12” o.c. is not the same as one only requiring 16” o.c., it may appear cheaper but may not be.

The grading level is important with wood decking; wood is not all the same. With specialty wood, for example, Cedar, even the store makes a difference. Most Big Box stores I would never source cedar decking from regardless of price, they don’t store it correctly, often warping and twisting before arriving on site. Compare with an eye for quality. 

 Heat Retention of Decking Material

All decking will get hot in the summer, but which will be more comfortable? Or what I like to call the barefoot decking test, which deck will you stroll across in the heat of the summer? Which one will you dance and run, feet burning under you?

Strictly temperature retention, aluminum decking is the coolest to stroll barefoot over in the heat of summer. PVC deckingOpens in a new tab. will leave you running and dancing with the bottom of your feet burning.

Looking for cool wood decking, go with Ipe, simplest the lowest heat retention of all wood decking, almost as cool as aluminum. Cedar and pressure-treated decking are roughly the same, a little warmer than Ipe but still cooler than PVC or composite.

Maintenance of Decking Material

What will it take to keep your beautiful deck? How does decking material affect maintenance?  First of all, there are no such things as a “maintenance free deck” all decks need regular care to enjoy.

“treat like a kitchen floor.”

Mark Lotz

Do you wipe up spills, sweep and wash your kitchen floor regularly? The same maintenance needs to be done with your deck. Different decking material will respond in different ways to use, but all need to be cleaned regularly. In particular, when sweeping, regardless of decking used, built-up of dirt and gunk between decking on the joist needs to be removed. Sweep your deck, including between decking boards regularly. A clean deck will be enjoyed for many more years.

All decking regards less of material needs to be swept clean regularly along with washing of the decking every spring or as required spring. Be careful with a pressure washer; high-pressure water can damage decking, especial softwoods. Trex recommends staying under 3 100 psi for composite, for wood unless your staining, stay below 600 psi. I would recommend for all decking to stay under 600 psi, safe for your decking, but strong enough to remove dirt. Most decking can be cleaned simply with a garden house and broom.

When most people think of deck maintenance, they think of staining and sealing; this varies by decking. Natural softwood requires annual staining and sealing. Capped Composite, PVC and Aluminum decking only require spot wiping after spills and annually cleaning but should never be stained.

Cedar is included in natural softwood, which should be stained regularly. Yes, heartwood cedar naturally decays less and is resistant to insects, but annual sealing will help increase cedars’ life, along with keeping its natural beauty. You could let it grey and not seal it, but you will enjoy your cedar more and longer with regularly sealing of the decking.

Ipe is an interesting one concerning sealing. With Ipe decking, you need to choose which direction you want to go. If you want to keep the vibrant wood colours, you need to oil seal annually. Sealing will not extend the life of Ipe decking but will enhance its wood beauty. If not sealed, it will slowly lose its colour but without rot or deterioration. Simply your call, grey or wood look.

Wood Decking Staining Cost

Only wood decking will have regular maintenance costs, as they need to be stained regularly to extend life. Every region and company differs in cost to sand, stain and seal decking. Home AdvisorOpens in a new tab. gives us an average of $2.20 to $3.82 per square foot. Staining a 500 square foot deck will cost between $1 100 and $1 910 if you hire someone to do it. If you do the work yourself, a five-gallon bucket of sealer will cost between $100-200 depending on the brand and a weekend of your time.

Annually staining will keep your deck in the best condition, but with a better quality stain, you may be able to skip a year. A simple water test will let you know. If you sprinkle water on the decking and it beads, the wood is still sealedOpens in a new tab.. If the decking absorbs the water, get out the sander and brush, it needs to be resealed.

Roughly resealing a 500 square foot wood deck annually for twenty years will cost between $22-38 220 if you hire someone. If you stain the deck yourself, $2 000-4 000 for stain, brushes and twenty weekends, a quality stain may reduce this cost by skipping years, possibly reducing cost up to a half.

As you can see, if you’re not into sanding and sealing yourself, you will save time and money investing in low maintenance decking like composite. Even if the decking initially costs seven times more within three to five years, you will start saving money. Paying someone annually to seal your decking will add up quickly.

Decking Material Scratch Resistance

Oh, the pain, your beautiful decking ruined with a scratch running across it. Checking your shoes for rocks and lifting chairs will help prevent deck scratchesOpens in a new tab.. The decking will also affect the extent of damage depending on the density of the material. Cedar is one of the softest decking material. Drag your fingernail along cedar decking will leave a mark. Ipe is almost impenetrable, being the second hardest wood in the world. Pressure-treated pine is more scratch-resistant than cedar but nowhere close to Ipe.

On the Jenka ScaleOpens in a new tab. for decking material scratch resistance, there isn’t really a competition. Ipe hands down is the most scratch-resistant wood decking.

Decking Material Pounds Force
Western Red Cedar 350
Pine (Pressure Treated) 690
Ipe 3680

For Composite and PVC decking, hard numbers are not as easy to find. The quality of the capping makes the difference in scratch resistance. In short, the harder the cap, the less they will scratch. As Joe Heilman, owner of Heilman Renovations has found the brand makes a difference.

“Trex is #1 for scratch resistance.”

Joe HeilmanOpens in a new tab.

Repairing decking scratches will differ between material. With wood decking, sanding and resealing will remove most minor scratches. Often best done with your annual spring cleaning and sealing. Capped composite and PVC scratches can be removed with heat when correctly applied to the scratch. Best done when you discover the scratch, allowing the material memory to heal your decking before the material is rubbed off.

Aluminum decking can scratch easily. Similar treatment as wood decking is required to repair, sand out the scratch and repaint, except your dealing with metal, not wood.

“aluminum isn’t a very hard metal and can be scratched fairly easily.”

Alex WensleyOpens in a new tab.

If you are worried about scratching your decking Ipe is your best choice for scratch resistance. Quality Capped composite are a good option being fairly durable. With Pressure-Treated and Cedar decking, plan to sand out scratches ever spring when you seal it, and it will look good for years.

Decking Resistance to Damage

What decking will hold up best under pressure and the impact of dropping items? Similar results as scratching, but with the focus on imprints left behind from heavy planters, chairs and dropping plates.

The biggest difference in results is PVC and composite decking. With their soft synthetic cores crush easily and distort with low pressure compared to other decking material. The strongest is aluminum decking, with phenomenal crushing strength. Next, no surprise is Ipe decking. Treated Pine has about three-quarters of the compression strength of Ipe. Cedar decking requiring a third of the pressure of Ipe to crush.

Decking Material Crushing Strength in PSI
Trex Select CompositeOpens in a new tab. 1 558 Design strength 540
Western Red Cedar 4 560
Pressure-Treated Pine 7 750
Ipe 13 010
AluminumOpens in a new tab. 76 900

Source for Wood DeckingOpens in a new tab.

Another question to ask is how well the decking will “bounce back” after dropping something on it. If it doesn’t break, will it return to its original beauty and form? Again, in the most durable category of decking, aluminum wins. Aluminum bouncing back with a rate of three times that of Ipe. Which make is sounds like Ipe is brittle, but it is actually three times more resilient then Western Red Cedar and almost twice as much as Treated Pine.

Decking Material Elasticity in KSI
TrexOpens in a new tab. Select Composite     400 design strength 200
Western Red Cedar   1,110
Pressure-Treated Pine   1,880
Ipe   3,140
AluminumOpens in a new tab. 10 400

Source for Wood Decking

Ease of Installation

Another thing to consider when selecting decking is workability. How hard is the decking material to work with? What level of specialty tools and skills are required to install?

Both Cedar and Pressure-treated decking are the easiest decking material to work with. They can be cut and modified with standard woodworking tools. It does not require more than a basic knowledge of expansion and contraction. Mitre joints could pose a challenge with seasonal changes but less than composite or PVC decking. Pressure-treated decking has one additional step in that end joints should be treated to prevent future rot — overall great decking to work with, nothing that a motivated DIY couldn’t handle.

Composite and PVC decking are a mixed bag regarding installation. Being an engineered decking, they are designed for easy installation, with easy to use hidden fasteners and uniformed grooved decking. On the other hand, their expansion and contraction properties are something that must keenly be accounted for with the correct spacing between joints and decking — being a capped material increase the amount of work as every cut needing to be routered, cleaning up the cut. Also, not a structural material increases the amount of blocking and support required. Picture framing of the decking is a must as the end cuts are unsightly. As an end product, picture framing will enhance the look of the deck, but it does add to the complication of installation.

Ipe is only for experienced deck builders. Not recommend for DIY, as the very advantage of the material is its challenge in installation. It is hard stuff, requiring predrilling of every screw plus many other little complications in installation. Hire a pro and understand it will take longer build to build. An amazing deck in the end, but it will take some skill and time to construct.

Similar to Ipe, aluminum decking should be installed by a professional. Specialty cutting tools and fasteners are required and hiring someone with these tools and experience will provide you deck to enjoy for years.

Initial Cost Winner

And the winner for the lowest initial decking cost is….5/4” pressure-treated Decking! Simply the most affordable of all decking options while still providing an excellent deck. Pressure-treated decking will like to acknowledge that you will need to spend years every spring re-staining to keep her in the best condition, but she is simply the cheapest option out there.

An honourable mention goes out to Cedar decking, at a little more cost, you get the beauty of wood. Cedar still requiring regular sealing to keep her beauty but with natures own preservative helping her weather with grace.

Maintenance of Decking Material and Cost

In the category of low maintenance, saving you time and money, in the long run, we have multiple winners. Ipe and Aluminum decking requires no regular staining and will outlast all other decking material but at a price. Capped Composite and PVC decking coming in a close second as requiring little maintenance but with a little short life expectancy. But starting at 25 years, synthetic decks provide many years of enjoyment.

Decking Material Scratch Resistance

For deck least likely to scratch, Ipe is the clear winner. With a density second only to Allocasuarina luehmannii as commercial wood is least likely to get scratched during all your deck parties. Ipe is both a beautiful and durable decking.

Honourable mention is Capped composite decking and all those synthetic deckings with a hard wrap. They truly are beautiful decking with eloquent textures and designs. Choose with care as not all composite and PVC decking is the same. The harder the wrapping the more it will withstand.

Decking Resistance to Damage

For all of us who love heavy flowerpots and deck furnitureOpens in a new tab., for the category of most resilient decking, the winners are Aluminum for metal and Ipe for wood decking. Both can take a beating and keep coming back. Yes, Ipe’s numbers don’t even compete with aluminum but still sufficiently durable for any home deck. If she can last over 70 years on Coney Island Boardwalk, your yard will be a walk in the park. A cool walk on your bare feet I must mention.

Heat Retention of Decking Material

Not only are aluminum and Ipe decking most resistant to damage but also the coolest decking out there. If you want a cool deck without overhead shade, these are the decking for you. Simply the lowest heat retention of decking.

Honourable mention, Pressure-treated decking does fairly well in keeping its surface cool. It’s just hard competing with Ipe.

Ease of Installation

For all of us looking for simple deck construction, the winner is Softwood decking both Cedar and pressure treated. Both in face and edge fasting they are a breeze to attach and mill to make your deck a masterpiece. Wonderful material to work with.

Honourable mention and with an air of eloquence are Capped Composite and PVC. A steeper learning curve with expansion and contraction along with a little harder to modify and maintain her beauty but an amazing looking decking material. Few decking materials are us appealing to the eye as capped composite and PVC.

Decking is as much about art as function

Not an official category but essential to decking selection.

 “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

I cannot quantify beauty for you, but when selecting decking, pick that which is attractive to you. We don’t all appreciate all the bells and whistles. Eloquence trim work, decking patterns or woodworking details but your decking needs to be pleasant for you. Whether it simple or eye-popping wood grains you must enjoy the look of your decking to be of any value to you. This is probably why aluminum decking with all its amazing features is still very uncommon; it’s just not beautiful. Select a decking that is both functional for you and pleasant to look at.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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