You have decided that a deck is right for your family. The additional outdoor living space will be an excellent home improvement. Creating space to enjoy your home and the great outdoors together.
Decision time. What deck material will be best for you and your family? What decking is right for you?
When comparing decking material, there are five important criteria to compare, decking costs, use, board design, warranty and environmental impact. All five are not equal in your decision making, but all five will impact your decking selection.
Few things impact the look and feel of a deck, as much as the decking. The decking material will define your deck’s use and enjoyment, along with the regular work required to enjoy your deck for years to come. Comparing decking material now, before construction will significantly increase your level of satisfaction with your deck for years to come.
This will not be an exhaustive comparison of deck material, that would be an entire book. But a comparison of 5 popular decking material, readily accessible to most homeowners. Decking popular across North America that have stood the test of time.
Comparing Decking Material Costs
So, let’s get to it. Let’s compare five popular decking material starting with cost. Establishing your deck cost and budget. Allowing you to make the first important decision in selecting decking.
Cost Comparison for 300 square feet of decking
|Decking Material||Decking Boards SQFT Cost||Fasteners SQFT Costs||Annual Maintenance Cost||Lifetime Cost of Decking|
Most Economical Decking Material
Hands down the most economical decking initially is treated. Treated 5/4″ decking averaging around $2.35 with face screwing and about $2.90 when using Camo edge screwing. No other decking comes close in initial costs. If you are budget sensitive and just what a deck at the lowest cost, use treated 5/4″ decking. It will provide you with the most deck at the lowest cost.
Over the lifetime of the deck, it becomes a little more complicated. Capped Composite decking is the better deal, after 25 years of saving on regular maintenance. Over the life of the deck costing less than three quarters, the cost of treated decking. There are many assumptions being made concerning maintenance and lifespan of the decking. But if you plan to use your deck often for an extended time, composite decking is your most economical choice.
For a larger discussion on initial decking cost, click here.
Decking Fasteners Costs
Decking is only as good as it is fastened. If the decking doesn’t stay in place, what use is it? But what it cost to fasten varies a lot by material. With cedar and treated wood decking, you have the option of face or edge screwing. Edge screwing decking is superior to face screwing. I discuss wood fasteners at greater length and why you should edge screw, in another article. Along with why you should only screw decking. If you wish to read, click here.
In short, fastening softwood decking is relatively inexpensive, but for a little extra, I would highly recommend edge screwing as it improves the appearance and life of the decking.
Synthetic decking, including composite and PVC, are best installed using hidden fasteners. Preformed grooves make using hiding fasteners easier while providing consistent gapping and clean deck boards. Most synthetic decking requires propriety hidden fasteners, which are costly. Ranging between $0.85 and $2.00 a square foot. Over a hundred buck just for a small case, but it is worth it both in time of installation and enjoyment of your decking for years to come.
How many years can you expected decking to last?
I have read many websites and heard many arguments claiming that treated decking will not last. Some saying as low as ten years, and I have even heard as little as six.
But longevity is more an issue of regular staining of the decking material. Decking consistently stained and sealed as required will last for years. If regularly sealed, there is no reason not to expect wood decking to last 25 years or more. Ventilation also plays an important role. If wood can dry quickly after rain, it will last many years. I have much more to say about the importance of ventilation for decking, click this link to read more.
If treated decking needs to be replaced in less than 25 years than the math favours composite decking even more. Most capped composite is warrantied for 25 years, or more, so we can safely use 25 years as a comparison. Honestly, 25 years is not a fair comparison as both Ipe and PVC decking will last much longer but more on that later.
Decking maintenance costs over its lifetime.
First, there is no such thing as maintenance-free decking. There is low maintenance decking, but all decking regardless of material, needs regular care to ensure long life. Composite and PVC decking requires a lot less work to maintain than wood but still requires regular attention.
Along that line, both cedar and Ipe decking can be allowed to grey. Cedar will not last nearly as long as Ipe decking but will last many years without annual staining. But without stain, the beauty of the decking will fade every year left unprotected. It may cost less, but aesthetically you will enjoy your deck more if regularly stained.
Several factors determine decking maintenance costs. How regularly maintenance is required and how much it costs. Let me explain why I think these are fair maintenance costs related to the decking material.
Regularly deck cleaning
Like floors, all deck needs to be sweep regularly and washed as required. Composite and PVC decking should annually be pressure washed. FIXR estimates, on average, a 300 square foot deck will cost between $60 and $250 to clean. Regional markets will significantly influence this price.
If you own a pressure washer and have a couple of hours every spring to wash your decking, the cost is reduced even further. Take care not to damage the decking with excess pressure, staying below 600 psi you should be fine. Check the decking manufacturer or test with a hidden decking board. The point is to clean out mud and gunk build up between boards and anything else trapping moisture. Washing mud off the decking can also be done with a mop or cloth also.
Staining Wood Decking Cost
All wood decking will last longer, maintaining its beauty better with regular staining and sealing. With untreated wood, the beauty of the woodgrains are evaluated, increasing your enjoyment. With treated decking, the staining repels moisture the number one cause of rot. Decking is only treated for fungi growth, not water. Regular staining seals the decking against excess water. The sealing preventing rot by keeping the wood drier, therefore lasting longer.
The cost of sealing is in labour. You can buy a deck stain for about $60 a gallon. Allowing you to stain a 300 square foot deck for a little over $100 if you do all the sanding and brushing. This can be done, but Home Advisor gives a range of $550 to $1275 to hire someone to stain a deck. Hiring someone will free you up to enjoy your deck with someone else spending the time protecting. With Ipe decking, Home Advisor gives a slightly larger range of $300 to $1600 to re-stain Ipe decking.
How often does wood decking need to be stained?
The decking environment will determine how often the decking needs to be stained. Wood decking in a very wet and hot environment needs to be sealed more often. Both rain and the blazing sun speed the deterioration of the stain, shorten its protective life.
It is often recommended that decking be stained annually, which will significantly increase maintenance costs. Both Olympic and Behr deck stain promises protection for three years for horizontal surfaces. Reducing staining your deck to ever three years. Every three years reduces the number of times from 25 to only 9 over the lifetime of the decking. Significantly decreasing maintenance cost.
Another shout out to ventilation. Staining will protect the top of the decking, but deck ventilation addresses the real issue, excess moisture. Sufficient air movement will protect your decking at no extra cost to you. The wind will dry, and cost you nothing.
Choosing the best decking for your money
A helpful question for selecting the right decking for your money is. How long do you want to use your deck, and how often? For a shorter time and if used less, a treated wood deck will provide the most value. The initial outlay is less, allowing you to enjoy a deck for less.
If you plan to use the deck for years or believe the deck will add value to the next homeowner, composite is a good choice. Over time the cost of regular maintenance of wood will compound destroying any savings in price. Over time and with much use, a composite deck cost becomes less with lower maintenance cost till the point it’s much cheaper than a wood deck.
The same cost but over ten years a treated wood decking only costing $2535, but the composite decking $2805 on the lower end. Meaning if you only plan to use the deck for less than ten years, you are getting better value from treated decking.
But this is only considering money. Many other things contribute to your level of enjoyment of your deck. Money is not the only thing to comparing when selecting decking. Let’s compare the nonmonetary elements of decking.
Enjoying Your Decking
This is where the real conversation of decking needs to happen. Regardless of cost, the elements that make your deck enjoyable far outweighing the cost. I enjoy my coffee more out of a ceramic mug, which costs hundreds more than a paper cup. But my enjoyment is more with a mug. Yes, the advantage is I can use my mug for many more years at less cost than paper over those years, but the features of the mug are what make its value. We all must work within our budget, but decking value comes from its characteristics, not the price tag.
Comparing Decking Durability
|Decking Material||Scratch Resistance||Resistance to Staining||Resistance to Burns|
|5/4″ Treated||Med high||Low||Med|
|5/4″ Western Red Cedar||Low||Low||Med|
|Capped PVC||Med Low||High||Low|
No one wants to damage their deck, but three common deck activities can, moving deck furniture, spills and sparks. Moving deck furniture or a small rock on your shoes scratching the decking. Decks are a wonderful place to enjoy dinner outside, but spills happen, staining the decking. Decks are excellent location to barbeque, grilling up an incredible meal, but with fire comes sparks, possibly burning marks on the decking. Let’s compare our decking for these three risks.
Most scratch resistant decking?
Bring the bull up unto your Ipe decking. Ipe decking is the most resistant decking material to scratches. On the Janka Hardiness scale, it is rated 3680. Simply a fantastic number, especially when you compare it to other wood decking like treated pine at 870. Red Cedar is worse with a scratch resistance of 350. When comparing wood decking, there is no real comparison. Ipe is the most durable to scratches.
Synthetic decking is not rated on the Janka Hardiness scale, so we don’t have a number to compare to, but I can tell you from real life. The capping of composite has brought it a long way in resistance to scratching, but it stills scratches fairly easy. Harder than cedar but easier then treated decking. Capped PVC has a softer material as its core scratches easier than composite decking.
There are some conversations about brands. That some brands are more durable and resistant to scratches. Here is a short clip from a homeowner display how easily Azek scratches compared to Trex. He is partly confusing brands with decking material as Trex is composite decking, and Azek is PVC, but I will let him use his own words.
Capping is the victor here. Capped decking both composite and PVC are highly resistant to staining. Spills can easily be wiped up even hours after the spill without staining of the decking.
Of course, are super wood decking is also highly resistant to staining. Ipe’s dense wood prevents stains from being soaked up and staining. An amazing decking. Ipe is so resistant to staining that you will have complications in staining Ipe in maintenance. It is that resistant to staining.
If your eating on your deck, chances are your grilling on your deck. Decking will vary in its resistance to burns. Clarification here I am not talking about fire rating or flame spread, which is a real concern for your safety. But how will your decking respond if you drop hot tongs or cigarette butt? Or worse, a lump of hot coal from your grill. How bad will the burn mark be?
Most Resistant Decking to Burns
Again, Ipe is our clear winner. If you’re going to drop a hot coal on your deck, you better hope its Ipe. Ipe’s fire rating is similar to steel and concrete. A hot coal left to smelter will darken the decking, but its structural strength will remain.
The worse decking for burning is synthetic. The cap quickly melts while the board becomes a soft goo. A grill blanket is an excellent addition under a barbeque on a composite deck.
Treated pine and cedar decking similarly mark with heat. Damaging less than capped decking but still with a significant burn mark. The advantage is if its only surface deep, you can sand out and re-stain. With a gas grill, the risk of damage is low, but a grill mat is a good idea.
I would never recommend using a charcoal grill on a deck, not even Ipe, but if you want to see what happens with each decking under a hot coal.
In the next comparison between decking, we shall call the barefoot test. How does the different decking feel under your feet? Comparing decking surfaces both for feel and safety.
|Decking Material||Splinter Free||Heat Dissipation||Slip Resistant|
|5/4″ Western Red Cedar||No||Med||Med|
The Most Splinter Free Decking
Synthetic decking, both composite and PVC, are splinter-free. Their plastic caps and even their cores don’t produce splinters. Take your socks off and dance till your heart’s content. No slivers to worry about with synthetic decking.
Ipe decking with its tight cells is less likely to break off, creating slivers, but it’s still a natural wood product. Still, sanding will reduce splinter after installation.
Treated decking is the worst decking for splinters. The edges of the boards can produce nasty slivers. The chemicals in the wood treatment can cause infection and swelling, along with increase pain compared to untreated wood.
Cedar is a softer wood with fewer slivers then pine but still needs to be regularly sanded to remove slivers.
Coolest Decking in the Heat
Ipe decking has the lowest heat transfer to bare feet, providing the most comfortable decking in the summer heat.
The worst is Capped decking, with a high-level of heat transfer. Walking barefoot on capped decking will be a burning experience in the sun. The cap quickly transfers heat from the decking to your feet. This can be minimized with colour selection, the lighter the decking, the cooler it will be.
The ironic thing about capped decking, PVC in particular, is the decking boards actually hold less heat than wood. The actual heat in the decking is less, but it transfers faster, heating your skin quicker. Walking over the decking will be a burning experience, but standing in the same place, the temperature will quickly cool compared to wood. The heat dissipates faster from synthetic decking than wood.
Turning our attention from the heat of the decking on your feet to grip. Which decking provides the most slip-resistant?
Most Slip Resistant Decking
Our amazing natural decking Ipe wins again with its natural traction. Providing grip all year long, allowing you to walk on your deck safely.
“Ipe is the only hardwood species that meet the ADA requirements for slip resistance in a wet environment, naturally.”Chris Nolan
Composite decking has come along way in the last few years in design, especially with their cap. The more embossed wood grains and grooves in the decking, the more slip-resistant. When selecting decking, run your hand over the boards; the more grooves you feel, the better. These grooves will provide traction in the rain. The more distinct they are, the better.
My most significant hesitation is cold. Plastic becomes slipper as it freezes. The plastic decking cap can become very smooth and slippery in winter. Of course, on cold days, you are less likely to spend time on your deck unless it’s part of the route to your car. Again, feeling the boards will tell you a lot, the smoother the material, the more slippery it will be in winter. You are looking for a rougher feeling cap. This is over and above the embossed wood grains.
Both treated and cedar has a natural advantage in the rain. As the decking soaks up the rain, the fibres are raised, increasing friction and traction. Unfortunately, adequately sealed decking will swell less as sealing repels the water. Still, wet wood decking can safely be walked on with little risk of slipping.
With all decking, a little cleaning will go a long way to prevent slips and falls. Most slips are not a result of the decking but algae growth, frost on the decking or ice patches. Regular maintenance will reduce these risks while increasing the decking’s life. Synthetic decking has an advantage with its anti-fungal ingredients, but periodic staining has the same results for wood decking. Sloping the deck will reduce ice build-up and the risk of slipping.
Comparing the Design of Decking Board
Leading as to our next comparison decking board design. Again, we could write a book comparing decking boards so we will skim a little with some generality. Hopefully, informing you enough to dive deeper into a specific decking board’s designs, strengths and weaknesses.
Decking Boards Design Comparison
|Decking Material||Deflection||Colour-Fast||Mould/Mildew Resistance||Expansion Contraction|
|5/4″ Western Red Cedar||Med||Low||Med-Low||Med-Low|
By code deck joist’s maximum spacing is 24″ (600mm), but most decks are framed at 16″ (400mm) on centre spacing. Which is the maximum spacing for synthetic decking, but at times even closer spacing is required. But here we are comparing the deflection of the decking or how firm will the decking feel?
Lowest Decking Deflection or Firmest Decking
Ipe decking has the least deflection. Deck has the strength that a 5/4 ipe decking can span 24″ (600mm). Where all other deckings of similar dimension require 16″ (400mm) support. If you want a firm feeling as you are walking on your deck, Ipe is your best choice.
Softwood decking still has some give as you walk. An elastic deflection as you step. Nothing significant, but you can feel the difference between stepping on top of a joist or stepping on the decking between supports.
Synthetic decking with its plastic composition is a soft decking board, increasing with heat. PVC and composite decking will be soft underfoot. On a warm day, the deflection is so significant that you can see the boards rise and fall with every step.
Least Fading Decking
Capped decking has come a long way in resisting fading. All decking will fade a little the first few months in the sun, but capped stock will stop at that. Keeping their vibrant colours for many years after, with minimal fading.
Un treated wood decking will grey very quickly in the sun, often in a matter of days. Many times I have seen a distinct colour difference between decking boards on the stack while waiting to be installed. Fading be in a matter of days or even hours.
Ipe decking can be sanded and returned to its original beauty, but without sealing fades quickly.
Cedar is similar in that it greys quickly, but many people appreciate its natural greying. But greying the decking will lose some of the vibrant wood grain looks. Leaving you with a grey deck, not a “cedar deck.”
Treated Decking is currently treated with copper, coming in a light brown colour, which will quickly lighten in the sun, to the point where the decking colour varies by casting shadows over the decking. Treated decking lightens very quickly in the sun, but once lighten will remain for many years after.
To maintain a wood decking’s appearance, staining is a must. Staining not only help to protect the boards from damaging UV rays but also enhance its appearance. Fading is more a question of the stain’s quality than the decking. Quality staining will stop fading while enhancing the decking’s appearance. The appearance of the decking will reflect the colour and quality of the stain.
Decking’s resistance to Mold and Mildew
Both Ipe and PVC decking are highly resistant to mould or mildew. PVC containing no organic material prevents mould or mildew growth. In a wet environment, these are the best decking.
“Water absorption and thickness swelling is higher with WPCs, which is virtually nonexistent with solid polymers.”Wolcott and Englund
The cap prevents surface mould on composite decking along with being treated with an inhibitor, but containing wood fibres are not as resistant as Ipe or PVC. To be clear not as resistant but still, mould and mildew are highly unlikely to grow on capped composite decking.
Cedar decking varies in results. Old-growth cedar is more resistant to mould, but with increase harvesting more and more cedar decking is not old growth. Increasing the potential for mould growth. A good solution is sealing the decking, but again then it is only as useful as the sealant.
Treated decking is treated precisely for this, preventing fungi. Varying on treatment level but often no more in-depth than a surface treatment. The untreated wood quickly becoming exposed by cutting or walking on the deck. End cuts should be treated during installation with end cut treatment, but the decking will need to be regularly stained to prevent mould in a wet deck environment.
Decking with the most Expansion and Contraction
Capped composite and PVC decking rapidly grows in the sun and shrinking as it cools. A 20′ (6m) board can grow over ¼” in length in one day. Creating a huge problem when not fasten as they may not contract equally. I have heard of guys cutting a board perfectly before wrapping up for the day, coming back in the morning, and too much frustration it not fitting!
Not only is this a problem before installing but throughout the life of the deck. Every board needs to be gapped 1/8″ to ¼” accounting for expansion and contraction. Complicating things like mitre joints for a picture frame. Not only do the boards have to line up perfectly, but requiring a perfect gap between boards. Compounding complication of cutting picture frame boards as you not only have to account for the board gap but also the end gap, which is continuously changing with the sun.
I have heard of many experience deck installers who have removed mitre joints from their designs because regardless of how perfectly they cut the board, in a couple days or weeks, there will be a complaint about unsightly gaps. The solution is replacing mitre joints with woven butt joints.
Butt joints become even more unsightly, requiring an ugly gap between board ends, a ¼ to 1/2″ gap collecting dirt and grime. Often a good idea to replace with an insert border dividing up the deck, but this adds to installation time and material. But on a side note, Wow! It makes the deck look amazing.
In conclusion, if you can’t deal with the constant flux. Both during installation and life of the deck, stick with wood. Its easier to install and is relatively constant.
Comparing Aesthetic options in decking
Decks are both functional and a work of art, appearance matters. The appearance of the decking often makes all the difference in both the look and feel of the deck. In the spectrum of beauty, treated decking is the least appealing and clear stained hardwood decking like Ipe is the most.
Not saying that treated is ugly but to mimic Henry Ford, “you can have treated decking in any colour you want, as long as its brown.” The treatment is good at preventing rot but hides much of the natural beauty of the wood. Hiding the artful grain patterns, even the distinct swirls around knots loosing some of there flair. Treated decking is suitable for function, less for art.
Clear or semi-transparent stains opens up some options with wood decking. Putting the omen on the stain. There are many staining options, colouring the decking to your liking but will need regular upkeep.
Capped decking has come a long way in autistics, with every new generation of decking an increase in the choice of colour and woodgrains. TimberTech goes as far as claiming hand-scraped texture and look. It is not perfect, but it’s pretty good. The simple rule of thumb with composite decking appearance, is the more you are willing to pay, the more authentic looking choices you have.
A few words about Capped Decking
With wood decking, the biggest question is the width of the decking board, but with capped decking, there are several designs to be aware of. Synthetic decking boards can be slotted/grooved, solid, open flange, scalloped or hollow.
Some differences like grooved or solid impact where the decking can be installed. Groove boards are designed for hidden fasteners but cannot be used for stairs. Solid stock is better for deck edges, removing that unsightly groove.
Open flange and scalloped are designs reducing weight and cost. Hollow decking reduces weight but often increases strength while reducing expansion and contractions.
What is synthetic decking made of?
Here is a brief description of synthetic decking construction.
Trex Transcend Decking. Surfaced with a high-performance proprietary engineered weather-resistant shell. The core is reclaimed wood and recycled plastic, (95% recycled product)
Azek Decking. Surfaced with alloy armour technology. The decking core is polymer, with no wood or organic fibres.
TimberTech Decking. A composite cap over a plastic and wood fibre core.
Fiberon Decking. Wrapped four-sides with PermaTech surface protection over a core of recycled wood and plastic.
If you would like to read more, Sequoia has a more extensive write-up, click here.
Comparing Decking Warranties
To discuss decking warranties, we will need to move away from our discussion of decking material to decking manufacturers since products don’t have warranties companies do. Our question is, what level of promise does the decking company offer. Hoping to better understand the quality of the decking by the level of trust the manufacture, who knows the product the best, has for it.
“They are warranties, not guarantees.”Ryan
But we must understand just because a company offers an extended warranty does not mean that the decking will necessarily last as long as promised, or vis-versa. Trex, one of the innovators of composite decking, has had many class-action lawsuits against it since starting manufacturing in 1996 because its decking did not originally live up to its warranty.
On the other hand, Advantage Lumber, a seller of Ipe decking provides a 20-year warranty on Ipe decking. The Coney Island Boardwalk in New York was built in 1923 with Ipe decking lasting over 70 years in a harsh environment with millions of feet walking over it before being replaced. The decking far exceeding its “warranty.”
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at decking warranties.
|Decking Manufacturer||Decking Warranty|
|Micro Pro Sienna 5/4″ treated||Limited Lifetime|
|Timber Tech Pro Composite Decking||30-Year Limited Product Warranty 30-Year Fade & Stain Warranty.|
|Azek PVC decking||Lifetime Limited Product Warranty 50-Year Limited Fade & Stain Warranty|
|Trex composite decking||25-Year Limited Residential Warranty 25-Year Limited Residential Fade & Stain Warranty|
|Fiberon Veranda composite decking||25-Year Limited Residential Warranty 25-Year Limited Residential Fade & Stain Warranty|
|Fiberon PVC Decking||Limited Lifetime Physical Integrity 50-Year Limited Fade & Stain Warranty|
|Ipe from Advantage Lumber||20 Years Limited Ipe decking is guaranteed to resist rot|
|Ipe from Timber Holdings||25 Year Limited Warranty of structural damage from insect infestation or fungal decay|
Just looking over the number we should all install PVC decking. A 50 years warranty is hard to beat, and few of us plan to use our decks for longer. A word of caution, no PVC decking has lasted 50 years yet. Azek first launched its PVC decking in 2007. That means at the time of writing; the oldest installed Azek PVC decking is 13 years. Barely a quarter of the warranty time.
Where Ipe a natural product, we have over a 100 years of real deck testing. In many of those tests, Ipe has far exceeded the 20 years warranty. But Ipe is often only warrantied for structural damage, with nothing about appearance. Ipe decking appearance is more a matter of staining and sealing than the decking material.
Treated decking manufactured by Micro Pro Sienna provides a “Lifetime” warranty. I am no lawyer, but the details of this warranty will do little for you in court. But I have built many treated wood decks and hope to build many more. Because I have seen treated decking last many years, so regardless of their warranty, I understand the decking. Side note I have replaced many treated wood decking, so I am fully aware that it will not last a “lifetime.”
Notable, Cedar decking is not on this list. There are many a claim of cedar’s natural resistance to decay but hard to find a warranty. Primarily because cedar is a natural product. What company is going to warranty a product it hasn’t made? Leaving us with experience but without a written warranty to decide from.
Which ultimately, all our decking decisions lie. What we know about the decking, will it last as long as we hope? The warranties can help guide us, but ultimately knowledge about the decking is our best guide. Not to discount new innovated decking. I think PVC decking holds excellent potential as decking, but it comes with a degree of unknown.
Composite decking manufacturers have wisely put themselves in a position to collect results of their product in real-life situations with their warranties. By warrantying their decking for long periods of time, they can compile results from homeowners on their product and make adjustments to improve on their products.
We have seen this in the last decade with many significant improvements of composite decking. The products we are installing today are light years ahead of that which was introduced 20 years ago or even 5 in some cases. Time and innovation have changed and greatly improved low maintenance decking. To the point where I don’t think it’s fair to base decisions on the previous decking installed a decade ago because it is mostly a different product. The model “T” is not the same F-150 that I drive today. Yes, the same manufacturer, but the research and innovation that has gone into the product has changed it entirely.
Wisely compare decking warranties and companies. Along with understanding what the decking is made out of and why the product was selected. Which should help to understand better where the decking is best suited. Along with how the company has learned from previous mistakes, either their own or the industry as a whole.
Comparing Decking Environmental Impact
I wish I could give you a handy chart showing the most environmentally friendly decking, but it is not that easy. We must compare the decking environmental impact both in its production and disposal. Weighing their impact before and after use, along with the length of use.
All decking will end up in a landfill, as no decking at the moment is recyclable. But the longer we can enjoy the decking before disposal, the less decking ends up in the landfill.
Decking that requires replacing every ten years will contribute five times more waste to the landfill then the same decking lasting 50 years. If waste in the production of the decking is equal, which it rarely is.
“Composites are not necessarily longer lasting than wood. Properly maintained wood decks last about 20-30 years, well-maintained composite decks about the same.”StarCraft
As StarCraft wisely points out, decking longevity is on maintenance. All decking, if adequately cared for, will last a long time. Regardless of decking used. That’s on you to ensure the decking is cleaned, stained and sealed as required, but what is needed does depend on decking material used. So, lets first compare decking environmental impact in manufacturing.
How does the decking impact the environment before use?
In our decking comparison, there are two categories of environmental impact natural and synthetic. Decking material that is produced by nature, including pine, cedar and Ipe and manufactured decking like composite and PVC. Both having different environmental impacts prior to arriving in your backyard.
Environmental impact in creating natural decking
Full disclosure, I love trees, and I love working with wood. They are not in conflict. Most “natural things” thrive more when they have an “economical use” than mere conservation. There are more cows in the United States than there are deer. Both thrive in similar environments, but because of use and economic reasons, there are more cows. If you love forests, hope there is logging. For logging will ensure that the forests are cared for, for generations to come.
That being said, logging practise does affect the environmental impact of wood decking. Fortunately, the forestry industry has created best practises standards in logging. Always buy wood decking that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamped. Especially when using Ipe decking as it harvested from tropical forest, which comes with their own set of environmental challenges.
Staining aside, there is a correlation between the age of the tree harvested and the longevity of the decking material. Pine often treated for decking can be harvested in less than 50 years old. Ipe trees harvested for decking are often century old. Similar to cedar, it is the older mature trees that are naturally resistant to decay and rot, not the young sapling trees often harvested.
The longevity of the decking related to the time required for the wood to grow. Untreated pine decking lasting 5 years or less but Ipe lasting 70 years or more. But if you only want a deck for 10 years, using Ipe is wasteful and will have a more significant environmental impact than treated pine. The best ecological decking decision would be using wood decking suitable for our expected deck life. If you don’t want the deck for a lifetime, don’t use wood that takes many lifetimes to grow.
But using untreated pine decking is un-economical and not environmentally friendly as it will have to be replaced every few years, compounding the amount of waste and impact on the environment. Forcing us to decide between a gallon of wood treatment and a truckload of rotten decking. The treatment is breaking down in three to five years, which is why we must re-stain regularly. I think treated pine decking is the most environmental wood decking for most homes. Matching longevity of the deck with tree growth and environmental impact.
Are Composite and PVC decking more environmentally friendly?
I am glad you asked because synthetic decking is often sold as a “green decking” option. Again, it’s a little more complicated, but lets first look at the environmental impact of the decking before enjoyment before the decking arrives at your house.
First composite and PVC decking are manufactured from a mixture of polyethylene, plastic or PVC (Polyvinyl chloride). All petrochemical products often considered harmful to the environment both in use and production. Composite decking is a blend, mixing plastic with wood fibres, rice hulls or other filler reducing the amount of chemical products being used.
“the average 500-square foot composite Trex deck contains 140,000 recycled plastic bags!”Trex
The source of synthetic decking plays a considerable role in its environmental impact. Almost all decking manufacture claim to source their raw material from post-consumer waste, including more than just plastic bags. The degree varying by brand.
“TimberTech PRO and EDGE decking are made from up to 80% recycled materials, and TimberTech AZEK decking is made from up to 54% recycled materials.”TimberTech
Trex, the leader in reducing environmental impact, is even better.
“We make Trex® eco-friendly composite decks from an innovative blend of 95% reclaimed wood and plastic film—that’s almost the whole thing.”Trex
Unfortunately, research has proven that synthetic decking manufactured from virgin material often performs better, lasting longer. That the higher the level of recycled bags and milk cartons, the shorter the decking lifespan. Remember, TimberTech warranties their decking longer than Trex, which uses more recycled material. A terrible trade-off, more post-consumer waste or decking filling landfills sooner.
Still, if you are planning to use your deck for less than 25 years, Trex composite decking will have the least environmental impact manufactured mainly from recycled material.
Even if you replace the Trex decking twice to match the deck lifespan of Azek PVC decking with its 50-year warranty, less waste is headed to the landfill when you include the diverted plastic bags and milk jugs. There is the factor of labour, but that’s a conversation about labour installation cost, not environmental impact.
Environmental Decking Impact after Use
Regardless of which decking you choose, it will all end up in the landfill in the end. Sad but true. But which decking can be disposed of with the least environmental impact? Composite made from recycled material put forward a good agreement of its environmental benefit. But post use it does not fair as well.
“There is so far no recycling for composite decks, and those that end up in the dump will probably be there for about 2,000 years. Treated wood, on the other hand, returns to nature in 10 years or less, and untreated wood in as little as 2 years.”StarCraft
Putting wood decking as the clear winner. Even when wood decking is treated, it has less of an environmental impact then composite decking. Wood quickly decomposing while composite taking many more years to join the eco cycle. As it lies in wait thousand of years to decompose, while treated wood decking has rejoined the circle of life millennium before.
Synthetic decking often called a “green decking,” not requiring regular staining. Oil-based stains being considered environmentally harmful. But synthetic decking is primarily an oil-based product, not just a thin coating but the entire decking. Having a more significant environmental impact over the next two millenniums than a gallon of stain ever few years.
Treated Decking has the smallest environmental impact.
Treated decking readily decomposing and returning to the circle of life with minimal long-term impact. Along with the smallest environmental impact with its quick regrowth and minimal environmental disruption when harvesting. Treated decking has the smallest environmental footprint of all the decking we are comparing.