If the warming weather has you dreaming of a new deck, now is the perfect time to make those dreams a reality. With a little know-how and how-to, the deck of your dreams could be ready for you and your family before the first lupine blooms.

Whether you plan to DIY your build or hire a professional installer, your decking materials will have a significant influence on your design and your budget. In this article, we’ll explore the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of the most common deck-building materials: composite and wood.

What is composite decking? 

Composite decking boards are molded from a mixture of wood fibers and recycled plastic materials. Traditional wood-composite decking contains approximately 50% recycled plastic and 50% wood flour. Capped composite decking fuses a hard outer shell to the composite core.

Composite decking comes in many styles, colors, and textures. How you install a composite deck will depend on the product and the manufacturer. Some composite decking is installed with deck screws just as you would with wood boards, while other products may have grooved edges or other profiles designed for a hidden, below-deck fastening system.

How much does composite decking cost? 

The cost of composite decking will vary depending on a few different factors:

  • The base materials of the composite, as well as whether it is capped or uncapped.
  • Manufacturing processes and materials vary, and will impact the final consumer cost. Trex, the largest composite decking manufacturer, estimates most consumers can expect a Trex deck to cost between $9-$16 per square foot.
  • Large decks and those with unique shapes or design aspects will, by their nature, carry a bigger price tag than smaller, less complicated designs.
  • If you plan to hire a deck installation professional, you’ll need to factor in labor costs to arrive at your final price.

Initial costs are only one part of the total investment you’ll make. While composite decks may require a more considerable upfront cost, they often require little upkeep once installed.

What are the benefits of composite decking? 

While many choose composite deck materials because they are low maintenance, they have many other benefits.

Composite materials are environmentally friendly. Because these products use recycled plastics and lumber byproducts, they have a lower environmental footprint than hardwood or treated wood decks.

Composite decking is versatile. Thanks to the recycled plastics in their formulation, manufacturers can heat and bend composite decking boards in a manner wood won’t permit,  allowing for more flexibility in design.

Composites withstand the elements. Composite decking boards resist splintering, peeling, cracking, and warping. They do not absorb excessive amounts of water, as wood does, nor do they attract termites or other pests.

Composite materials require little upkeep. Composite decks do not require the level of annual maintenance demanded by wood decks. While wood decks may require sanding and sealing every year, most composite decks require only the occasional sweeping or washing and will last for 25 years or more.

What are the drawbacks of composite decking?

There are some things homeowners need to be aware of before installing a composite deck. Though they have many benefits, composite decks do have downsides to consider:

Though they require little upkeep in general, composite decks are not impervious to signs of aging. While you can sand and stain wood to renew its appearance, you cannot do the same with composite decking. Therefore, any signs of wear or decay that you cannot clean from the surface will be permanent.

You may need to put away the power washer. Few things are more satisfying than washing away a year’s worth of dust, pollen, and dirt from your siding, fencing, patio, and practically anything else you can clean with your power washer. If you’re not careful, though, you can damage the surface of some composites with your power washer.

Even the best composite materials can’t match wood’s looks. If you love the natural appearance of a wood deck, composite decking may not hit the aesthetic mark you desire.

Composite decks don’t need refinishing, but cleaning is still necessary. Depending on the materials, some composite boards can foster mold and mildew growth. Each manufacturer will recommend a cleaning and upkeep regiment for their products, but you should generally expect your deck to need cleaning every three to four years. If you live in an area with high humidity or your deck is in deep shade, you may need more frequent cleanings.

What types of decking wood should I use? 

For many homeowners, the natural look and feel of wood decking outweigh all other factors. Just as there are several types of composite decking materials, there are many options when building a wood deck.

Pressure-treated (PT) wood: PT decking is the least expensive wood decking material. It is most often pine, treated with chemical preservatives.

Weather-resistant softwoods: Cedar and redwood are popular decking material choices due to their natural resistance to moisture, decay, and insects. While no wood deck is maintenance-free, those built with cedar or redwood and maintained adequately are less prone to warping, splitting, and cracking than some other wood materials.

Hardwoods: Hardwoods and tropical hardwoods, such as Ipe, Mussaranduba, and Tigerwood, are popular with homeowners for their natural beauty as well as their durability and lifespan. Depending on the type of wood, a properly installed and maintained hardwood deck can last 25-50 years.

How much does a wood deck cost?

When you start planning your new deck, your budget will often be your biggest guide. While you may have Ipe dreams (don’t we all?), you’ll need to make some concessions if you’re working with a budget. The price and availability of wood decking materials vary based on region and other factors. Still, you can use these general material cost estimates to help bring your fantasies and finances into alignment:

Pressure-treated wood is the least expensive wood decking option, and typically costs between $2-$3 per square foot.

Cedar and redwood commonly cost three times more than pressure-treated wood, but are cost-neutral with each other at $6-$10 per square foot, though higher-grade redwood will be on the upper end of this estimate and may even exceed it.

Premium hardwoods are the most costly natural deck materials. Ipe, mahogany, cumaru, and cambara can range anywhere from $6-$14 per square foot.

What are the benefits of a wood deck? 

Pressure-treated wood decks offer significant initial cost savings. With yearly maintenance and occasional repairs, homeowners can expect to enjoy these decks for 15-25 years.

Cedar and redwood decks naturally resist moisture, insects, and decay. They do not easily warp or split, and they are more lightweight than hardwood deck materials. With annual maintenance and cleanings, these decks can last 25-40 years.

Durable hardwood decks can last up to 50 years when properly built and maintained. Tropical hardwoods also boast natural resistance to the elements and are often the materials of choice in areas of high-humidity or around pools. Ipe, for example, doesn’t shrink or expand when exposed to fluctuating temperatures or moisture levels, and naturally resists mold and mildew.

What are the cons of a wood deck? 

Wood decks require more cleaning and maintenance than many human-made materials. Depending on the wood you use, you may need to sand and stain your deck anywhere from every 1-5 years. You may also need to reapply preservatives to pressure-treated wood, and damaged decking boards will need to be replaced over time. Even with consistent upkeep, wood decks may develop splinters and cause harm to humans and pets, and unsealed wood may more readily stain or fade.

Final thoughts: Should I purchase composite or wood decking? 

The best decking material for your project depends on your design, budget, and other factors, but choosing it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can get answers to many of your questions with a quick trip or call to your lumberyard.

If you’re building a new deck in Flagstaff, your local experts at HomCo Lumber and Hardware are standing by and ready to help. We’re your one-stop-shop for projects of every size, with all the tools, materials, and advice you need for success.