Traditional wood remains a top choice for decking material but the use of composites and plastics have taken off, widening options for deck design. When the time comes, the choice between composites or natural wood is a matter of personal preference. Deciding which is best for your Madison WI home should be based on evaluating the pros and cons of all the options.
A deck built from untreated lumber may last anywhere from 10 to 20 years in the Wisconsin climate. The same structure built from specifically treated lumber or composite decking material can last up to 50 years. Because adding a deck is a long-term investment, understanding the options is important.
Choose Decking Material Wisely
Wood, composites and plastics come in varying grades from low to highest quality so cost is not the only factor in selecting the right building materials. Consider the basics:
- Wooden Decks — Structures made from wood have a natural, warm look that reflects tradition and a sense of security. Looks can be deceiving. Not all wood is structurally sound and long-lasting. Installation makes a big difference, too. Even the best wooden decking material, when installed wrong won’t last. The most common lumber for decks in pressure-treated wood. While it can be stained to attractive colors is doesn’t have the appeal of more costly woods. Wood requires more maintenance than some options and is susceptible to warping, cracking and splitting. For better resistance to the ravages of weather and time, cedar is a wise but more expensive choice.
- Composite Decks — Since their introduction late in the last century, composite decking material options have made great strides both in acceptance and engineering. Today’s popular choices are a mix of recycled plastic and wood fiber. Obviously, a deck from these materials isn’t natural, but it can be made to look like real wood – although it usually has a flatter appearance and not the natural “warmth.” A variety of colors and textures are molded in. Little or no maintenance is the biggest selling point and many come with extended manufacturer’s warranty.
Take a Close Look at Pros and Cons
When you’re working on a deck design a close look at the various material options should be among the first items on the agenda. Once you’ve determined where you want your deck and how big you want it to be, decide on the best material for the job – your choice dictates the final cost. For best results, consult a building professional who has designed and completed a lot of decks and used all the possible materials. Get a professional opinion on what’s best for your site and deck design.
Compare wood, composite and plastic. Since most people are familiar with wooden structures, start there. Note that all decks, no matter the covering material, are built upon wooden support structures so you’ll be using wood in the process. Pressure-treated lumber is used for support because it’s strong and requires little maintenance when hidden beneath the deck itself.
Wood options include:
- Pressure-Treated Lumber — Everyone has seen the green-tinted boards. The best-selling decking material for decades, accounting for at least 75% of all decks built today. The support structure – posts, beams, joists and frames – of almost every deck is from pressure-treated wood. Like all the options, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Pros include:
- Least expensive option in most cases
- Readily available almost everywhere
- Available in all the most sought-after sizes
- Solid for decking and support
- Can be stained or painted to fit with most decorating plans
Its Cons include:
- An unnatural color when left unstained
- Dimensionally unstable – it swells, cracks, warps and splits
- If allowed to absorb moisture (unsealed) it can become very heavy
- Susceptible to staining, mildew
- Contains chemical preservatives
- Requires routine maintenance – pressure washing, staining, etc.
- Cedar Lumber — Cedar is light-weight and available in reddish or golden hues. Cedar decking lumber contains natural oils that resist rot, decay and insects. Cedar resists warping and splitting better than most options. Available in more than one grade and usually in the common dimensions required in deck design.
- Redwood Lumber — Redwood, like cedar is a better natural choice because of its rich color and inherent resistance to weather and wear. Redwood is usually more expensive and often harder to get than cedar – both are much more expensive the pressure-treated decking material.
Cedar and Redwood have similar advantages, including:
- Authentic, real wood’s natural warmth
- They actually “smell good.”
- Easy to work with
- Available in most requires sizes
- Can be stained to retain their natural colors or to enhance décor
- Naturally resistant to environmental agents
Their disadvantages include:
- More expensive than pressure-treated decking material
- Requires routine maintenance to help it resist cracks, splitting
- Annual washing and treatment with stain or clean finish regularly is required to protect the natural color and texture
- It changes color as it ages – cedar, for example, takes on a gray patina
- Availability isn’t always the same year to year, month to month
Look at Plastic ‘Lumber’ For Deck Design
The biggest trend in decking materials in the last decade is installation of decks topped with plastic materials. There are true plastic deck boards and more robust composite boards. Gaining in acceptance, they have their place in deck design.
Look closely at each option…
Composite Deck Material — As the name suggests, composites are a hybrid product mixing wood fibers with plastic (very often recycled plastic). The finished boards are dense, robust, weather- and stain-resistant. They won’t splinter, warp or split.
Plastic Decking Options — There are brands of decking material made from 100% plastic – some from recycled, others are not. True plastic decking comes in more sizes than other options for specialized applications.
For intricate designs, blending colors and textures and unique shapes, the plastic and composite lumber options are ideal. Consider these advantages:
- Weather- and stain-resistant
- Doesn’t splinter, rot or warp
- Easier to use in curves and special shapes
- Available in many size options
TIP FROM A PRO – Composite material is fade resistant, but it may fade and get lighter in strong sunlight. Nothing is absolute.
There are drawbacks, too:
- Plastic decking material require special fasteners and must be installed correctly, according to manufacture recommendations
- Plastic and composite decking may require special trim pieces
- Standard colors may be limited by brand – gray, brown and tan are most common
- Compared to real wood some plastic lumber looks very “fake”
- Composite and plastic decking material have a reputation for being slippery when wet or snow-covered
- Manmade boards can sag easier than real wood
- They do show their age and wear
- Not truly resistant to mold or mildew, especially in really shady locations
- Hot under foot – the most common complaint is that plastic decking material gets very hot when exposed to direct sunlight – darker choices are worse than lighter, but each gets hot
TIP FROM A PRO – Be sure to allow for good drainage around composite deck boards and under composite-topped decks. Moisture trapped under these plastic pieces on top of wooden joists will leave the wooden support structures susceptible to rot and decay.
Professionals Know Deck Design Benefits
When you’re planning a deck design and considering your options, call Sims Exteriors & Remodeling. It fields a team of experts in all phases of the remodeling business throughout greater Dane County, including Middleton, Waunakee, Fitchburg, Oregon Verona, McFarland, Stoughton, Cottage Grove, Sun Prairie and Deforest.
Contact Sims Exteriors and Remodeling at 608-825-4500, or email us to evaluate the best deck design and decking material for your Madison WI area home.