Comparing the Maintenance Needs of Various Deck Materials


Deck designs often center on the layout, shape and size of the space. However, one factor affects the entire structure and should be the first element a homeowner decides on during the design process. Choose between various deck materials by comparing appearances, deciphering their maintenance needs and fitting the materials into the balance of your outdoor living space.

Common Decking Materials

You have five main choices for decking materials, all easy to work with and widely available in North America:

  • Treated Wood - often called pressure treated or just P.T., this type of lumber includes a chemical compound that resists rot, decay and termites. ACQ is the technical term used and consists of alkaline copper quaternary, a relatively safe compound that is applied by force into kiln dried spruce, pine, fir or cedar wood. ACQ treated wood is often green in color, although new processes and technology have allowed mills to offer golden treated wood.
  • Cedar Wood - this type of lumber contains tannins, a natural preservative, and provides an attractive color when stained or left to fade with time. Cedar is more expensive than treated lumber, but can be manipulated into curves and bends to create unique deck designs and shapes. Treated lumber is still used for framing with cedar decks, since this wood tends to rot quickly in ground-contact applications.
  • Composite Wood - made from recycled wood and plastic fibers, as well as a selection of other organics, composite wood costs more than both treated and cedar wood. Each manufacturer uses a unique recipe for manufacturing, meaning no two composite products are alike. You'll find a variety of colors and profiles available, including extruded (partially hollow) products and solid board designs. Again, the framing must be treated lumber, as composite is not rated for structural use by the national building code.
  • Vinyl Decking - similar in style to vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) fencing, this type of decking material comes in limited color selections and provides a durable surface for years. Perhaps the most expensive option for deck designs, PVC comes as an extruded board and should be built onto a treated wood frame. You can install PVC railing and privacy screens to create a seamless design on your backyard deck or front porch.
  • Exotic Woods - fairly rare, exotic woods are used for high end deck designs and commercial construction. Common choices include Ipe and mahogany, both hardwood species that require specialized tools and skills during the installation process. Limited color selection and design restrictions make this the least common decking material for residential properties, and a high price tag often drives homeowners toward one of the selections above.

Typical Maintenance Requirements for Backyard Decks

In order to enjoy a safe and comfortable outdoor living space, homeowners need to take care of certain maintenance requirements, ensuring their decking investment will last. The most common deck maintenance tasks include:

  • Washing - often done on an annual or bi-annual basis, deck washing simply removes the dirt and debris build up from the deck boards. Porous material (such as wood) will absorb dirty water and allow sap and other substances to leech out of the wood. Washing eliminates all of this, leaving a clean, smooth and attractive surface.
  • Staining - alter the color of your wood deck with stain, which absorbs into the outer layers of wood to create an attractive appearance. Staining must be done after the deck has been thoroughly washed and the use of high quality products ensures long lasting, uniform coverage.
  • Painting - not often done on outdoor decks, due to a tendency to flake and peel, this process differs from staining. Paint sits on top of the wood and can create a solid color, hiding any wood grain and other blemishes from sight. Paint must be recoated on a regular basis using outdoor grade products.
  • Sealing - similar to paint, deck sealers create a protective outer layer on the surface of the wood, with the intention of repelling water and dirt. Sealers wear away quickly and most often do not alter the natural appearance of the decking materials underneath.
  • Stripping - this process removes any stain, paint or deck sealer applied, often using a mild chemical to actually strip the product away. It will also remove some of the natural color and liquids found in the wood, leaving the material faded and somewhat drier.

Pinpointing Your Own Maintenance Needs

The amount of maintenance required often depends on your personal preferences. Cedar wood, for example, must be washed and stained, painted or sealed on a regular basis in order to retain the rich red coloring. But many homeowners appreciate the faded gray patina that naturally occurs when cedar is left to age. Achieving and maintaining this look requires very little maintenance, and your cedar deck will still last for ten to fifteen years without fear of rot or decay.

Treated wood presents a similar situation—if you want to retain a certain appearance or color, the maintenance needs will increase. But if you're happy with the natural aging process, simply use a pressure washer to keep the surface clean and safe.

Composite and vinyl decking do not require any staining, painting or sealing. Marketed as a zero-maintenance decking material, they must be washed on a regular basis to deter mold and mildew growth and maintain a slip-free surface.

Exotic woods such as Ipe and mahogany should be sealed when used in winter climates. Cold temperatures and excessive moisture can lead to rapid decay and discoloration. Some exotic wood deck designs can be left unsealed, provided the surface is protected by a roof or covering.

Comparing the maintenance needs of different deck materials helps homeowners to make informed decisions. Consider maintenance along with appearance and cost and choose between treated wood, cedar, composite, vinyl decking and exotic wood decking for your outdoor living space. Educate yourself on the properties of each before making your investment decision.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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