Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Decking Debate

Dear Joe,

I am planning to build a new deck this summer.  I am not sure though, what kind of material I should build it out of.  I like the idea of the plastic boards but it sounds as though it’s quite a bit more expensive than wood.  What should I know before buying the stuff to build my new deck?  Thank you for your help.  Love your column,


Thanks K,
I am glad you like reading it, because I love writing it.
I also love building decks.  But when you talk about decking material, if you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different answers.   The first thing that you’ll need to know, and there is no argument here:  The structure of your deck will be pressure treated lumber…no question.  It will not be seen but will need to endure the most hardship of any other part of your deck,  damp, dirt, insects and heavy loads will all be factors that will wear and tear on the structure of the deck so it will need to be durable and imperious to the elements, pressure treated is that.

On top of that, you have choices for decking.  We’ll talk price first.  From least to most expensive you have: pressure treated, cedar, wood vinyl composite, and exotic woods.  Don’t even consider untreated spruce or pine as they lack the preservative qualities of the others. 
As far as longevity goes, the woods, properly maintained will have a life expectancy of between 15-30 years depending on the conditions in which they serve.  They should be retreated every five years or so to get the most out of them.  But no matter how well you maintain the decking, the service life of it will be dictated by the service life of the structure.  That being said, although the vinyl composite will have a service life of up to 50 years(though since it hasn’t been around for 50 years there is no proof of that, and this commentator has his doubts), its serviceability again will be dictated by the longevity of the pressure treaded structure underneath it all.  And yes, the composite also requires a pressure treated lumber frame as dimensional lumber with which to build the frame is not available in composite because of price and also the fact that it is not rigid enough to build anything out of.  It is only suitable for decking and trim, not loadbearing components.

Solid wood is the best and most versatile material with which to build anything.  People have been building with wood for thousands of years.  And though companies are always trying to develop a superior product, in my opinion, wood has yet to be outdone.  Its price, durability, rigidity, flexibility, renewability and workability make it make it my first choice when doing decks of any size or shape.  The only drawback that pressure treated lumber has, is its colour…that charming grey/green is limiting when you want to design a colour scheme for the outside of the house.  But, the idea of saving thousands whilst building with better material is often enough to get past the colour and if you’re really not happy with it, you can paint it or stain it after a couple summers once the moisture content has dropped to an acceptable level.

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