What is the best material for constructing an outdoor deck to enhance my home?

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Over the years, many outdoor elements, including moisture from rain, snow, ice and the sun, and even damage from your kids and pets, will take a toll on a deck. All this destruction will eventually lead to a common homeowner dilemma: to give your deck a “facelift” or build a brand new one. You can sidestep the time and cost of rebuilding by regularly maintaining your outdoor play space every year—in fact, with the right care it can last twice as long as you anticipated. And even if the damage has already been done, chances are that you can revive your deck for a lot less than the cost of replacing it.

There are many ways to maintain the life span of a traditional outdoor deck. Basic maintenance of your deck is simply to hose it off during the fall and spring seasons, cleaning the surface where stains appear and continuing to sweep off leaves, twigs and debris so dirt and mold won’t form between the boards.

Each type of decking has its own fan base—some swear by the look of wood while others tout the low-maintenance of composite. If you're looking for a no-muss, no-fuss alternative, look beyond wood. Timbertech, a leading manufacturer of long lasting, low maintenance and high quality decking, railing and fencing, stands by their products with a 25-year limited residential warranty. Timbertech expert Maureen Murray says, “The way to maintain a deck is to have the maintenance be low in the first place by using a composite or cellular PVC material.” Timbertech's latest manufacturing process takes a composite core and caps it with a tough outer shell, making it very durable (read more about it in our news article on the Earthwood Evolutions Terrain collection).

To help you decide here's what you need to know about the three main deck materials:

Wood: There are many types of wood appropriate for an outdoor deck, with tropical hardwoods being a favorite because they're very dense. Hardwoods come from old-growth trees that are more durable than average wood. Chemically-treated woods may last longer than other woods. Richard Wallace, the VP of communications for the Southern Forest Products Association, says, “Pressure-treated Southern Pine offers time-tested, long-term durability and outstanding value when used for building decks and other outdoor structures. Nothing beats the look and feel of real wood.”

Southern Pine is often considered the strongest structural species, ideal for both the framing and surface decking of your deck. Other populr choices in American hardwoods are cedar, cypress and redwood. Generally, composite products have limited strength attributes and typically depend on treated Southern Pine for support.

Wood decks need a certain amount of maintenance and upkeep, which is determined by where you live, weather patterns and how much you use your deck.

Wood decks might deteriorate more rapidly, causing splintering or splitting, if not properly stained on a regular basis. It's often a contest with Mother Nature—and you need to be aware of insects to avoid any damage they can do. You can get more care tips at http://southernpinedecks.com/building_a_deck_deck_finishing.asp

Composite: Composite decking is a mix of hardwood and polyethylene plastic that's low maintenance. This type of “wood-plastic” offers a natural, authentic wood look that comes in an assortment of styles and colors that can withstand outdoor elements. “The needs of homeowners have grown to where they have higher demands on their decks, which serve as outdoor rooms with kitchens, entertainment centers and party areas. Deck materials must perform to this increased usage and daily wear and tear,” says Carey Walley of TimberTech.

Cellular PVC: This type is known best for its low-maintenance, longevity and durability. Cellular PVC represents the newest decking category trend because of its low maintenance and durability. This flat grain surface texture does not require pre-drilling like wood and composite decks and is mildew, stain and scratch resistant. A popular brand of cellular PVC material is AZEK Building Products shown in the photo to the right.

Cost Differences

Regular, pressure treated wood is the cheapest route to take for outdoor decking but factor in regular maintenance; this wood tends to have the shortest lifespan. Exotic hardwoods have a longer life span but are more costly. Composite decking costs often fall between those two wood options and have varied product choices that fit many budgets. The original cost of a composite deck might be more costly than a traditional wood deck, but the overall benefits may balance that out over the total lifetime of the deck.

Hiring A Pro

When building your outdoor deck, you want to work with an experienced deck designer or a contractor who specializes in outdoor decks and landscapes. Create a wishlist for your project with online tools, like TimberTech's “Deck Designer” program that allows you to choose size, shape, color and number of railings, levels and other features for your deck. Or try the company's “Straight Talk” interactive website forum to get answers to questions about building and designing a deck, pricing or how different deck materials compare.

Photos courtesy of TimberTech and AZEK Building Products: http://timbertech.com/, http://www.azek.com/ and Southern Forest Products Association http://www.southernpine.com/.