HomeOutdoor Living BlogThe 4 Best Deck Material Options for 2023 + How To Choose One

The 4 Best Deck Material Options for 2023 + How To Choose One

December 23, 2022
A close up of composite decking with two horizontal middle boards and diagonal boards installed above with vertical boards below.

If you’re looking to build a new outdoor deck for your home, choosing the right material is very important. And there are many deck material options to choose from, each with their own maintenance needs, long-term costs, and overall investment value.  

Decking material can range from traditional wood to innovative capped polymer (PVC) decking, but not all deck materials are created equal. Making the right investment for your home means finding the deck material that fits your lifestyle needs.

In this guide, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the most common deck material options so you can make the best decision. 

Comparison of four decking material options, including pressure-treated wood, hard and softwoods, composite, and PVC.
Pressure-Treated WoodPremium Softwoods and HardwoodsCompositePVC
Typically made from pine and placed in a pressure chamberTypically made from Ipe, cedar, or redwoodTypically made from a blend of wood and plasticTypically made from polypropylene (PP) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

1. Hardwoods and Premium Softwoods

An example of a traditional wood deck with a close up of the wood decking boards.

Traditional wood is probably the first material that comes to mind when planning your deck. It’s common for a reason — they are generally strong and offer the natural look you expect from a deck. 

Traditional wood decks can be made from an assortment of different woods, spanning softwoods to hardwoods. 

Hardwood Decks

One of the two types of material used for wood decking is hardwood. This is most commonly Ipe, but also includes other exotic hardwoods like mahogany and tigerwood. 

Hardwood has a moderate long-term value, as these materials were designed to outperform softwood, but they are still susceptible to moisture and weathering from the elements.

Exotic hardwoods like Ipe may have strength and durability thanks to their density, but they will quickly change from rich hues to silvery-gray when exposed to UV rays. 

They also tend to be even more expensive upfront than some composite and PVC decking products — but with less optimal performance and extensive upkeep needed to maintain aesthetics.

Softwood Decks

Softwood is the other type of wood deck material, which includes cedar and redwood, among other species.

What’s more, these types of material have the least long-term value. That’s because softwoods don’t offer as much protection as their engineered counterparts, and will therefore end up accumulating more repair and/or replacement costs over time.

Yet, wood decking typically needs to pass through different processes to further protect the wood’s surface level, including:

  • Staining: Tinted chemical treatments are applied to minimize fading and prolong the color of the boards.
  • Sealing: Clear or semi-transparent sealants sit on the surface of the deck boards to provide a temporary protective barrier.

These processes — and the wood deck in general — are high-maintenance. You will have to sand and re-stain your wood deck every two to five years and re-seal every one to three years. This goes to show that wood decking might not be your best choice if you’re looking for a low-maintenance deck. 

TimberTech Tip:
Traditional wood decking has limited protection against weathering agents like moisture, insects, and UV rays compared to leading composite decking.

To prevent your traditional wood deck from getting damaged, you’ll need to keep up with maintenance and regularly stain and seal the deck. 

When it comes to pricing, traditional wood decks can be perceived as the cheaper option. However, in addition to maintaining your deck, the upfront costs like maintenance can be high. 

For example, an Ipe deck will cost around $13,824 upfront, including labor, material costs, and the initial stain and seal. That’s not accounting for the extra $405 a year on average you’ll have to spend on maintenance. 

What’s more, even with consistent maintenance, traditional wood boards will deteriorate in time and require replacement — adding yet another expense to your deck budget.

Pros and Cons: Traditional Wood Decks

• Natural look and feel
• Generally strong
• High-maintenance
• High costs
• Will deteriorate over time

2. Pressure-Treated Wood Decks

An example of a pressure-treated wood deck with a planter box and deck furniture in the background.

Another popular option for wood decking material is pressure-treated wood. The wood, usually pine, is placed in a chamber that applies pressure to the wood and then seals it for protection.  

This is typically regarded as one of the best methods for protecting traditional softwood boards, since it helps avoid erosion. Compared to only sealing and staining, pressure treating gets protection deeper into the boards.

While pressure treating might sound impressive, no amount of pressure treatment can make wood an inorganic material — and all organic materials are susceptible to erosion. In moist or oxygenated soil, few treatments can protect vulnerable wood from bacteria or fungi.

These materials also have a lower long-term value, since these deck material options don’t offer the same protection as other materials, and will therefore end up accumulating more repair and even replacement costs over time.

Pressure-treated wood usually has a lower price point, attracting those looking for a more budget-friendly decking material. However, maintenance can be an issue since the material tends to warp, crack and rot over time, which leads to high maintenance costs. 

A pressure-treated deck will cost around $8,759 upfront, including labor, material costs, and the initial stain and seal. Plus, there’s an extra $348 a year on average you’ll have to spend on maintenance, like sanding, staining and sealing. 

Pros and Cons: Pressure-Treated Decks

• Cheaper upfront costs
• Natural look and feel
• Can withstand mold and insects for a short amount of time.
•Need to be sealed and stained often
• Tend to warp and crack
• Higher maintenance costs

3. Composite Decks

An example of a composite deck with mixed-color decking boards and a blue patio sectional.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance option that’s high performance and still has a lot of style options, then composite decking might be the best decking material for you. 

Composite decking consists of a blend of recycled plastic and wood fibers — roughly a 50/50 mix of wood and plastic. And if sustainability is important to you, TimberTech composite decking is made from up to approximately 80% recycled content, so you can build a deck that looks just like wood that’s good for the environment. 

With composite decking materials, you’ll have two options to choose from: 

  • Uncapped composite: Uncapped composite decking uses a 50/50 blend of inorganic material and wood fibers with no protective cap. 
  • Capped composite: Capped composite decking also features a 50/50 blend of inorganic material and wood in its core, as well as protective capping made from high-performance polymers. That means superior protection for a deck that looks better and performs better for years to come.

The blend of recycled plastics and wood fibers arguably strengthens the boards against weathering agents — but choosing an uncapped composite means moisture can still easily access the board’s core.

When you compare uncapped composite boards to capped composite, the cleaning task will also be much higher for uncapped. This means that with uncapped composite, you may need to use a cleaning treatment for mold and mildew because the organic wood fibers are exposed.

TimberTech Tip:
Upfront material cost is not the only factor that determines your project budget and accumulated costs; you also have to consider long-term value for the cost.

Looking at pricing, composite decks often have similar upfront costs to a traditional wood deck. But they’ll have the added bonus of being low-maintenance, so you’ll be spending less time cleaning your deck and more time enjoying it.

A composite deck will cost around $9,769 upfront, including labor and material costs. But when it comes to annual maintenance, you’ll be looking at only $120 per year on average.

Pros and Cons: Composite Decks

• High performance
• Low-maintenance
• Sustainable
• Higher upfront costs
• Require cleaning, which can be more rigorous with an uncapped composite deck
• Can be susceptible to mold and mildew (only if uncapped)

4. PVC Decks

An example of a PVC deck in gray with black railing matching the black trim on a brick home.

Decking boards made of PVC material usually consist of a blend of polymers (typically polypropylene and/or polyvinyl chloride) and feature three- or four-sided capping. The best capped polymer (PVC) does not have any wood in its cap or core.

This type of decking material is great for long-term value, since it is more durable and nearly maintenance-free. Plus, with TimberTech PVC decking, you’ll have a variety of styles and colors to choose from.

PVC decking is a good option if you’re looking for durability, especially if you’re placing it near a water-prone area. They’re also barefoot friendly and heat resistant, so you can worry less about the summer sun.

However, if sustainability is important to you, PVC decking materials will usually have less recycled material than composite decking. However, with TimberTech, our PVC decking is made from approximately 60% recycled materials, including hard-to-recycle plastics from post-construction sites. And the best part? Our PVC decking is fully recyclable at the end of its useful life. 

When it comes to costs, PVC is one of the more expensive options out there, but it’s comparable — and sometimes more affordable — than premium hardwoods. A PVC deck will cost close to $12,000 upfront, including labor and material costs, but maintenance will only cost around $110+ per year on average.   

Pros and Cons: PVC Decks

• Low-maintenance
• High performance
• Real wood look
• Higher upfront costs
• Less recycled material than composite
(Did you know: TimberTech is increasing the use of recycled material and now uses about 50% recycled content)

Compare Material Costs

NOTE: The estimated average cost of capped polymer deck boards and Ipe hardwood decking costs are based on the national average for a 16’ x 20’ deck. The estimated average cost of composite deck boards and pressure-treated lumber decking costs are based on the national average for a 16’ x 20’ deck. Meant for visual representation only. Actual costs may vary.

How To Choose the Best Decking Material

In order to pick the best decking material, you have to consider how you want the deck to look, how you intend on using it, and how much time you have to maintain it. 

We know that price and maintenance are usually the biggest concerns when it comes to choosing deck materials. We’ve found that the more innovative the technology, the less maintenance is required. That’s because engineered decking materials are designed to withstand the elements.

Choosing the best decking material for you depends on what’s most important to you.

What Deck Material Should I Choose?

Hardwoods and SoftwoodsPressure-TreatedCompositePVC
My deck will be by the water
I want a low-maintenance deck
I want my deck to last a long time
I don’t want to spend much money
I want to stay cool
I want style and color options
I want a natural-looking deck
My deck will have a lot of foot traffic

Prefer truly low-maintenance living? Choose a deck material with minimal maintenance needs like capped polymer (PVC) or capped composite decking.

If staying cool is what you need, TimberTech PVC decking is engineered to stay cooler and withstand water without getting damaged. 

Now, if costs matter to you, the deck material options with the lowest upfront costs typically include pressure-treated lumber and some composite products.

When you invest in your outdoor living space, you want to know you’re putting your money into something that will add value to your home, but choosing between different deck material options can be a hard decision to make. 

If you’re looking for less maintenance and high performance, both our capped polymer and capped composite decking lines are designed to look great for years to come, which means greater value added to your home.

See & Feel the TimberTech Advantage

Our capped polymer and capped composite decking lines combine recycled material with all the beauty of traditional wood.

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