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Installation & Maintenance

How to Choose the Right DIY Decking Materials

DIY Decking Series – Part II

December 10 2019
Decks DIY Deck Building
How to Choose the Right DIY Decking Materials-Header Image.jpg

This is the second installment of our DIY Decking series. (If you missed part 1, make sure to check out How to Know if You’re Ready to Build Your Own Deck.) In this article, you’ll discover which DIY decking materials are right for your project.

Deciding on what kind of materials you’ll use is one of the most crucial ― and difficult ― choices when building a deck. To help you narrow it down and make the decision-making process easier, we analyzed three of the most common DIY decking materials:

To determine which materials are best for your outdoor living space, we ranked these DIY decking materials across six key categories:

  1. Durability
  2. Design
  3. Performance
  4. Installation
  5. Cost
  6. Sustainability

Scroll down for the full analysis or click on the topics above to browse the most important topics to you.

Durability: The Longest-Lasting DIY Decking Materials

The last thing you want to do after installing a deck is to spend a lot of time or money on upkeep every year. Here are the decking materials that will last the longest and require the least amount of maintenance from you.

3rd Place: Traditional Wood Decks

Hardwood is prone to rotting, warping, weathering, and color fading. And, the work doesn’t stop after you install a wood deck — you’ll need to sand, stain, and treat the boards regularly to avoid color-fading, rotting, and warping.

Cedar Control and Test Sample.jpg

Cedar control and test sample*

2nd Place: Capped Composite Decking

The cap surrounding composite decking products acts as a shield against the elements and keeps the boards safe from many of the ailments that afflict wood decks. But not all caps are created equally. Four-sided caps are more durable ― because of their ability to repel and protect all four sides and into the grooves — than boards only covered on three sides. Additionally, TimberTech® caps contain no wood filler, so every TimberTech Decking line is more durable than caps that use a mix of wood and synthetics (unlike boards from other major composite decking companies).
TimberTech PRO control and test sample.jpg
TimberTech PRO control and test sample*

1st Place: Capped Polymer Decking

In terms of durable DIY decking materials, capped polymer boards are the hands-down winner. Like composites, polymers don’t require sanding, sealing, or staining — but that’s not all. Capped polymers like our TimberTech AZEK® boards earned our top spot for durability thanks to a few added benefits:

  • Advanced cap science, dubbed Alloy Armour Technology®, safeguards the boards against color fading, stains, and scratches.
  • They’re backed by a 50-Year Fade & Stain Warranty and a Lifetime Limited Product Warranty.
  • With zero wood in the core or cap of the boards, they’re even more resistant to mold and mildew damage than competitive composite boards that have wood particles in both their core and cap.

TimberTech AZEK control and test sample.jpg

TimberTech AZEK control and test sample*

*Test applied constant moisture exposure to the bottom side of each product for 26 days.

Design: The Best-Looking DIY Decking Materials

It’s a common misnomer that premium hardwood and traditional lumber decks are the only way to achieve a natural-looking deck. And while hardwood decks have this natural-looking reputation, they’re also the most vulnerable to color fading, scratches, and stains. When it comes to the best-looking boards, capped composites and capped polymers are way ahead in technology and longevity ― some more so than others.

3rd Place: Other Capped Composites

While other capped composites have a lot of the same traits as our boards, a lot of our competitors rely on three-sided caps that are made with real wood particles, which makes them susceptible to unsightly moisture damage and color fading. And, one of our competitors has a full line of decking with wood particles on the boards’ surface that look like white flakes, or as it’s called in the industry — “dandruff.” Yuck.
Competitors Capped Composite-Board Dandruff.jpg

2nd Place: Our Capped Composites

Admittedly, we're a tad partial, but we think our capped composite boards stand out enough to warrant separate consideration in this category. If you’re looking for immaculate designs and plenty of style options, TimberTech PRO™ and TimberTech EDGE™ Decking lines are both great choices. For example, the TimberTech PRO Legacy Collection uses cascading colors to create beautiful variations that resemble the nuances found in nature.

Our Capped Composites-2nd Best-Looking DIY Decking Materials.jpg

1st Place: Capped Polymer Decking

Thanks to advances in decking technology, capped polymer boards are achieving a higher level of design sophistication than ever before. One way we love pushing the boundaries of design is with our TimberTech AZEK® boards which use color blending (naturally mixing multiple colors on the board) to produce highly realistic wood-tone finishes.

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Experience the Design First-Hand

Want to get a better look at these amazing designs? Order free samples of our TimberTech boards to see and experience the difference for yourself.

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Performance: The Most Functional Deck Materials 

Many homeowners long for an outdoor space that’s perfect for entertaining guests and that can handle lots of foot traffic — including the occasional stampede of kids and pets. If you’re looking to build a truly livable outdoor space, here’s which DIY decking materials that are up to the task.

2nd Place: Capped Composite Decking

In our expert (albeit biased) opinion, the race for most livable DIY decking materials is a two-contestant affair. In second place, we’re going with capped composites. Composite board surfaces are stain-resistant and easy to clean, making them great for handling the inevitable spills that come from dinner parties and playtime with the little ones.

1st Place: Capped Polymer Decking

Capped polymer decks feature stain-resistant surfaces like composite boards, plus a few other features to edge out the competition in this category. Using TimberTech AZEK Decking as an example, here are a few reasons capped polymers won for the most livable decking material:

  • Our capped polymer is made with no wood in the cap or core, so you can enjoy your deck without worrying about splinters.
  • With boards that stay up to 30 degrees cooler than competitive composite products, you can feel confident going barefoot on your AZEK deck on even the hottest of days.
  • AZEK boards are up to 40% more slip-resistant than competitive composite products, which means fewer falls in wet conditions.

Installation: The Easiest Decking Materials to Install Yourself

1st Place: Capped Polymer Decking

When it comes to installation, there’s not a huge difference between composites and hardwood. This is great news because, as a DIYer, you only need to make a few minor adjustments (see our Installation Guides for more details). Capped polymer boards, like TimberTech AZEK Decking, offer a couple of major advantages when it comes to DIY installation:

  • AZEK boards are up to 30% lighter than competitive composite products, which is a huge plus if you’re installing the deck by yourself (your back ― and substructure ― will thank you for the lighter load).
  • AZEK boards don’t require pre-drilling and allow for countersinking so screws sit flush with the board without distorting or cracking the surface. This cuts down on the amount of time you’ll spend hunched over fastening boards (again, your back will thank you).

Cost: The DIY Decking Material with the Best Value

A common mistake that homeowners make while planning their outdoor living space is to think in terms of ONLY upfront costs. But, it’s important to think long term and big picture. Here’s the ranking of deck materials in terms of both short- and long-term value.

3rd Place: Hardwood Decking

Hardwood boards typically come in at a lower price per square foot than capped composites or capped polymers. But the money you’ll spend on maintenance adds up over time. If you have long-term plans for your deck, any of the traditional hardwoods probably aren’t your best bet.

2nd Place: Capped Polymer Decking

Capped polymers cost much less to maintain than hardwood decks; combine that with the added value of an extended warranty and it won’t take long to see the value of spending a little more upfront.

1st Place: Capped Composite Decking

Like capped polymers, composite decks are easy to maintain and backed by extended warranties — not quite as extended as polymers like TimberTech AZEK, though. It’s a trade-off. We gave the nod to composites here thanks to slightly lower upfront costs for the actual decking boards.

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*Estimated 10-year total cost comparison, based on a 320-square-foot deck. Costs only include deck boards and are based on the National Average.

Sustainability: The Most Environmentally-Friendly Deck Material

For some homeowners, the environmental price of building materials matters just as much as the financial costs. If you’re looking to mitigate the environmental footprint of your project, here’s the ranking of the most sustainable decking materials.

2nd Place: Capped Polymer Decking

When it comes to sustainable deck materials, it’s another two-horse race. The truth is there’s only one way to get the boards for a natural hardwood deck — and it involves hacking down life-sustaining trees. Capped polymer boards like TimberTech AZEK, on the other hand, use zero wood and are made with up to 54% recycled material.

1st Place: Capped Composite Decking

At TimberTech, we go even further with our capped composite boards. We use up to 80% recycled material in our TimberTech PRO and EDGE Decking — including 100% recycled material in the core.

Experience the Difference for Yourself

Explore our capped polymer and composite decking lines to see – and feel – the TimberTech advantage for yourself.