Inside a home, far more attention goes into how to decorate walls and the protective layers constructed outside of the bones. It’s easy to forget how much effort goes into the procurement and betterment of materials for construction.
Outside of a home, bare wood (or nearly bare) is a chosen aesthetic. This naked wood needs to be considered as an outer layer that also works as an inner layer. Choosing the best deck wood, then, is about finding a material that holds both its strength and looks with the least maintenance.
This selection is partially based on a chosen aesthetic, naked wood versus painted, stained, etc. The other selection pressure is climate. An area with more humidity needs different materials than a dry area with lots of unfiltered sunlight.
The following provides information on the most popular choices and explains their strengths and longevity.
Best Deck Wood
At one point in time, deck wood was chosen by local availability or cheapest distribution. The local procurement made sense because wood growing in an area clearly was adapted to the area.
Cheap distribution helped make replacements and upkeep cheaper by offering a standardized product.
Today’s options expand on these two concepts integrating new technologies and time-tested materials that beat expense curves. This list breaks down decking material into broad categories of natural woods, exotic wood, and budget materials.
Natural woods provided the best appearance without resorting to treatments or stains. They create their own protective chemicals and are rich in color.
That said, to expand the longevity of these woods, stripping, sealing, and eventually staining come into play. Sealing of natural woods is recommended every three or so years. Stains for natural woods are less about coloration than they are tint.
Much like a window, the stain offers sun filtration that blocks light from bleaching the wood as quickly.
This softwood from the west coast offers a rich color and tannins that repel bugs and slow decay.
Redwood comes in grades representing respective hardness based on if the wood is pulled from the inner or outer areas of a tree. heartwood provides the best in decay resistance but is somewhat firmer and always more expensive.
Sapwood is softer but limited in its repellant qualities. Sapwood also tends to have more character in terms of knots and patterns.
Recent investigations indicate promising directions for getting replacements to color match older boards, furthering the longevity of this wood.
Red cedar has many of the same properties of redwood and similar aesthetics. Red coloration makes decks feel warm and lived-in over duller grey and brown colorings.
While grades of redwood concern the longevity and hardness of the material, grades in red cedar represent scales of most to least knotty.
Cedar is a thinner tree and less prone to variation in hardness. The level knotty content changes the look but also structural integrity with exceptionally knotty wood offering more area for decay.
These materials come from harder trees sourced from tropical locations. They are relatively new to the market but offer key resistances not found in northwestern woods.
These woods are dense and fibrous, making them resistant to weathering, especially from water. Like natural woods, they do best when treated with a protective stain that reflects light to keep the color longer.
Pronounced ee-pay, this wood is also known as Brazilian Walnut. It is a deep mahogany in color and lightens over time to look a softer red. This is the decking material Ipe Woods specializes in because it’s the wood that offers the best in strength, appearance, and upkeep.
The relative hardness of Ipe limits the fasteners used to hold it in place. Screws and nails work poorly without pilot holes. Clips and hidden fasteners both hold better and keep the deck looking flush.
Also known as Brazilian Ash, Garapa wood resembles Ipe in many ways. The key difference is the color, which is a more rich brown that fades into ideal warm browns and ‘woody’ colors.
It also keeps a smoother appearance, looking more like wood tile than the rich grain of Ipe or the natural woods.
Budget options lower costs by blending materials or otherwise treating wood to add durability. These woods are functional but lack a lot of the natural beauty of natural and tropical woods.
These materials also need more frequent upkeep. It’s always important to consider the impact of preservatives and stains, especially if applied annually.
Pressure-treated wood starts out soft and becomes denser from the aforementioned pressuring treating. Typically comprised of yellow pine, the material undergoes a process that provides resistance to weathering, insects, and decaying agents like fungus.
It isn’t a very appealing color but is porous, making it easy to stain other colors. This porous construction does leave it vulnerable to taking in water which warps it over time.
A yearly wash and stain are recommended and a three-year treatment of preservatives to keep the wood water-tight.
Composite materials cost more than pressure-treated but also bring in better longevity at the cost of looking more uniform and less wood.
This material almost doesn’t belong in this list as it isn’t so much deck wood as full-on deck ‘material’. Still, composite decking holds up to weathering well.
Composite decking requires the least maintenance with only semi-annual washing needed to keep it looking proper.
A combination of western hemlock and Amabilis fir, these boards are sold together and may contain either or in any combination.
Generally speaking, these are not great deck woods but are cheap and can be useful if treated well.
For a deck that’s subject to punishment from physical blows or one that you want to paint a non-wood color, hem-fir offers low costs and low-aesthetics.
Expect to strip and repaint the wood every other year and wash annually.
Find Yours Now
Now you have an overview of the best deck wood options on the market for every budget. All decks require maintenance to last but some require more frequent than others.
Keep in mind your total budget and don’t be afraid to pay more upfront to have a lower-cost per year and a more natural, lustrous deck. Contact us with questions about your property and for deck ideas and tips.