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All Decked Out: Pick Your Plank Material

A stylish, low-maintenance deck begins with the right planking product.

By Jan Soults Walker

Whether you want a deck that's sleek and contemporary, tailored and traditional, or ornate and romantic, each one begins with a dream and decking material. As you shop, you'll find a wide range of decking products to make it happen. Here's an alphabetical rundown.

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Tineke Triggs

Composites and PVC

Wood dust and plastic binders (some made from recycled plastics) form composite decking—a synthetic material that suggests the look of wood (but doesn't completely fool the eye) and continues to rise in popularity because of its perceived longevity and low-maintenance. Composite planks come pre-colored so they won't need initial staining, but the color can fade over time. Composite decks are among the most expensive uninstalled, and installation can be higher due to framing and hardware requirements. Although many manufacturers claim that composites are longer lasting than other decking products, research the claims before you buy. In some cases, compromised binders allow moisture to damage the planks.

Vinyl planks (made from the same material as vinyl siding) provide reduced maintenance benefits similar to composite decking; however, extreme temperature fluctuations can crack vinyl.

PVC decking is made entirely of polyvinyl chloride and contains no wood; it is also more expensive than composite plank materials and doesn't offer the look or feel of wood underfoot. Manufacturers claim that this product is longer lasting and very low maintenance, but be sure to research any claims before purchasing.

Exotic/tropical woods

Kathleen Hay
Imported wood planks are prized for their long-lasting beauty and natural resistance to rot, insects, and fading, but they are also pricey (some sources say you'll pay 10 times more for imports and exotics that you would for domestic pine planks). You'll find these exotic and tropical woods with names such as ipe, camaru, teak, bangkiri, jarrah, and mahogany. In some cases, exotic or tropical wood won't require sealing, but keep in mind some of the products may be depleting rain forests. Check on the sustainability of the ones you're considering before you buy.

Naturally resistant woods

Cedar, redwood, and cypress are the three domestic woods commonly used for deck planks thanks to their good looks and natural resistance to the elements. Cypress and redwood are becoming less available due to their lack of sustainability and product scarcity. Cedar remains abundant and the more affordable out of this trio—you can expect cedar wood planks to last a few decades or more.

Pressure-treated lumber

Pine boards treated with chemical preservations are commonly referred to as pressure-treated. When properly sealed and maintained, pressure-treated lumber can last as long as half a century. The product is affordable, as the least expensive of all the wood deck planking options.

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