Popular options are composite, wood, aluminum, and PVC.
IPE wood is the longest-lasting deck material.
Pressure-treated pine has the shortest life span for decking
Composite and synthetic decking are low-maintenance options.
If a new deck is on your lengthy list of home projects, there’s no time like the present to start exploring the best decking material available. Ideally, you’ll want to create your masterpiece with a long-lasting deck material so you can enjoy your time with friends and family and lazy afternoons with your dog for many years to come.
In addition to longevity, cost, aesthetics, and ease of use should also factor into your decision. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a look at some common types of deck material options, their longevity, and what you can expect when working with each.
Wood Decking Material Options
Wood has proven to be most people’s go-to for decking materials. For most, wood yields a lovely end result. It’s easy to cut and, overall, just easy to work with. But a closer look into the wood category will reveal plenty of wood species to choose from.
There’s a lot to consider, from pressure-treated pine, which is easy to find, to redwood, which is less expensive and lasts longer. Here’s a closer look into some specific entries in the wood decking category.
Ipe Wood Decking
Ipe wood decking is hardwood, so it’s pretty good at repelling water. It’s also resistant to insects or fungi. To give you an idea of what ipe wood can do, the Coney Island Boardwalk was constructed in 1923 using ipe decking. Not only has the boardwalk withstood the test of time for almost a century, but it’s done so in a harsh environment of water and salt.
Ipe wood is dense and extremely durable. And if you choose to build a deck using ipe wood, you can probably expect your deck to outlive you, as this type of deck can last anywhere from 30 to 75 years.
It’s worth noting that while ipe is highly durable and can probably withstand the test of time, that same durability makes the wood pretty tricky to work with. You may need to work with a deck builder near you to install this decking material.
Cost: $4–$8 per linear foot
Life span: 30–75 years
Redwood decking is another popular option for decking material. One look at a redwood deck, and you’ll understand why. This type of wood really has a wow factor. It produces a stunning aesthetic, but it’s also pretty affordable compared to other kinds of wood, the price of which comes in somewhere around $4 to $6 per square foot.
While redwood decking is absolutely gorgeous and cost-efficient, it’s important to note that it tends to fade quickly and is prone to scuffs and scratches. This type of wood requires regular pressure washing and resealing every couple of years. It’s always important to properly maintain a wooden deck, but a redwood deck would likely only last about 20 years, even with proper maintenance.
Cost: $4–$6 per square foot
Life span: About 20 years
Cedar decking is another type of wood with a powerful wow factor. Even so, it doesn't seem to be a popular choice for decking material. Like redwood decking, cedar is relatively affordable, coming in somewhere between $9 and $4 per linear foot. The cost jumps up to $20 to $40 per square foot when you include labor.
Also, like redwood, cedar decking tends to fade quickly and requires regular and consistent maintenance. Even with regular upkeep, a cedar deck will still only last somewhere around 20 years.
Cost: $9–$4 per linear foot
Life span: About 20 years
Pressure-treated pine costs $15 to $25 per square foot and is almost always readily available in any local big box home store, so it’s one of the first go-to woods for most folks.
Pressure-treated pine may be a popular choice for wood decking, but it comes in toward the higher end of the price range and may not be the best option for building a deck. In fact, in comparison to all the types of wood we’ve looked at, pressure-treated pine decking typically only lasts about 10 to 15 years.
If you’re leaning towards pressure-treated wood, you should also know that this type of wood is often infused with chemicals, like chromated arsenicals, that can release toxic fumes into the air if burned.
So when sealing your pressure-treated wood deck (which is a must), you’re doing that to protect the wood and maintain the look of your deck. You’re also sealing it to minimize exposure to the chemicals within the wood.
Cost:$15–$25 per square foot
Life span: 10–15 years
Composite decking is a blend of plastic and wood fibers. Composite deck boards typically have a stamped wood grain pattern resembling the look of natural wood and are often available in a wide range of shapes and colors.
Composite decking costs more than wood decking, coming in around $25 to $54 per square foot, and it doesn't have the typical drawbacks of natural wood like fading, mold, and the possibility of insect infestation.
Overall, composite decking is quite durable and typically low maintenance as there is no periodic sealing required. Homeowners can expect a composite deck to last somewhere around 25 years, slightly longer than some wood decking.
Cost: $25–$54 per square foot
Life span: About 25 years
Synthetic Decking (PVC)
If low-maintenance decking tops your list of must-haves, you might consider synthetic decking, also called PVC decking. As you might suspect, synthetic decking is durable, scratch-resistant, fade-resistant, and typically not susceptible to water damage. Synthetic decking may be a little more expensive than wood decking at an average of $5 to $13 per square foot.
That said, most people with a synthetic deck would probably call it a wash because there are no long-term maintenance costs to really speak of.
While synthetic decks are low maintenance, some people may say they lack aesthetics. At the end of the day, a vinyl deck that contains PVC just can't deliver the natural look of wood no matter what you do.
Again, if longevity is first and foremost on your list, synthetic decking is an excellent option as most manufacturers even offer lengthy warranties, sometimes ranging anywhere from 30 to 50 years.
Cost: $5–$13 per square foot
Life span: 30–50 years
Aluminum decking is not nearly as popular as wood composite or synthetic decking. Still, if you’re looking for longevity and low maintenance, it might be a worthy addition to your shortlist of long-lasting deck materials. Aluminum decking costs about $6 to $15 per square foot and has an average life span of 30 or so years.
While aluminum decking may not be a popular choice for most private homes, it’s typically used in communal swimming areas or lakefront properties. More often than not, the aluminum decking is powder-coated or anodized with some type of finish that protects the deck from water and harsh weather.
As you might suspect, aluminum is exceptionally resistant to mold, mildew, and staining, unlike wood. And when properly treated, aluminum decking won’t rust or crack over time.
It’s worth noting that while aluminum decking might seem like an accident waiting to happen, most aluminum decking tends to come with a non-skid textured surface that mitigates the risks of slips and falls during the family barbecue.
Cost: $6–$15 per square foot
Life span: ~30 years
The Best Type of Decking Material by Category
By now you’re practically an expert in the different types of decking materials, but how do they compare? Below you’ll find the best decking materials by key categories to help you decide which option is best for your project.
Water Resistant: Aluminum Decking
If you live in a wet climate, you’ll want to choose a decking material that withstands rain and humidity. Aluminum is a solid choice for water resistance no matter the temperature of your region because it won’t expand and contract. While synthetic PVC is also water-resistant, this material may be more slippery than aluminum, which often has anti-slip features.
Longest Lasting: Ipe Wood Decking
Ipe wood is the longest-lasting decking material thanks to its density. Your ipe wood deck could last up to 75 years. In comparison, pressure-treated wood may only last up to 15 years.
Best Quality: Wood Decking
Depending on the type of wood you choose, wood decking is arguably the best quality decking material. Cedar wood in particular is naturally resistant to mold, rot, insects, warping, and cracking. Most of the other options are industrially-made products, making them less natural and more likely to contain synthetic materials that impact the quality of the product—even if they’re longer lasting.
Styles and Colors: Wood Decking
There’s a reason why wood decking withstands the tests of time despite having an overall lower lifespan compared to other materials. If you’re after a vibrant deck full of style and a variety of stain options, wood decking is your go-to decking material. Most other materials lack the customizable features you can get with wood, so you might have to decide if aesthetics is more important than durability and maintenance for this one.
Best in All Climates: Composite Decking
You can install composite decking in rainy or sunny weather without worrying about warpage. The material is water-resistant and won’t mold or become infested with insects, making it an ideal choice for all sorts of climates. Composite decking also won’t overheat in scorching weather.
Lowest Maintenance: Aluminum Decking
Aluminum decking is the clear winner for a low-maintenance deck. You don’t have to deal with rot as you would with wood decking. While composite decking is a close runner-up, aluminum decking takes the cake because it doesn’t need to be replaced as frequently.
Staying Cool on Hot Days: Composite Decking
Decks that receive full sunlight need a composite decking material for the longest-lasting, heat-resistant deck. You’ll want to avoid wood and synthetic plastics, as they absorb heat and are susceptible to warpage. Aluminum won’t warp, but it heats up fast in the sun and also cools down quickly.
Durable: Synthetic Decking
Synthetic decking is the most durable decking material. While ipe decking technically has the longest lifespan, you’ll need to regularly seal it to maintain that lifespan. On the contrary, synthetic decking is durable without those extra measures, making it the top contender.
Strongest Boards: Ipe Wood Decking
Again, ipe wood is the strongest board material on the market—so strong, in fact, that you might need a pro to drill the holes to install this material for your deck.
Pool Deck: Composite Decking
From the list, composite decking is the best choice for pools. Keep in mind, however, that most homeowners choose stamped concrete or pavers for pool decking materials. Natural stone pavers are a much better choice for a slip-resistant and chemical-resistant deck—features you’ll want to consider for decks close to pools.
Sharon Brandwein contributed to this piece.