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 get started. 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 materials, their longevity, and what you can expect when working with each.
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 a naturally hard wood, 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.
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 end result, 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: ~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: ~20 years
Pressure-treated pine 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.
While it may be readily available and not exactly an extravagance coming in at $10 to $12 per square foot, pressure-treated pine 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: $10–$12 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: ~25 years
If low-maintenance decking tops your list of must-haves, you might consider synthetic decking when you build your own. 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 who have a synthetic deck would probably call it a wash because there are no long-term maintenance costs to really speak of.
Now, while synthetic decks are low maintenance, some people may say they're lacking in 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
So, What Is the Longest-Lasting Decking Material?
There are plenty of options for deck materials. Some will keep your costs low, some require less maintenance, and all come with varying degrees of longevity. If your goal is to build a deck that essentially lasts forever, it would seem that ipe wood should top your list of contenders for decking materials.
Of course, there are plenty of other materials, like steel or concrete, that may outlast ipe wood, but, understandably, these are not common materials for decks. Steel or concrete aside, a deck that lasts anywhere from 30 to 75 years is pretty hard to beat.
If you’re ready to check a new deck off your list of household projects, you could always hire a deck builder near you, and once your project is complete, you can hire a local deck refinishing professional to perform the regularly required maintenance.