Fifty years ago if you wanted to build a deck you used pressure treated pine boards. Today, you can still use pressure treated pine and most folks still do, because it’s the cheapest wood for the job. Properly maintained, stained, and sealed pressure treated pine will last for 15-30 years before needing replacing. Composite decks (wood and plastic man-made boards) will also last 20-30 years. The difference in price is offset by the length of time each deck will last and the maintenance costs.
Decks made of other types of wood, aluminum, or composites also vary in price and length of life from 15-30 years. So how do you decide?
Well, if you’re in Colorado you definitely need to consider the climate, weather, UV exposure, and the amount of time you want to spend maintaining your deck. Colorado is notorious for wide swings in temperature, humidity, rain, snow, heat and cold—the very things that cripple the average deck. If you’re building with a composite board in Colorado, try to use one that uses bamboo rather than wood flour or sawdust in its makeup. Wood easily absorbs water (even in a composite), while bamboo is hydrophobic (shuns water and moisture) and naturally resists moisture.
Just the combination of heavy winter snows that sit for long periods of time before being shoveled, and the temperature extremes can warp the average wood deck. Add UV exposure (At 6,000-8,000 feet in elevation, exposure to UV rays is increased by 25% compared to sea level.) and Colorado is a tough state to build a long-lasting wood deck in.
However, other material alternatives, like “moisture-and-UV-resistant fully capped co-extruded bamboo composite decking” are stronger, more UV-resistant than sealers, and can add years to the life of your deck. A lot depends on the size of deck, where it’s located (in or out of the sun) and how consistent you are with maintaining it (shoveling snow, sealing boards etc.). A good ‘Chinook’ wind can change the climate drastically in a matter of hours, drying out unsealed wood quickly.
Pressure Treated Pine
Pressure treated pine is the most common decking material and at $1.35 (average) per linear board foot, the cheapest. But, it must be properly maintained every year if you want it to last. Cost per square foot installed vary according to state, contractor and size of deck. The chemicals used to make pressure treated pine repel insects and deter rot from the inside, but in order to maintain the wood, it must be sealed with a penetrating oil from the outside.
- Readily available
- Easy to Install
- High maintenance
- Must be cleaned and sealed every year
Red and White Cedar
Cedar is naturally rot resistant. Lumber harvesters often pull up perfectly solid, usable cedar logs from the bottoms of ponds and rivers where they’ve laid for 80 and 100 years. Cedar is used a lot in coastal areas because of its ability to withstand the punishing sea salt from ocean sprays.
Redwood is beautiful raw or stained. It’s naturally rot and bug resistant, and a very strong, and durable wood. Used mostly in the Pacific Southwest, it’s still easily available in Colorado. One of the reasons so many homeowners prefer redwood is that it has no pitch or resins, so it accepts all kinds and colors of stain without blotching.
Like Cedar and Redwood, Cypress is naturally rot resistant as well. However, it’s not as strong, or as expensive as Redwood or Cedar. Still, it’s a very popular wood choice, primarily because of its denseness, which means knots in the wood are less likely to loosen and create holes in the deck. Color is the second reason homeowners choose Cypress. Cypress heartwood varies in color from light yellowish brown to dark chocolate brown and weathers to a soft gray color. It is similar to Redwood in strength and hardness. However, unlike Redwood, it does contain resin.
Tropical hardwoods include exotic woods like ipe, ironwood, and balau. These are beautiful types of wood, but very, dense and usually not suitable for installation by anyone but a professional.
- All tropical hardwoods naturally repel bugs
- All tropical hardwoods naturally resist decay
- The sheer density of these woods prevents the spread of fire
- Lasts 20-30 years with yearly washing and regular sealing
- Soft and prone to marring and denting
- Expensive – almost two to five times pricier than pressure-treated lumber
Composite boards vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, the majority of composite boards are made with recycled materials like wood waste (wood flour) and plastic. Composite boards are generally stamped or produced with a wood-like grain so they look like real wood. However, they require minimal maintenance, and never need to be sanded or painted. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative, this is it. Make sure the composite you select is certified for at least 50% recycled material before buying.
- Low maintenance
- Come in a variety of styles and colors
- Superior UV protection – a must have for Colorado weather
- May be slipperier than wood
- Are prone to mildew
- Require special (more expensive) fasteners
- Aren’t as strong as wood (For stronger boards, choose one that contains polypropylene)
If you want ultra low-maintenance, synthetic lumber is your best choice. Synthetic Lumber is made from materials such as vinyl, polystyrene, or cellular polyvinyl chloride and is often referred to as PVA lumber. To get the best synthetic lumber pick one that has UV inhibitors processed directly into the vinyl and not just sprayed on after production.
- Stays dry no matter what the weather
- Extremely UV resistant – a big pro for Colorado Decks
- More expensive than traditional materials
If you don’t want or need the traditional wood look for your deck, consider metal decking. If you have a dock, commercial or heavy traffic, or want a heavy duty alternative for a rental property or a cabin where regular maintenance is impossible, consider metal decking. It doesn’t rot or rust and is extremely durable.
- Can be overlapped to prevent water dripping to the area beneath the deck
- Seriously low maintenance and long lasting
- Seriously heavy duty and cost-effective
- Does not have traditional appeal of wood
- Can be noisy, depending on where it is installed and the type of use
- Slippery – more slippery than wood or composites