Which decking material should you use?
What is the best decking material?
There are several possible decking materials that work and are easily available in the Ottawa area. Maybe more than several. Pressure treated and cedar wood. Ipe and other tropical woods. Some industrially processed woods such as "Thermory". PVC and vinyl. There are many types of composite decking materials . Here are a few pros and cons;
Pressure treated woods; This is the least expensive and least attractive choice. This wood will last outdoors for about 20 years so long as it is installed properly. All cuts must be treated with a preservative. Almost all deck framing is pressure treated wood, but the material sold as decking is generally rougher than other available choices. You must wait a year before staining this material. We almost never use pressure treated decking.
Cedar, either Western Red or Eastern White; This is the most commonly used decking material in the Ottawa area, They are similar woods , with approximately the same durability, and virtually identical pricing. Western Red Cedar generally comes in longer lengths and is more readily available. It can be more reddish in appearance, The Eastern White is usually more like a neutral brown. Both fade quickly to silver grey if they are not stained or painted. They make good decking, and will last about 20 years, more or less. . Most clients love the appearance when the work is completed, and hope that it will continue to look that way. It won't. To maintain appearance, most people stain the wood.You must wait 60 days before staining. Usually, the stain needs to be redone every 2 or 3 years, especially in the areas where people walk regularly. Cedar costs more than pressure treated, but generally not so much more that it makes a great difference in the average deck, probably a few hundred dollars more for the average $10,000 deck.
Ipe or other tropical woods; These have been available for about 10 years in Ottawa. Ipe is a dark , heavy tropical hardwood which is described by the dealers as a 50 year wood. It costs about 5 times what cedar does. It will last well outdoors in our climate, but does fade over time, so many people end up treating it with oils that help maintain the colour. It makes a dramatic looking and hard wearing deck. These decks are still framed with pressure treated wood normally. So, the decking may be good for 50 years , but the frame will go about 20-25.
PVC , Vinyl; --Such as Azek brand decking. These can be quite good looking and durable materials. They appear to be trouble free so far. ( See below) They don't require repeated staining or maintenance other than cleaning. Usually installed with hidden fasteners. Railings are also available made with the same materials. The cost is usually around 5 times that of cedar when all the details are included. The deck framing must be more closely spaced than with cedar since the material has no real structural strength. So the framing costs somewhat more. The framing for almost all decks is pressure treated so, as with Ipe, the decking may outlive the frame.
Composite decking; There are many brands of composite materials around. Trex and Timbertech are 2 common brands. The details of the manufacture count. Most are installed with hidden fasteners. Early versions of this type of material had quite a few problems with the most frequently mentioned being fading and staining. There have been a couple of very large class action suits settled by the manufacturers. Current versions are quite improved, both in durability and appearance. The cost is usually around 3-4 times the cost of cedar, with the better ones costing more. Railings made from these materials can be as much as 10 times the cost of cedar railings. They are essentially maintenance free, but as with other options, the frame is good for the usual 20-25 years.
Note about frame durability; Porches with roofs last about 100 years, including the floor framing, as long as the roof doesn't leak. Usually, the stairs, not under the roof, last about 25 years, like a deck frame. So a deck with a full, permanent canopy should have a long life. It is a situation where the more expensive decking materials are easier to justify.
Some observations from experience;
We don't use pressure treated for finishing work including decking. It's just too rough, especially the railings. We like to do careful, detailed work.
Azek decking; We built a large, high, ambitious deck a few years ago using Azek decking, with metal railings and glass panels. It was well above average in cost. The clients were very happy with it. There were a few details at ground level that had to wait for a landscaper to do his work. We returned 3 months later when he was finished. The clients had placed new garden furniture on the deck and it didn't move for those 3 months. When we moved it to get access to the sides of the deck, there were indentations and rust stains where each of the legs had been. The furniture was new, plastic covered metal, but there were small weep holes in the bottom of the legs to let condensation out. We were not able to remove the indentations or the rust stains no matter what we did, so the bright white expensive deck immediately looked a little old and worn unless they placed their furniture in the exact same location all the time, and it could not be fixed. This client had insisted on Azek from day 1 because they has read online that it was the best material. It doesn't rot. That's part is true.
Composite decking; Almost every client asks about composite decking and we do use it once in a while. All of the manufacturers try to make it look like wood. The more expensive varieties are better imitations than the cheaper ones. But anyone with eyes can see that it is an imitation. We consider it more or less equivalent to vinyl siding. Up close, it looks like plastic, often squeaks, can be very hot, gets stained and often can't be cleaned. Looks tired in a few years.
Cedar Decking; The vast majority of the decks that we have built over 40 years have used red cedar decking. Every and I mean every, client is very happy with it the day that we finish. They hope it can stay that way, but it can't. If it isn't stained or painted, it will turn a silvery grey which is fine in some situations, as in a country property or a cottage. I think not treating it at all shortens the life by a few years. Probably still get 20 years before boards need to be replaced. But most people stain it. It's what deck owners fear the most. It usually gets mentioned in the first design/quoting appointment along with the word "composite". For a deck exposed to the sun, it probably needs to be done about every 2-3 years to keep it looking fresh. Most people feel they can do it themselves but I think that , unless you love the work, which a few people do, you should hire a painter. It doesn't cost much. The best material will be used. It will be done in a few hours on a weekday. and not stretched over several weekends as you find the time and good weather. If people try to do it themselves, they usually get tired of it after a few years and start to neglect it. Well maintained with a good stain, it will still look great after 15 years. And the material is repairable if something gets damaged. That cannot be said for composite or PVC.