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Deck Materials - Buying Guide

Today there are many choices to be made when building a deck, and although shape and size usually come first, one of the most important decisions to be made is which material to use. Choices range from simple woods such as framing lumber or treated wood, up to more high-tech options including composite, vinyl or plastic. These choices will affect cost of material, ease of installation, colors and finish, as well as durability and life expectancy. This guide is intended to explain some of the options and pros and cons associated with each.

Framing Lumber

This is non-treated wood, don’t use! It may be cheap but you'll regret it when it quickly rots, warps, cracks and basically falls apart before your eyes.

Treated Wood

In 2006, the environmentalists got together and decided that CCA (copper & arsenic) treated wood were no longer acceptable for wood decks. Two new brands were quickly developed, one was ACQ, the other was Micropro. Both have been accepted by all building departments. Both are the same price. Fact: ACQ treated lumber rots aluminum and most fastening devices, to include joist hangers, nails, screws, bolts, etc. unless they are triple z-max or stainless steel. Do you really trust your Taiwanese nail suppliers to warranty your deck when it falls apart after using their fasteners. Fact: Micropro doesn’t. With Micropro treated wood you are still able to use the standard fastening devices in use prior to 2006. Drilling of holes to anchor your aluminum balusters in Micropro is acceptable. If your balusters are in direct contact with ACQ material, they will rot, therefore connectors should be used. Treated wood WILL split & crack over time, is not dimensionally stable, and can vary in sizes when purchased (2x8, 2x10, 2x12 can vary in size by as much as 3/8”), will shrink.

Pros: The most cost-effective product to use for the sub-structure of decks
Cons: Must be stained & sealed in visual applications (floor & railing), will warp, will split, will crack, will shrink


Cedar is a natural product, it naturally resists rotting. Cedar is a soft wood, dimensionally stable, and gives the best results for the workmanship typically required on high-end decks. Cedar will split & crack in most horizontal applications.

Pros: Dimensionally stable, naturally resists rot & decay
Cons: Must be stained or sealed, will split & crack, in most cases cost-prohibitive in structural applications


Composite decking technology has been around for 25 to 30 years. They are made from recycled materials. There are hundreds of manufacturers of composite decking. The only true test of the competency of the composite decking manufacturer is thru the ICC (International Code Council). The ICC is an independent company with the sole purpose of assessing the credibility of building materials. Most building departments require an ICC certification (ICCESR report number) for man-made decking materials, to including railing and flooring. Most composites will fade. Most composites will also shrink a little (1/16” on 16’ board). Most composites in an effort to avoid mold problems have opted to make their products extremely dense. For this reason, most composites will split & crack when screwed or nailed thru the face. Therefore, it is not recommended to use composite in most railing applications. Logs are split with wedges. Nails, screws, and other similar fastening devices in their simplest forms are wedges and will split highly dense composite materials regardless of pre-drilling. Most advanced screws, regardless of their claims, will mushroom (materials pulls up in a hump around the screw head) leaving an unpleasant appearance. For this reason, it is highly recommended to use composites that are grooved on the side or use with hidden fasteners. Hidden fasteners leave an exceptionally clean finish and afford the installer the opportunity to replace deck boards without losing the whole deck board to nails holes and splits. Composites offer multiple color choices and most composites have attractive wood-grain finishes without the high cost of cellular pvc and plastic decking.

Pros: Color, Clear lumber (no knots), rot resistant, lasts longer than wood, easy maintenance (light cleaning, don’t power wash), easy to install, most composites use recycled materials (green), standard wood working tools can be used, no staining or sealing needed, no warping in properly supported horizontal applications
Cons: Some fading, not to be used for structural applications


PVC decking is a relatively new technology and the most expensive decking material on the market to date. While there are many people who swear by it, the jury is still out on whether it is worth the additional cost and if it will live up to the manufacturers claims.

Pros: Colors, low maintenance.
Cons: Not to be used for structural applications, expensive, many manufacturers jumping on-board in an effort to capitalize on a newer technology, may fade – check manufacturers warranty regarding fading and who’s paying for the replacement labor & disposal

Plastic or Vinyl

Plastic expands and contracts a lot. Vinyl is hung and not nailed, as can be seen by the many fine vinyl siding jobs you can see in neighborhoods across America. Plastic and vinyl prices are similar to that of PVC. The mere fact that the composite decking (mixture of plastic & organic substance, i.e. recycled wood palettes, maple flour, rice hulls, etc) industry exists, attests to the shortcoming of the plastic & vinyl decking industry.

Pros: Consistency of color
Cons: Will expand & contract a lot.

In summary, when shopping for man-made decking, your true due diligence is with the ICC reports and the cost of the materials you are purchasing.

We at the Deck Barn have brought to you New Tech Wood, which has the best value regarding price and ICC report.