Decking & Fencing Materials: 101

When it comes to customizing your outdoor space, the choices seem endless. Choosing materials for decking and fencing is no different. There is a wide variety of materials you can use when it's time to upgrade or refinish your fence or deck.

Each material has its benefits, drawbacks and quirks. Here are some of the most common types of decking and fencing materials, and how you can get the most out of their application.

Composite Deck Material

Composite Deck Material

Composites

Composite materials for decks and fences are gaining more popularity among homeowners looking for different options for their builds. This material is made from a wood and plastic mix. Because of this, it has a few distinct advantages over a conventional wood deck or fence.

When it comes to long-term durability, composites regularly outperform their wood counterparts when it comes to things like warping and colors fading. Because of how the composite is manufactured, water isn't absorbed into the material as readily as even the best pressure-treated wood, which prevents the expansion and contraction that can cause movement in wood boards.

In addition to maintaining their structure longer, composites also keep their original color for a longer period of time. This means you can enjoy the same consistent look of your fence or deck years down the road without having to strip and restain or repaint wood planks.

Composite Deck Material

Composite Deck Material

Because of their ability to maintain their structural integrity, there are even fewer issues with things like slivers. You won't need to keep an eye on spots that need to be sanded down as often.

Another advantage to using composite materials is that you're choosing an environment-friendly option. Generally, the wood that goes into composite planks is recycled so no new trees are harmed in its manufacturing.

Using composite materials has some drawbacks as well. The upfront cost of the material for a composite fence or deck is higher than a traditional wood fence. While for some this investment is worth the reduced cleaning and maintenance down the road, if you're looking to keep costs down, composite prices may put you over your intended budget.

Composites keep their color longer. This is beneficial if you love that color now and will for a long time. But if you like to change up the style of your backyard more often, keep in mind that composites don't lend themselves to painting as easily as a wooden deck. While it can be done with proper preparation and paint, if you're someone who likes to customize colors, wood might be the better option for you.

Another thought to keep in mind is that composites tend to retain heat at a higher level than wood. This can make a walk across your deck feel like a walk across a hot parking lot. You can mitigate this by choosing lighter colors and composites with better heat-dissipating technology, but if it's a big concern for you, composite may not be the best option.

Pressure Treated Fence

Pressure Treated Fence

Wood: Cedar vs Pressure-Treated

If you prefer the traditional, natural look of wood for your deck or fence, your choice is between two different kinds of wood: cedar or pressure-treated. Like the choice between wood and composite, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Between the two, cedar is the more natural choice. Pressure-treated wood is treated with chemical additives that help it maintain its shape, necessary for its viability as an outdoor building material. Cedar has natural oils and acids within the tree that protect it from decay and rot naturally. If what is added to the wood is important to you, consider cedar as a great all-natural option.

Cedar Cladding

Cedar Cladding

The natural benefits of cedar do come with an increased cost. Similar to a choice between composite and wood, choosing cedar over pressure-treated lumber will add to your upfront investment. You'll spend less on maintenance and cleaning in the long run, but the initial price tag could be a bit higher than anticipated.

Cedar is a soft wood so it is less prone to cracking and splitting, avoiding the problem of replacing planks down the road. The softness of the wood also allows it to absorb temperature changes better to prevent the wood from warping. However, soft wood isn't as resistant to the dings and dents that your fence and deck withstand, so these imperfections may be a bit more visible.

Pressure-treated wood has some benefits as well. Apart from the upfront cost being lower, if taken care of properly, a pressure-treated wood deck or fence can last a long time. Pressure-treated lumber is also easier to find in your local hardware store as it can be made from different kinds of wood like pine, fir or spruce.

Pressure Treated Lumber

Pressure Treated Lumber

You will spend more time maintaining your pressure-treated fence or deck over time. The color of pressure-treated lumber fades to a full grey fairly quickly, so staining will become a more regular and labor-intensive chore.

In contrast to cedar, pressure-treated lumber is made from hardwood, which is more resistant to bangs and scrapes left in the wood. At the same time, it doesn't have the flexibility of soft wood so can be more prone to cracks and splitting.

Composite Deck Material

Composite Deck Material

Using the information above, think about and decide what your expectations are for your deck and your outdoor space. Consider the style, upfront and future costs, and sustainability. Select your materials based on your needs and the overall expected functionality of your deck. Speak with your local lumberyard for more information about the specific types of lumber they carry. Some home improvement centers also have a deck design service to help you with your deck update or build, and free quotes for decking material.