Wood decking continues to be the preferred choice over composite decking, primarily due to price. Although the perception of composite decking is changing as it grows in popularity, when you think about a deck, chances are you still imagine the surface covered in real wood.
Wood decking continues to be the preferred choice over composite decking, primarily due to price. Pressure-treated decking, for instance, is still less than half the cost of synthetic decking. Aside from cost, wood has an inviting natural appeal. It’s easy to work with and available everywhere. Although the perception of composite decking is changing as it grows in popularity, when you think about a deck, chances are you still imagine the surface covered in real wood.
The two most popular choices for wood decking are pressure-treated and cedar. Depending on where you live, you may have other options as well. Redwood may still be available if you live on the west coast, and cypress is common in the south. Redwood, cypress, and cedar are naturally resistant to decay and insect pests, which makes them excellent choices for decking. You can apply finish if you like, or leave them unfinished and they’ll weather to a silvery gray color in a few years. If cost is less important than quality, you might consider covering your deck with mahogany or ipê, a South-American exotic sometimes called ironwood.
For pressure-treated or cedar decking, you’ll have to select a thickness that works for your budget and design. One option is to use 2x lumber. It will span wider joist spacing without flexing, but generally 2x lumber is made from lower-grade material that may contain more natural defects. Another choice is to use 5/4 decking, pronounced “five quarter.” Its thickness is closer to 1 inch and the edges are radiused to help minimize splinters. Often, 5/4 lumber is clearer than 2x lumber, but it’s not as stiff. You may need to space your joists more closely with 5/4 decking. Either way, you can commonly find 2x or 5/4 decking in lengths up to 16 or even 20 ft. at most home centers.
Both 2x and 5/4 lumber are suitable for use as decking. However, 5/4 will generally be of higher quality, and the radiused edges prevent splintering—an important consideration for bare feet or if you have young children.
If you hand-select each of your deck boards, look for pieces with vertical grain pattern. They’ll be less inclined to cup and warp than flat-grain lumber (right), but the wood tends to be significantly heavier.
Be picky about the quality of the decking you buy. Natural defects in the wood could make the piece harder to install or deteriorate prematurely. Watch for soft pockets of sap in the wood. Sap will get sticky in warm weather, and the resin can bleed through wood finishes, leaving brown stains.
Pressure-treated lumber stamps list the type of preservative and the chemical retention level, as well as the exposure rating and the name and location of the treating company.
Cedar grade stamps list the mill number, moisture content, species, lumber grade, and membership association. Western red cedar (WRC) or incense cedar (INC) for decks should be heartwood (HEART) with a maximum moisture content of 15% (MC15).