When the weather’s nice, spending time outside on your own deck is a magical experience. Of course, it’s a whole lot easier to do that if you already have a deck on your house. If you don’t, you may want to build one, but you shouldn’t go down that road without fully understanding the best wood to use for your deck.
The wood you choose for your deck has a big impact on the aesthetics, required maintenance, and your return on investment. Consider your climate, anticipated wear and tear, and look before investing in the lumber for this home improvement to ensure you build a deck that boosts your home value instead of sinking it.
When you’re shopping for deck wood materials, you need to think beyond aesthetics. You want to find wood that will last under consistent wear and tear. All of the wood types we’ll discuss below are known for durability, stability, and moisture resistance. To a certain extent, we’re also considering sustainability and cost-effectiveness with these recommendations.
Also referred to as Brazilian Walnut, Ipe is an exotic hardwood known for its durability and beauty. It’s one of the strongest wood types available for outdoor decks, with a Janka hardness rating of 3,510 pounds. That means it’s up to the task of handling heavy foot traffic at your barbecues.
Ipe is naturally resistant to termites, rot, and decay and is one of the most low-maintenance deck woods, requiring just a seasonal cleaning and oiling. It’s even rated “Class A” against fire.
The only real downside to ipe is how expensive it is. A 10x15 deck will cost anywhere between $3,500 to $9,800 for the materials alone.
Cedar is one of the most popular deck wood options because of its durability and moisture-resistance. Despite being a soft wood, it’s still very resistant to rot and insect infestation.
Cedar is especially popular in cold or wet climates because the moisture content adapts to match the environment, therefore providing resistance to cracking or warping in freezing temperatures.
Cedar is easy to stain and care for with annual pressure washing, and refinishing or staining every two to three years. With proper care, a cedar deck can last 15-20 years.
Like cedar, redwood is durable, naturally resistant to moisture, rot, and insects, and is especially popular on the west coast. Redwood’s natural oils and tannins give it a signature beauty that hearkens to the great forests of Northern California.
Also like cedar, redwood is fairly easy to care for with an annual pressure wash and staining every couple of years.
Redwood is on the expensive end, but you can find it at more reasonable prices on the west coast.
One of the most popular trends in outdoor decks is composite wood. Typically made from polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride, composite wood is essentially recycled plastic with wood fibers built in. As such, you can choose from a wide range of color and finish options to find something that’s more unique to your taste.
Composite wood requires practically no maintenance, with zero staining required and only occasional cleaning. It’s also on the more affordable side. Composite wood is the most practical choice for the vast majority of decks, but there’s still something special about real wood that can make it difficult for all homeowners to go this route.
If you have an existing deck, a fresh coat of paint may be all it needs to breathe fresh life into it. Paint type is just as important to consider for your deck as the wood type is.
Latex paint is the most popular choice for painting both new and old decks. Latex paint is easy to apply, dries quickly, and works well on both indoor and outdoor portions of a deck. It doesn’t last as long as oil-based paints but latex paint doesn’t need solvents making them safer for you and the environment. Although you may need to prime over existing stains or varnishes first.
Some of the best paint latex brands include Behr Premium, Rust-Oleum, Valspar, and Glidden.
If you hire a contractor, you’ll pay per square foot to paint your deck. The national average cost to paint a deck is about $2 to $9 per square foot depending on how much cleaning and prep work you need to do. You can do it for less if you buy the materials and do the work yourself.
Likewise, a little stain can go a long way and make an old deck feel new.
After power washing an old wood deck, let it dry before applying a penetrating stain with non-drying conditioning oils. A stain like this will condition the wood to rejuvenate the wood cells and replace the wood’s lost natural oils.
An oil stain like Armstrong Clark, TWP, or Restore-A-Deck are especially well-suited to old decks because they contain drying oils that separate from conditioning oils. The drying oils remain on the surface to cure and lock in conditioning oils, providing a layer of protection against weathering. Between conditioning the wood’s cellular structure and protecting against weather, they’ll give your old deck a nice boost.
Like paint, you can expect to pay $2 to $9 per square foot to stain an old deck, but you can save money by doing the work yourself.
Daydreams of sitting on your deck will likely make you want to move building one to the top of your home improvement list, but ask yourself the following questions first to ensure you get the most out of your deck build:
Most importantly, can you reasonably add a deck to your property? Of course, not all decks are the same size, but even a modest one should be big enough to support several people and have space for an egress to the yard.
You don’t need much space, but if you’re envisioning a giant deck where you can host parties, take a look at a property survey first.
A deck isn’t the most expensive project you can do on your home, but it probably isn’t as utilitarian as a kitchen or bathroom remodel. If you live in a colder climate, is it worth the project if you’re only going to be able to use the deck for 3 to 4 months of the year? Do you just want a space to house your grill?
You need to do some personal calculus to figure out how frequently you really will use a deck, and whether or not the maintenance is worth it to you.
A deck typically costs about $21 per square foot, leading the average homeowner to spend $7,320 on a deck. However, the project may range from $3,000 all the way to $17,000 if you’re getting really lavish.
According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2023 Cost vs. Value Report, you can recoup as much as 51% of the cost of a deck when you sell your home. That’s down from nearly 80% the year before, but the actual ROI is completely dependent on your unique situation. A buyer might love your deck enough to substantially increase their offer.
An outdoor deck makes a great addition to any home. Although it may be an expensive project, if you choose the right wood, you’ll have a beautiful place to hang out outside that’s relatively low maintenance. Whether you want to restore an old deck or build a new one from scratch, this guide will help you make the right decisions for your deck and your home. But always remember to ask the right questions and shop around before making any purchasing decisions.
Your questions about decks, answered.
The best decking material depends on your specific needs and preferences. Natural hardwoods like ipe and redwood are preferred for their durability and a timeless appearance, but can be more expensive and require regular maintenance. Composite decking, made from a blend of wood fibers and recycled plastic, provides low maintenance and durability, but might lack the authentic look of natural wood. Ultimately, the best choice considers factors such as budget, maintenance tolerance, desired aesthetics, and the climate in your region.
Pressure-treated pine is the most common wood used for decks. It's cost-effective, widely available, and treated to resist rot, insects, and decay. While it might require more maintenance compared to hardwoods or composite materials, it remains a popular choice for its balance of affordability and durability.
Ipe, also known as Brazilian walnut, is often considered one of the most long-lasting deck materials. Its dense and natural resistance to rot, insects, and decay can result in a lifespan exceeding 25 years or more, even without regular maintenance. Other tropical hardwoods like teak and cumaru also offer excellent longevity. Additionally, composite and PVC decking, due to their resistance to moisture, insects, and fading, can provide a long-lasting alternative without the maintenance requirements of natural wood.
Cedar and redwood are often considered among the best wood options for deck replacement. Both woods naturally contain oils that make them resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestations, leading to a longer lifespan. These woods also have a beautiful appearance and can be sealed to preserve their color and integrity. While they may be pricier than other woods, their durability and aesthetic qualities make them popular choices.
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