A Guide to Decking Types and Costs

Building a deck can provide a nice bump to your home value and give you room for outdoor living, whether that involves cocktails with friends or a quiet morning of birdwatching. And this year, after intense volatility, prices in the building industry might even out somewhat, experts say.

As of early 2022, you can expect to spend $12 per square foot on average on materials for a new deck (including boards, joists, and posts). Features such as built-in planters and benches, stairs, railings, and custom lighting will boost that cost.

Ready to commit to your vision but unsure how to choose among the many types of decking materials? Learn about popular deck materials, costs, and care—and find the one that best fits your lifestyle and location.

Jason Donnelly

Pressure-Treated Lumber Costs

This affordable product, often engineered from southern pine, has been steamed to make it rot-resistant (a feature you most definitely want). It’s the most common and least expensive type of decking. Although pressure-treated wood requires yearly washing, sanding, and sealing, when finished with a clear sealant, it will last up to 30 years if maintained properly.

In 2022, expect to pay around $2.25-$3 per square foot for pressure-treated decking with knots—those dark swirls in the grain that let you know that, yes, you’re working with wood. Knot-free pressure-treated pine decking, considered a premium product, will cost you a tad more per square foot.

Daniel Fleisher, owner of Fleisher Building Group, likes to select 1.5″ deck planks for clients that choose pressure-treated wood. “It typically comes in 1-inch planks,” he says. “But I hand-select 2×6 pieces that are 1.5-inch thick. It looks and feels more substantial and lasts longer, and the planks are a knot-free grade.”

If you go with pressure-treated lumber, be prepared to seal or stain the wood after your build is complete. (A sealant adds only protection, not color, while a stain offers both.) Depending on the season, for best appearance you might want to wait a few months to let the lumber continue to dry out before you apply a stain. Stain applied to wood that hasn’t completely cured can result in a splotchy finish. (But don’t worry; the stain is protective against water absorption either way.)

The downside to pressure-treated wood, compared to other decking options? It requires regular maintenance to max out its lifespan of 20 to 25 years. Plan to apply a fresh coat of stain every two to three years and perform regular cleanings.

“With proper maintenance, you’re going to get a lot of life out of a wood deck,” says Chris Morrison of Walker Lumber.

Bottom line: You’ll spend the least up front on materials with pressure-treated pine, but your deck will require more maintenance and might need replacing sooner than with other products.

Hardwood Decking Costs

Both Fleisher and Morrison say they see many clients opting for rainforest, or exotic, hardwoods, including ipe (ee-pay), a wood sourced from Central and South America that is extremely dense and rot-resistant.

At $18 per square foot, ipe and other hardwoods are considered a super-premium product, and are prized for their extreme durability and attractiveness. You can stain ipe, though you don’t need to; it will retain its rot-resistant quality naturally. One consideration: It might be difficult to locate sustainably-sourced ipe.

Composite Decking and Trex Costs

Made with recycled materials like wood waste and plastic sacks, composite decking requires minimal maintenance, doesn’t need to be sanded or painted, and is generally weather-resistant. It also comes in a variety of colors and styles. However, some composite deck materials can be slippery, prone to mildew, and might require special fasteners. For stronger boards, choose one that contains polypropylene.

Composite decking has a much longer lifespan than pressure-treated lumber, making it the go-to for many homeowners, builders, and designers. Plus, it’s effectively maintenance-free aside from occasional cleanings. You’ll pay for the convenience and durability, of course: At minimum, composite deck boards will run you close to three times the cost of pressure-treated wood.

Trex is the most widely known brand of composite decking materials—”the Kleenex of composite decking,” says Morrison—but comparable brands include Timbertech, Azek, and several others. Various price levels exist within brands of composites. Expect to pay between $6 and $17 per square foot.

“If you want the nice earthy colors, those are priced like an exotic wood,” notes Craig Kennedy, architect and founding partner of Bootstrap Architecture + Construction. Composite decking can’t be stained, but it can be painted if you desire a color refresh.

Synthetic Lumber

Looking for a deck that will last a lifetime with no staining and sealing? Synthetic lumber is your low-maintenance answer. At about $7.50 per square foot, uninstalled, it’s made from materials such as vinyl, polystyrene, or cellular polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Synthetic lumber includes options for slip-resistant designs and smart drainage systems so that the area under your deck stays dry no matter the weather.

Special tools are required for assembly, so be sure that you or your contractor is knowledgeable. If you choose vinyl, purchase a brand that has UV inhibitors processed directly into the vinyl and not sprayed on after production. Regardless of which type of material you use, synthetics cannot be used for structural supports; these will need to be real wood.

Aluminum Decking

For a seriously low-maintenance deck, look to aluminum. The durable material doesn’t try to look anything like wood and can be interlocked to prevent rain from dripping through. Cost is about $8.98 to $12.98 per square foot, uninstalled.

Sustainable Decking

All decking materials impact the environment since they either use plastics or require ongoing chemical maintenance. For a greener option, try one of these three sustainable deck-building materials.

Reclaimed Wood: Secondhand wood decking gains new life when reused and tends to have beautiful grain.

Ipe Wood: This attractive wood is strong, naturally water-resistant, and a stylish substitute for typical redwood or teak decking.

Recycled Composite: This alternative decking material prevents waste from going to the landfill. Ensure it is more than 50 percent recycled before purchasing.

Plan Ahead: Decking Checklist

Before hitting the home improvement center, make sure to have your deck’s measurements ready as well as a list of questions. Here’s a start.

  • What is the product made of?
  • Is it slip-, scratch-, fade- and stain-resistant?
  • How long is the warranty?
  • When and how often will it need to be stained?
  • Will it mildew?
  • Will it require special tools to install?
  • What are the pros and cons of this particular product?

David Tsay

Decking Finishes

To prevent breakdown, seal a wood deck as soon as it’s built. Wood naturally weathers to brown and then gray. If you want to preserve its look, ongoing maintenance is required. But with so many options—water-resistant, mildewcide, UV protection—how do you choose one? Start with the basics.

Clear: Use for cedar, redwood, or pine. Provides protection without color. Repeat every year.

Toner: Use to create a cedar or redwood look and highlight wood grain. Mild color with more protection than clear.

Semitransparent: Slightly opaque. Provides some wood-grain highlighting. Repeat every 2-3 years.

Solid Color: Full-on paint that hides wood grain. Provides the highest level of protection by guarding against UV light. Repeat every 3-5 years.

Deck Tiles: Interlocking rubber-backed tiles topped with wood or composite material. Use them to refresh a dated, unattractive deck. Tiles must be removed in cold weather.

Decking Details

Railings and Balusters

Add personality to your deck with an ornamental railing. Custom options include woven-branch rails and ornate post caps for composite decking. Synthetic rail systems can be trimmed to fit your deck and need virtually no maintenance. Low-maintenance balusters are also available from most composite companies.

Related: 18 Creative Deck Railing Ideas to Update Your Outdoor Space

Deck Lighting

Don’t let the fun stop when the sun sets. Deck lighting is worthwhile and can be an inexpensive investment. Low-voltage deck lighting abounds, whether you prefer cap lights on end posts or rope lighting under rail caps. Tape lights are an easy-to-install option that come in different colors that you can control with a remote.

Deck Storage

Stash outdoor decor, such as furniture cushions, umbrellas, and rugs, away from the elements with built-in deck storage. Look to a fun kit that allows you to build a box into your composite deck for cheap.

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