Decking Materials – Where Do I Start?

Welcome to the second installment in a series designed to help you understand and navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams!  If you missed Part 1 –Design, you can catch up here.

This week, we will focus on the different types of decking materials you can choose from.

Decking Materials - Where Do I Start?

Once you’ve had time to visualize your deck and draft a design using a free tool, like this one, it’s time to think about what materials you’ll want to use and, of course, what color(s) you’ll want your deck to be. There are several different options to consider when looking at decking materials and it can seem overwhelming.

The option most people initially start with is treated wood decking.  With its warmth and classic style, a well-maintained wood deck is attractive. The problems with wood decks come as the wood dries out, twists, splinters, and cracks.  That is, when you examine that “well-maintained” requirement. Wood decks require sanding, staining or painting on a regular basis to stay looking beautiful and are at high risk of mold and decay, at the mercy of insects and will fade, warp, twist and splinter over time. When you’re making the significant investment to your home that a deck entails, it’s important to consider the time and cost you will spend maintaining a wood deck, rather than enjoying it.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to wood decking, including composite decking and PVC flooring, which come in a variety of colors, grains and styles that provide beautiful, lower-maintenance options, some of which are detailed below.

Composite Decking

Composite decking is a man-made material that combines plastic with wood fibers to create stronger, more durable, lower-maintenance decking. Composite decking is a little like indoor flooring. It can be beautiful, with a wood-like look or more contemporary, with single color options. It is available in a variety of colors, grain patterns and price points, giving you the freedom to create the deck of your dreams, without the stress that comes with maintaining a wood deck as it never needs to be sanded, stained or painted. It comes in both capped and uncapped varieties. Capped decking has a plastic surface that protects the wood fibers from exposure to the elements and provides fade and stain resistance. Uncapped composite decking is less expensive than its capped counterpart, but while it also never needs to be sanded, stained or painted and will not twist or splinter, it does not provide the same level of low-maintenance.  Uncapped decking is susceptible to fading and staining and requires periodic cleaning to keep its good looks.

PVC Decking

PVC decking is a man-made material with no fiber fillers and takes the wood – and its performance issues – out of the board, utilizing only the positive performance features of PVC. While wood is still the leading material used in building decks, composite and PVC decking are both gaining popularity, with demand for both projected to increase by double digits annually through 2016, compared with less than a one percent annual increase in the same time frame for wood decking.

Depending on the materials you choose, you need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions about certain aspects of the deck design, including (but not limited to): joist spacing, ventilation, installation of hot tubs and ensuring that dryer vents and gutter drain spouts are not pointed directly at the deck surface.

It’s important to remember that regardless of what kind of decking you choose it will only apply to surface decking.  Composite and PVC materials are not approved as a structural material, so you will need to use pressure treated lumber for the substructure of your deck.

[caption id="attachment_3081" align="alignright" width="300"]Fiberon Clear Vision Railing System
Pictured: Fiberon Horizon Decking in Ipe with Fiberon Composite Mission Railing in White and Clear Vision System panels[/caption]


Depending on the height of your deck, you may need to add railing to your deck to satisfy building codes, or you may just like the added security that railing can provide. Either way, railing is another aspect of your deck design to consider. Railing comes in wood, composite, metal and PVC materials and can add to the level of customization in your deck. If you have a great view that you don’t want to interrupt with balusters, try a clear panel like the one pictured here. Many companies, including Fiberon, offer opportunities to choose your top rail profile, the color of the railing and posts, and the baluster style for a combination that will fit your new deck perfectly.


Many people enjoy their decks in the evenings. Consider how you will light your deck. While it is not necessary to build lighting into your deck, it can add a level of sophistication to your deck that your standard back porch light will not.

Choosing a decking material is only part of the journey to a new deck. Stay tuned for our next installment in this series designed to help you navigate what can be the most stressful part of the process – Working With Contractors.

Or, if you can’t wait, download our free white paper, What to Expect When You’re Decking.

What to Expect When You're Decking



3 Responses to “Decking Materials – Where Do I Start?”

  1. Erica says:

    Super helpful blog post. My husband and I are just starting to think about a deck on our new home… we got a quote yesterday that makes me think we’ll need to wait until our kids are out of daycare! Anyway, my dad recommended this site and I am loving all the product photos. Plus, we are super new to this and are really overwhelmed with all the choices. Thanks for the great blog- will continue to read as we build our dream deck!

  2. Hi Erica! I’m glad you like the blog! And I know what you mean, that first quote can be a little off-putting! Also, please thank your dad for the recommendation for me. Good luck on your deck journey!

    Samantha Plate

  3. […] getting the outdoor living space of your dreams! If you missed them, here are Part 1 –Design,  Part 2 – Materials and Part 3 – Working With Contractors. This week, we will focus on the elephant in the room […]