Courtesy of AZEK

Ideal for barbecues and sunset watching, a well-made deck can also increase the value of your home. But before you swing a hammer (or hire a contractor), decide what materials will best meet your needs.

By Abigail B. Millwod

Wood

Pros: It's a classic. Cedar, redwood, ipê, andpressure-treated Southern yellow pine naturally resist rot andinsects, and offer the beauty and texture of natural wood. Between$1 and $2 per square foot, wood remains the least-expensive option.Even after years of wear and tear, refinishing can bring wood backto life.

Cons: It requires the most maintenance. Particularly incoastal environments, where decks get battered by salt, sand, andsun, wood will need resealing every year to look its best.

Composite

Pros: It's low-maintenance. Typically made from recycledwood and plastic, composite materials never need sealing, staining,or painting, and they're available in a variety of colors andtextures. Composite decking companies such as Trex and Tamko saytheir products are resistant to moisture, rot, and insects, andback them with 25-year limited warranties. Many new products alsooffer improved fade-resistance and antimicrobial coatings to combatmildew. Bonus: The material can bend and curve to accommodatedesigns that wood can't.

Cons: It can cost as much as $6.45 per square foot, and ifthe surface gets scratched or stained you can't refinish it. Also,though a composite deck requires only twice-yearly cleaning, thatmay take some elbow grease―mold and mildew have a tendency tocling to composite materials without antimicrobial coatings. Ifpossible, ask your contractor for local examples built at least twoyears ago so you can see how the material weathers in yourclimate.

Plastic or Vinyl

Pros: They're even lower-maintenance than composites.Because there are no wood fibers, the materials are resistant tomold, rot, and insects, and they don't absorb moisture. Made ofcellular PVC, AZEK decking and Trex Escapes look similar to woodbut don't require annual refinishing. The hard surfaces, which comein several shades, resist scratches and stains, and can be cleanedwith a garden hose.

Cons: At $5.50 to $6.50 per square foot, it's a priceyoption (but as with composite decking, you should factor in themoney saved on maintenance over several years). Also, unlike wood,plastic and vinyl can feel unyielding underfoot.

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