Stack Your Deck

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.

Text by Abigail B. Millwod


Pros: It's a classic. Cedar, redwood, ipê, and pressure-treated Southern yellow pine naturally resist rot and insects, 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 back to life.

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


Pros: It's low-maintenance. Typically made from recycled wood and plastic, composite materials never need sealing, staining, or painting, and they're available in a variety of colors and textures. Composite decking companies such as Trex and Tamko say their products are resistant to moisture, rot, and insects, and back them with 25-year limited warranties. Many new products also offer improved fade-resistance and antimicrobial coatings to combat mildew. Bonus: The material can bend and curve to accommodate designs that wood can't.

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

Plastic or Vinyl

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

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