The classic wood deck is a quintessential addition to any residential home. A well-built, spacious deck is not only the perfect spot for outdoor entertaining, but it also adds value to your home in the event you decide to sell. In fact, wood decks offer a high ROI of around 80 percent, which beats competing composite decks, who only have a 68 percent ROI. This is due to wood decks often being less expensive to build and also being more attractive to potential buyers.
Wood might overall be a more valuable material than composites, vinyl and other decking alternatives, but careful consideration should be paid to the type of wood you choose. The wood material you end up with will have a significant effect on care needs, longevity and overall lifecycle costs.
Hardwood vs softwood - what are the differences?
The decision between hardwood and softwood is the first thing that should be considered. Now if you aren't already familiar with wood as a building material, you may not be sure what the differences are between these two.
Hardwood is a category of slow-growing, broad-leaved tree species. Common hardwood species are Teak, Ipe, Cherry and Oak, to name a few. Softwood is a category of faster growing species, often including evergreens and conifers. Species in this category include Pine, Fir, Spruce and Cedar.
For the most part hardwood decks outperform softwoods decks hands down when it comes to weather-resistance, overall "toughness" and longevity. They are extremely durable, but with that level of durability comes a significant price tag. Softwood decking, which is typically treated with preservative chemicals, is a much more economical choice and can last a while, however annual maintenance is required to keep maximize the life of this type of deck.
Pressure treated wood - the classic budget deck option
One of the most popular woods used for decking is pressure treated (PT) wood. PT wood, as we mentioned, is most often made of softwood, usually pine, and has undergone a chemical preservation treatment to make it resistant to moisture and insects. The treatment process of softwood species makes it better suited for a wide range of applications, like foundations, fencing and of course decking.
PT wood is often chosen by homeowners that want a sturdy deck without spending a lot. PT decks do last for quite a while, but they aren’t without issues. For one, PT decks very have high-maintenance needs and require power washing, staining and sealing annually or biannually. They are also notorious for not aging well and can shrink up a lot as the boards dry out overtime. Also, wood splinters from PT decks are painful and can cause infections due to the chemicals present. This makes it a less than ideal choice for families with children and pets who will be coming into direct contact with the wood.
Redwood and cedar - a step up from pressure treated wood
Redwood and cedars decks are a nice step up from pressure treated. Both wood types are beautiful in appearance and offer a classic, natural look. Both are often lumped into the same category, but there are some differences.
Redwood has more of a reddish tint to it while cedar is slightly more on the yellow side, though both woods age to a silvery shade overtime. Redwood boards are often smoother and come in clear grade, meaning boards the come from the durable heartwood of the tree, have a very faint wood grain and no knots. Redwood is roughly 23 percent stronger than cedar, but both will still perform very well for the average residential deck. Plus cedar is often a bit less expensive than redwood.
Both redwood and cedar are higher maintenance decking options. Even though they’re naturally rot resistant, elements can quickly wear the wood so annual cleaning and sealing is recommended. Plus availability of this type of decking can be tight, which has really shot the price up, especially if you aren’t located near the source (Western Coast).
Tropical woods - what about exotics?
Tropical hardwoods, like Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood and Massaranduba, are stunning and a real luxury for any homeowner. Many consider these species to be the best deck wood. However, there are a few important issues with tropical wood species you should know.
First off, tropical hardwoods are going to be expensive, perhaps even 3x or more expensive than other hardwoods or softwoods. Secondly, they can be hard to source, especially when searching for a company the manages tropical hardwood forests in a responsible and sustainable manner. Deforestation is a huge concern with this type of wood and typically overseas suppliers do not have the same FSC and similar certifications as North American suppliers. This means that much of the supply could be from sources that wreak havoc on forests that will take hundreds of years to regrow, which is why tropical hardwood decks are not sought after by anyone who seeks products that respect our ecosystem and treat it with care.
Tropical hardwoods are super dense, which makes them more durable than pressure treated wood, cedar and redwood, however they still require care in the form of sealing and other surface treatments.
Modified wood - superior in nearly all aspects
Modified wood was a huge technological advancement when it first came out and since has proven its worth time and time again. Architects and homeowners alike love it for its real wood beauty, superior durability, low maintenance requirements and environmentally responsible nature.
Modified wood, like Kebony, takes sustainable softwood species and uses a non-toxic liquid that changes the wood cell structure to make it super dense so that it performs more like tropical hardwood. Unlike pressure-treated wood, modified wood is completely safe and contains no harsh chemicals, making it a safe choice for families. It comes in both clear and character grades, so whether you want a smooth and polished or rich and rustic look, you’ll find what you want in modified wood. Similarly to redwood and cedar, modified wood also ages to a stunning silver-gray shade, enhancing the natural charm of your deck.
Insects and other pests are not attracted to modified wood. This material is highly moisture-resistant and does well in essentially any climate. Kebony has been used as decking in virtually every atmospheric landscape across the globe, so you can be sure it’ll perform at its peak in your yard. Best of all, modified wood requires only occasional cleaning to keep it looking great. It's as maintenance-free as composite decking - you won't need to restain, seal or otherwise add surface treatments unless you decide to.
There is no right or wrong answer as to which wood is best for your deck. If you've always dreamed of a stunning oak deck, the higher costs might be worth every penny. On the other hand, if budget is very strict you might find that pressure-treated wood is a better option. However, if you equally value beauty, durability, longevity and ease of care, you'll find modified wood to be the best wood for a deck.