Decking decisions

Laura Keily of Accsys Group summarises three of the most common materials when planning an outdoor deck and discusses some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing your preferred route

In January 2019, the Global Decking Market 2018-2022 predicted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over six per cent by 2022. Its projected market growth has been attributed to a variety of influences, from the rise of prefabricated construction solutions, to a change in lifestyle trends and increasing use of outdoor living spaces.

When it comes to planning an outdoor deck, one of the biggest decisions lies in the choice of construction material. Those investing in decking need to take solidity, weight, rot and installation into consideration.

Wood continues to be the most popular choice for decking material. It offers the most natural look of all the materials and has a natural warmth that can’t always be achieved with other materials. The additional beauty of a timber deck is that you can completely customise it to your outside space and needs.

Timber decking can often be high-maintenance though; it can require regular painting and staining, and some of the boards may need to be replaced if weather-damaged. Having said this, modified wood can tackle this problem, and can offer a maintenance-free option while offering a natural look.

Broadly speaking, timber is categorised as either softwood, hardwood or modified.

Sourced from broad-leaved trees, hardwoods tend to be slower growing and are usually denser than softwoods. As a result of their condensed and more complex structure, hardwoods generally offer a superior level of strength and durability.

On the other hand, softwoods derive from conifers and are more readily available, easily manipulated and develop at a quicker pace, leading to lower cost levels. It is flexible, lighter in weight and less dense than most hardwoods.

For those who don’t want to compromise on aesthetics, longevity and performance, there is an opportunity to get the best of both worlds with a modified wood.

Modified Wood is ranked among the top products on Google’s Healthy Materials Portal Portico for good reason. Take chemically modified softwood wood, it has all of the key qualities associated with a hardwood – superior durability, stability and reliability – but is in essence, a softwood sourced from sustainably managed FSC® certified forests. Accoya for example boast outstanding environmental credentials including Platinum Standard status for cradle-to-cradle (C2C) Material Health.

Modified options dramatically increase your decking’s lifespan – typically a wooden decking’s lifespan is 15-20 years, whereas some modified woods can offer up to a 50-year guarantee.

Composite wood is a man-made building product made up of a mix of wood fibres, plastics and a small amount of bonding agents. While they often cost more than wood, composite materials offer the promise of great durability as well as minimal maintenance.

Generally speaking, composite materials require less maintenance than wood, which requires the periodic staining, painting and replacing sections that have begun to decay. They also come in a variety of colours and don’t need to be painted or stained to match your home’s exterior. Those who are environmentally-conscious will be pleased to hear that there are some composite options that use recycled materials.

However, they are often an expensive alternative to timber, and it requires quite a lot of homework. There are a number of varieties and manufacturers, so you need to be sure you are choosing the right option for you. And despite all measures taken to create a natural look, the only way to get the full sought-after beauty of a wood deck is to use the real thing.

When it comes to plastic decking, there is no risk of splintering or rotting and it doesn’t require polish, finish or any sort of treatment. It is also one of the most affordable decking materials available on the market, so it doesn’t need to be a financial strain.

There are options that are made of 100 per cent recycled plastic – making it a potential material for those who are trying to be eco-friendly – but many plastic options are not sustainable, due to the use of fossil-fuel energy that goes into its production.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to repair a PVC deck. If a section gets damaged, you’ll be compelled to replace the entire deck, which adds to home improvement costs. Heat retention is also a common problem with PVC decks. Under the hot summer sun, they can grow uncomfortably hot to walk on with bare feet. On the other end of the spectrum, plastic has been known to become brittle in the cold weather.

Laura Keily is head of product marketing at Accsys Group