Tacoma Landscape Blog

The Wilder Outdoor Spaces blog is a place to be inspired. We share the places we go, things that inspire us, designs we love, tricks of the trade and of course the custom decks, fences, patios and other outdoor structures we design and build in Tacoma, WA.

What Type of Decking is Best in Tacoma

Tacoma Deck Builder Company

People often ask us what type of decking is best to use here in Tacoma, and it’s a tough question to answer simply. It really depends on your budget, design style and location. There are pros and cons to every material, so we thought we could spend some time and breakdown the different materials individually to help you get educated on the products we can use for your project.

Pressure Treated

The only real advantage of pressure treated decking is that it is the cheapest and the most widely available decking product. Most pressure treated decking is made from cheap pine lumber, that is chemically treated to resist rot, fungus, and insects. For many years pressure treated wood was treated with chemicals that were found to cause cancer, but over the last decade most pressure treated lumber is now being treated with less-toxic chemicals, such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), copper azole, or carbon-based, nonmetallic preservatives.

The main disadvantage of this product is that because it's cut from cheap, low quality pine, it's not the best wood to be outside. Pine is not naturally very strong, stable or resistant to bugs, rot and fungus like the other products on this list. It has a tendency to decay fast, swell, crack, split, and warp. Overall, because of the negatives of pressure treated decking we don’t recommend using it as a decking material.

Cedar

Cedar is the standard decking material here in the PNW. It’s known for it’s wonderful smell, distinct color and natural beauty. Additionally, the tannins and oils that occur naturally in cedar make it resistant to rot, decay, and insects, so it doesn’t need to be chemically treated like pressure treated lumber. Cedar decking is lightweight, stable and prone to less warping and splitting than pressure treated lumber. Cedar comes in many different grades. The highest and most expensive grade, is called clear cedar. This has no knots, fewer imperfections and less variations in color. As you move down the grades of cedar, the wood gets less expensive, but it becomes knottier with more imperfections and variations in color.

One of downsides of cedar is that it can be two to four times more expensive than pressure treated lumber depending on the grade. Another issue some people have with cedar is that due to weathering from the elements it slowly turns gray in color. To maintain cedars rich color, you have to regularly sand and apply a wood protectant or semi-transparent stain. There is technically nothing wrong with allowing the wood to change color, as long as you apply a clear wood preservative every few years to block excess moisture.

Hardwood

Hardwood decking products come from all over the world including Africa, South America, Malaysia, the Phillipines, and even right here in America. Some common hardwood products you may have heard of are batu, ipe or walnut, but there are more exotic products such as Massaranduba or jatoba you may not have heard of. Most hardwoods share a few attributes that make them both a beautiful and long lasting choice. They're all very dense, structurally strong, and naturally extremely resistant to rot and insects. There is no natural decking product that is 100% maintenance free but hardwoods come the closest of all woods. Most of them will only need a simple annual scrubbing.

The biggest complaint with hardwoods, is that they are the most expensive wood decking option. They can vary widely in price between species but you are typically looking at a minimum of double the cost of a quality cedar. Also, hardwoods won’t accept traditional stains due to their density, so you must use a specific stain for the hardwood you select and follow the directions closely as each wood has custom drying time for the wood before application.

Composite

Composite decking has come a long way. Brands such as Trex, Azek, and Veranda have paved the way with new and innovative products. Most composite decking is an engineered product that's made with a combination of wood fibers and/or plastic. It’s a dense, heavy and weather resistant product that won't splinter, warp, rot or split. The main appeal of composite decking is that it's a very low maintenance product. It never needs to be sanded, scraped, refinished, or stained. An occasional rub down with hot water and soap will clean up any dirt and grime, and some bleach can kill any mold and mildew that pop up.

The cheaper end of composite decking products come in only a few basic colors like brown and gray, and most of these will fade slowly over the years as they are exposed to the sun and weather. Many of the mid-range products now offer fade-resistant composites, which cost a bit more but retain their color much longer. The highest end of all of the composite brands offer the most colors and longest lifespans, with warranties as long as 25+ years.

While composite decking has its advantages, it also has some negatives. It’s more costly than most of the woods options, typically a minimum of double the standard cedar deck. Fading can be an issue, and some products have been known to get rough underfoot after years of weathering. Lastly, when using composite decking, we often are stuck using wood for the hand railings that don’t match, or having to buy the corresponding brands railing equipment, hardware and fasteners to build the hard rail with the same look and feel of the deck. This adds up quickly and can increase costs dramatically.