Choosing The Best Decking Material
When it comes to choosing decking materials, there is a huge selection of options on the market today ranging from natural timbers and treated timbers to composite materials. Having been involved in the construction industry for nearly four decades and now specialising in the construction of various boardwalks and decked areas, we have a rather good grasp on the best decking material to use. Below we have outlined a few of the different options and highlighted their pros and cons.
Untreated Hardwood Decking
Untreated hardwood decking is the holy grail of decking materials and what most other decking tries to imitate. Completely natural and long lasting, it has the feel, look, and even sound that everyone hopes for when installing wooden decking. We typically use UK-grown oak and sweet chestnut which are both durable timbers, meaning they have an outdoor life expectancy of 15-25 years without treatment. Although initially more expensive than treated softwoods, the quality, durability, and longevity of hardwood decking easily offset the initial cost in the long run.
- Completely natural look and feel
- No negative impact upon the environment
- Durable lifespan of up to 25 years
- Higher initial cost than treated softwood
- Harder to work than softwood due to density
Treated Softwood Decking
Treated softwoods are often used as a real wood decking material that is cheaper to install than untreated hardwoods and easier to work. However, the chemicals are harmful to the environment and will eventually leach into the water cycle, causing long term negative effects. You also have to regularly maintain treated softwoods by adding further treatments every couple of years to avoid rot and splintering, thus adding to the volume of chemicals that will eventually contaminate the environment.
- Lower initial cost than hardwood
- Easier to work than hardwood
- Feels and looks like wood (because it is wood)
- Needs regular maintenance to maintain appearance
- Uses chemicals that are damaging to the environment
- Degrades quickly without retreatment
Composite / Engineered Decking
Composite and engineered decking can be made in many ways, but they are generally made by blending a mix of plastics and wood fibres, or solely from plastic, giving them a long lifespan. The boards need little maintenance other than regular scrubbing to prevent mildew. From a distance they look like wood, but up close they don’t have the feel or look of real wood and they may suffer from movement with temperature changes. Installation costs are generally higher than real wood decking and they contribute more plastic to our global waste at the end of their lifecycle.
- Easy to install
- Requires very little maintenance
- Long lifespan
- Installation costs are normally higher than real wood
- They don’t have the feel or look of real wood
- Prone to movement with temperature changes
- Bad for the environment
In Conclusion: The Best Decking Material
We have experimented with all different types of decking over many decades and in our mind their is a very clear winner; untreated hardwood decking. When looking for the best decking material available, there is nothing that can match it. The higher installation cost than treated softwood is heavily offset by the longevity, smaller requirement for maintenance, and kindness to the environment. When compared to composite or engineered decking, it is generally less expensive, kinder to the environment, and has the look and feel of real wood.
In short, we don’t see any reason why anyone would use anything other than untreated hardwood decking unless they were trying to save money (which would backfire in the long run) or they were hoping to extend the lifespan of a deck (at the cost of having a plastic deck). Although we have used all three different types of decking in the past, their is only one that we use now; untreated hardwood decking. We use it in all our boardwalks, viewing areas, outdoor terraces, and even in most parts of our timber structures. Why? Because it is the best decking material that exists.
Where To Buy Untreated Hardwood Decking
We love untreated hardwood decking (and durable hardwoods in general) so much that we opened our own hardwood sawmill, Quercast Sawmilling. Quercast specialises in the milling of UK-grown hardwoods, primarily focusing on oak and sweet chestnut due to their high durability; both timbers have an expected lifespan of 15-25 years when exposed to the elements. We also opened two decking specific sites that offer online quotes and decking calculators; UK Oak Decking and UK Hardwood Decking. Both sites include pricing for different anti-slip decking finishes. If you want to buy hardwood decking (or any other sawn hardwood for that matter), you have several options: