Written by Sarah Stebbins
Produced By Wendy Manwarren
The right outdoor structure amplifies the design and functionality of a yard, providing extra room to comfortably lounge and dine alfresco. And because it’s elevated, a deck can be installed where a patio cannot — on steep slopes and rocky terrain. While there are some parameters (consult your city’s building codes for requirements and restrictions on railing and landing heights), you can construct nearly anything you dream up, says John Mortimer, charter member of the North American Deck and Railing Association and owner of Sweetwater Deck, Inc., a design and installation company in Sweetwater, Tennessee. “Decks can be made in a variety of shapes — other than the standard square — with multiple levels and a combination of materials,” he says. What’s right for you depends largely on style preferences and budget. Materials include wood, the most popular option, easy-to-care-for composite and plastic planks, low-maintenance aluminum beams, and stone or concrete tiles. Let the following pages be your guide to creating a winning platform.
Aluminum boards are offered in a range of neutral grays, creams, and tans.
Description: Metal planks, often interlocking.
Options: Aluminum boards are generally textured with ridges or covered in a heavy-duty plastic layer, which reduces the clanking sound when you walk. Opt for a product with a powder coating for extra durability and scratch resistance.
Pros: Strong, rust-proof, and watertight, aluminum decking lasts for decades. Installed on a slight incline, it’ll channel water away from the substructure, allowing for waterproof storage underneath.
Cons: Metal is pricey, and textured surfaces trap dirt.
Care: Sweep and hose regularly. Once a year, use a solution of dishwashing liquid diluted in water, and scrub the deck with a soft-bristle broom.
Cost: $7 per square foot
Shown Above Powder-coated aluminum in Light Gray and Almond. $7.50/square foot. LockDry, lockdry.com.
Composite boards won’t warp, rot, crack, or peel.
Description: Boards are created from wood fibers and plastic resins (some manufacturers use recycled materials such as wood scraps and plastic bags).
Options: Many styles mimic the texture and color variations — tan, gray, and burnt sienna — of actual lumber.
Pros: It doesn’t require a sealer. The boards can be made into curved shapes, allowing for a wide range of designs.
Cons: Composites can fade (stain can be applied to restore color) and mildew. Deep scratches and tough soils — red wine and berries, for instance — require replacing the board.
Care: Wash away surface dirt weekly. Clean yearly with a composite solution (try Corte-Clean Composite Deck Cleaner, $20, corteclean.com).
Cost: $5.25 to $6.50 per square foot
Shown Above Premium Grain in Driftwood Grey, Tuscan Walnut, Sandalwood, and Western Redwood. $5/square foot. WeatherBest, weatherbest.com.
Pine is one of the least expensive decking options.
Description: Pressure-treated pine, which is processed with chemicals to make it moisture- and pest-resistant, is most popular. Costlier alternatives include cedar, redwood, and exotic hardwoods like ipe.
Options: Cedar, redwood, and exotic species offer the greatest number of color and grain variations.
Pros: Do-it-yourself refinishing can repair scratches, remove soils, and give a wood deck a whole new look.
Cons: Prone to weathering, bending, splitting, and decay.
Care: Keep deck free of debris. Scrub once a year using a deck wash. Apply a protective sealer every two to three years.
Cost: $2 to $2.20 per square foot for pressure-treated pine; $3.50 to $5 for cedar or redwood; $8 and up for exotic hardwoods
Shown Above Red Cedar in Architect Clear. From $3.39/lineal foot (depending on size). Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, wrcla.org.
Stone tiles are available in a variety of colors.
Description: Granite, quartz, sandstone, slate, or pressed concrete tiles arranged on a composite grid — without grout — that attaches to the deck platform.
Options: Stone tiles come in mottled sea, sand, pink, and charcoal shades. Concrete ones are available in a rainbow of muted hues and may be smooth or imprinted with designs.
Pros: Splitting and chipping from temperature swings is unlikely with tiles installed without grout. The modular pieces can be replaced if one cracks.
Cons: Stone is costly.
Care: Blot — don’t wipe — spills immediately to prevent spreading and setting. Apply a sealer (try TileLab SurfaceGard Penetrating Sealer, $20; hardware stores) every three to five years.
Cost: $7 per square foot for concrete; $15 to $22 for stone.
Shown Above Multicolor Slate and Quartz. $16-$18/square foot. StoneDeck, stonedeckwest.com.
Plastic boards are impervious to moisture, stains, and fading.
Description: Planks formed from various plastics, including PVC and recycled materials such as discarded milk jugs and detergent bottles.
Options: Styles range from beige, brown, or gray slabs furrowed to resemble wood to boards embossed with graphic patterns.
Pros: Plastic boards can be shaped into arced forms, so design possibilities are endless.
Cons: It’s pricey. The panels’ sheen and texture look like imitation — rather than real — wood. Hot grease spills (from a grill) can cause pitting.
Care: Clear leaves and dirt weekly with a broom or hose. Wash yearly with a solution of dishwashing liquid (or bleach, for tough grime) and water using a soft-bristle brush.
Cost: $6.50 to $8 per square foot
Shown Above Eon Ultra in Chestnut and Sandalwood. $3.15/square foot. CPI Plastics, eonoutdoor.com.
Learn the best way to clean and stain your deck, here