DIY Deck-building – Composite Decking or Natural Hardwood?

In my opinion, the question of whether to have a deck or not is more a matter of “is there space for it?”, rather than “do we want one?”. A well-built and well-designed deck will complement a home’s exterior and add substantial value. The tricky part of DIY deck-building, is that although they can be somewhat “rough” in their design and assembly, they have to be able to withstand the elements on a long-term basis.

Batu hardwood deck

There are several factors that will influence and essentially determine how durable your deck will be:

1. Material selection. Generally speaking, there are 2 choices – natural wood, or composite decking. Composite decking is a cement or plastic-based artificial material that is made to resemble natural wood on the surface. All things equal, composite decking is more durable – higher resistance to scratching, staining, mold, and rot when compared to the commonly sold species of natural decking wood such as cedar, redwood, or pine.

The difference in durability becomes virtually nonexistent when certain hardwoods enter the picture, such as various ironwoods, Selangan batu, Manilkara huberi, etc. These hardwoods are known for being extremely hard, dense, and contain resins that make them resistant to rot and insect attack. Many of these hardwoods are known to last 20 or 30 years without any maintenance whatsoever, while certain ironwoods are even said to last up to 100 years.

decking pros and cons

2. Location and surrounding conditions. Ideally, your deck should be built in a location that has good airflow and sunshine. As a rule of thumb, humidity is a deck’s mortal enemy. While you may not be able to do anything about the humidity-level of your region, adequate airflow and sunshine will keep it in check.

3. Proper and regular maintenance (if necessary). Whether your deck is built with natural wood or composite decking, it should be kept clean and clear of debris and unnecessary items or objects. Debris traps moisture and dirt on the surface of the decking and will accelerate mold and rot. Natural wood decks should be cleaned and restained once a year. Even hardwood decks that claim to not need maintenance will eventually fade in color, turning grey, and can be restained periodically to maintain the color of your choosing.

4. And last but not least – and this goes without saying – your deck must be designed and built to structurally handle the traffic it will be subject to. This includes proper, stainless steel fasteners in sufficient numbers, and adequate concrete footing and beam-support for both the main deck and any steps or stairs. The best materials and optimal conditions won’t be enough if individual components fail prematurely due to poor design and workmanship.

In conclusion:

It is my opinion that composite decking trumps the common softwood decking that is widely and relatively cheaply available, and will pay for the difference in cost over its lifetime, while many imported hardwoods such as ironwood rival these composites, possibly even surpassing them in durability and almost certainly aesthetically. It essentially boils down to a game of give and take in regards to workability, durability, aesthetics, and cost.

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