The Evolution of Decking
Decks create welcoming spaces where you can relax and entertain in the sunshine or under the stars. However, these outdoor spaces haven’t always been as durable, versatile, or attractive as they are today. Learn how decking has evolved over the decades, and discover how today’s decking compares to earlier versions.
Today, decks can serve as kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and near-complete living spaces, but in the 1970s, these outdoor areas were much simpler. In fact, most were small, rectangular spaces measuring no more than 8 by 10 feet. With such limited room to work with, decks were handy grilling spaces, but they didn’t allow for many other activities.
In the 1970s, most homeowners built decks from hardwood, and only a few options were available in most regions. West Coast deck owners tended to choose cedar, whereas East Coast homeowners typically built decks of pine or Douglas fir.
By the mid-1980s, deck concepts and designs began to change. No longer limited to functional meal preparation spaces, decks started to take on new purposes and became real attractions for homeowners who wanted to customize their outdoor living spaces. Thanks to design advances, decks also became true extensions of the home instead of tacked-on exterior additions.
In the late 1990s, composite materials began to revolutionize the world of decking. Made from combined reclaimed plastic and wood fiber, composite decking quickly enticed homeowners seeking a sustainable way to build a great deck.
Hardwood isn’t the most sustainable choice for decking material, but in the late 1990s, eco-friendly builders started to seek out greener wood options certified by the newly formed Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Around the same time, aluminum started to gain foothold as a sustainable decking option owing to its status as an easily recyclable metal.
Most species of hardwood are relatively durable, but they need regular maintenance to look great and stay structurally sound for longer periods. As homeowners gravitated toward more sustainable resources, they also began to choose more durable materials that required less maintenance. Pressure-treated wood became a viable option for a natural look, and vinyl and aluminum began to stand out as tough, stain-resistant materials.
Around 2010, innovations in composite decking construction improved this material’s durability as well. These advances made composite decking a better option for homeowners seeking a product able to keep its form while weathering moisture and sun exposure.
Top Decking Options Today
When you build a deck today, you’ll have a number of options to consider. Whether you’re looking for sustainability, durability, or appearance, one of the following materials will fit the bill.
Hardwood might not be new on the decking scene, but it still retains its original appeal for many homeowners. After all, no other decking material has a look that’s quite as natural or as upscale as hardwood. Redwood and cedar are still top choices for their natural resistance to pests and decay, especially if you opt for #1 grade wood.
Although hardwood needs maintenance to increase its lifespan, you can care for it easily. Homeowners can sand away scratches, dents, or worn areas and restain them so that they look as good as new. In addition to touching up isolated areas, you’ll need to strip and stain your hardwood deck every one to five years. Hardwood decking is also available in the form of deck tiles, which make for a very simple and straightforward installation.
Tropical Hardwood Decking
Considered a subset of natural wood decking, tropical hardwoods have a premium price tag and offer several benefits. Species such as mahogany and cumaru are remarkably sturdy, naturally resist pests and moisture, and have visually appealing grains.
Tropical hardwoods can be difficult and expensive to install since they’re so dense, and they aren’t very receptive to staining. Thus they might weather and change color over time, gradually losing their original appearance.
Pressure-Treated Wood Decking
If you’re looking for a more cost-effective alternative to hardwood, consider pressure-treated wood. This is the main material used in about 75 percent of new decks today, and it’s typically made with pine. The pressure treatment gives this material added resistance to fungus, rot, and pests.
Today’s pressure-treated wood decking uses safer chemicals than previous decking material, but this affordable product still has some notable downsides. The material is liable to warp and crack, and it requires maintenance to lengthen its lifespan.
Composite decking is a sustainable and cost-effective option that looks like hardwood decking, but it’s available in a number of colors and wood grains. This type of decking is more sustainable than hardwood, since it’s made with recycled and waste materials, and it lasts for up to 25 years.
The composite decking manufactured today needs minimal maintenance so long as you don’t paint or stain it. If you do, you’ll need to schedule routine maintenance and periodic restaining.
Plastic or Vinyl Decking
Made from PVC or vinyl, this manufactured decking offers superior durability and needs almost no maintenance. Plastic decking resists stains and wear, and it’s a lightweight option. This product is among some of the most affordable decking materials on the market, but it doesn’t have a classic hardwood appearance.
Aluminum is naturally resistant to hardwood pests, and it easily resists mold and wear. This type of decking is tough and durable, which means that it won’t split or crack. In addition, it’s slip-resistant, so it works well in wet climates. For a lightweight option that’s also recyclable, aluminum is a smart choice.
The Future of Decking
Over the past 30 years, decking has evolved from an all-natural industry to a world in which synthetics are increasingly common. As this industry continues to move forward, thanks in part to the increased demand for outdoor living space, the need for versatile, sustainable decking materials will continue to grow. Materials that can weather all types of climate conditions, withstand substantial use without frequent maintenance, and look great without harming the environment are likely to become essential for the decks of the future.
From natural wood in a one-size-fits-all model to contemporary materials with almost unlimited design options, decking has come a long way in only a few short decades. Whether you’re leaning toward a classic hardwood deck or a modern composite deck, you can create the ideal outdoor space for your lifestyle and budget.
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