Basically the choice is between real wood -softwood and hardwood.
There are also synthetic and polymer constructed boards which are used
in the USA more than here in the UK at present. So will will simply
discuss the pros and cons of softwood and hardwood.
There are other types of decking board available - composite
deck boards and also Vinyl (UPVC) boards and systems. We will
discuss those at a later stage. Most of these are best installed
by professional deck installers.
The main difference between softwood decking and hardwood decking is
Hardwood decking is cut from trees with a slow
growth habit - typically like those from rainforest areas - and
therefore cost more to produce. There should be no environmental
concerns these days. Most timbers used in decking are farmed
properly, and re-planted to ensure continuity.
Softwood decking is cut from coniferous trees
which are quicker growing and therefore more economical. Soft wood
comes from sustainable sources - mainly Europe - where there are
huge areas of coniferous trees 'farmed' as with normal crops. Every
cut tree is 'replaced' - many times over in some cases where
forestry is expanding. Softwoods are normally sold as 'redwood' or
Redwood and whitewood, simply refer to the
grade of timber rather than the type of tree or colour of the wood!
The types of conifer normally used for softwood decking include Pine
- Pinus spp; Cedar - Thuya - or Thuja spp;
Spruce - Picea - same as traditional Christmas tree; Hemlock -
Tsuga; Fir - Abies spp: These will be sold as European Pine,
European Redwood, Larch and Cedar to name but a few!
Hardwood is not better than softwood. It is
simply different. Hardwood needs a greater expertise in carpentry
skills than does softwood. Together with that, different or
additional tools will be required. Additional work will be needed by
way of pre-drilling and screwing - rather than nailing. Hardwoods
normally used in decking, include Ipe, Yellow Balau, Teak - rarely,
Red Cedar decking is not to be confused with
proper Cedar! Red cedar is produced from a quick growing conifers,
but has a natural oil which combats decay - providing it is not in
contact with the ground. Red cedar is a conifer softwood. It is a
bit misleading to call it simply 'Cedar' which conjures up visions
of huge churchyard-type trees being cut down. Not so. 'Cedar decking
comes from the relatively common species of conifer - Thuya
Softwood is not necessarily soft - nor hardwood hard! Both types of
wood are suitable for decking, and a properly treated and maintained
softwood deck can last up to 40 years.
All timber used in an exterior situation, end up the same colour if
it is not treated or stained in some way - grey! A softwood deck - if
stained, can look similar to hardwood. A large timber supplier
recently had a picture of a softwood deck on their website - built by
Top Deck Decking Ltd, and stolen from their website - claiming that it
was hardwood! We pointed out their error!
When new, most hardwoods will either have a golden brown or red/brown
appearance. Treated softwood will typically be light green/brown, and
after just a few weeks exposure to light, will turn what is best
described as 'honey-brown'.
The vast majority of decks in the UK are constructed from
commercially treated (tanalised) softwoods. Typically, the guarantee
against rot - providing that all cuts are properly treated - will be 15
years. You can expect a properly constructed deck to last many years
longer than that.
A typical stack of good quality softwood decking. The colour soon
changes to honey brown
Below - A disaster of a hardwood deck!
The image on the left is not typical of quality hardwood decking, but
serves as a warning. In this instance, the installers were the same
company that provided and installed the swimming pool. Obviously not
experienced in deck work - either choice of materials or craftsmanship.
They used masonry nails to fix the decking!! Whilst hardwood decking
'could' be nailed, the choice of nail would centre around a ridged or
ring shanked nail to ensure extra grip and negate the risk of popping! A
Smooth masonry nail does NOT fit this specification.
A 6 month old hardwood surround to a swimming pool! Note the splits
starting - for a bare feet area!