Editor's Note: The author of this column sells exotic hardwood decking and, as such, has definite opinions about the various decking options on the market. You are invited to contact ProSales' editor and express your own opinion.

Steve Crook
Steve Crook

Today, nearly 85% of American homes have decks. As the outdoor entertaining center, decks continue to be in great demand. However, the decking material of choice is not so clear for many builders and consumers. The questions raised inevitably center around four key concerns: durability, appearance, maintenance, and price. So, let's set the record straight on the key differences found on the most popular decking materials sold today.

Exotic Hardwood Decking--Ipe , Cumaru, and Garapa

There are several species of all-natural, real-wood decking products on the market that offer the best appearance and value of any decking products. For the past 100 years, Ipe, Cumaru and Garapa have been harvested in South America and used locally for all types of construction and industrial uses. These rugged but stable species are up to three times harder than oak and outlast virtually any decking products on the market.

Objective research from the U.S. Forest Service and the Forest Products Laboratory have cited Ipe as "highly resistant to decay and insects" and "very durable," said it "dries rapidly with minimal warping, and checking, despite its very high density," and has total shrinkage that's "remarkably low for a wood of this density." It is not uncommon for installations of Ipe to last for 30, 40, 50 years and longer.

Hardwood decking will last beautifully for years in all types of exposure and has a solid history and evidence of exceptional durability, demonstrated in thousands of installations where customers continue to enjoy their decks with pride and satisfaction. No callbacks! No lawsuits! No worries about landfill disposal!

Initially, decking installers who were unfamiliar with these extremely hard, dense and durable natural hardwood products were turned off by the additional time required to pre-drill holes. With new technology, however, this is no longer the case. Several products are now available that will drill, fasten, and countersink all in one, simple, efficient step.

What about Composite Decking?

Over the years, various manufacturers have aggressively promoted composites claiming a "lifetime warranty," and products that were "maintenance free," "better than wood," etc. However, we continue to see callbacks, class action lawsuits and product failures nearly 20 years into the new technology. The pock marks and surface pits are havens for dirt, mold, and mildew. Despite their resources, none of these manufacturers can make sawdust nonabsorbent or keep colors from fading.

Pressure-Treated Lumber ...

... is a terrific product for joists and the substructure. But, other than its inexpensive price, it has no redeeming qualities as a decking surface. It splinters, checks, warps, and cracks. Despite manufacturers' claims of 15-, 20-, 25-year, and "lifetime" warranties, have you ever seen a pressure-treated deck surface that looked even marginally acceptable after 10 years?

Plastic Lumber

PVC and cellular PVC products that have been on the market for a short time seem to be gathering some traction. If one doesn't mind the look of plastic deck boards that overheat and become floppy, with perhaps a little fading and a little blistering, and if one believes advertising claims that this product, too, will last forever, then let the disappointment and replacement cycle continue.

A "Decking for the Ages"

If consumers want inexpensive, continue to sell treated decking. If dealers want something that's easy to sell, ride the tattered coattails of the composite decking manufacturers' marketing maelstrom. If you like to gamble, why not roll the bones on plastic lumber and hope the manufacturers will still be around to back up their warranty claims; after all, it's a high-ticket sale with some margin.

If however, we want to offer our customers the best decking available on the market, be proud of what we are selling and really care about long term reputation and customer satisfaction, exotic hardwood decking, responsibly harvested using sustained yield forestry, is by far the best solution. What are we waiting for?

Steve Crook is president of General Woodcraft Inc. in New London, Conn. The opinions expressed in this column are his own.