You just spent three months enjoying the spoils of a Seattle summer. There were late nights, BBQs, and lots of outdoor entertaining. Maybe your deck didn't feel up to par, or maybe you were lamenting your choice to not install that deck last summer. Now is the time to think about your options. Dunn Lumber carries a variety of decking materials, but the difference between PVC and composite or cedar and treated lumber can be confusing. We've put together a primer on decking materials to help you find a deck to best fit your needs.

Diversity of Decking

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One thing to consider when deciding on a deck is price. Pricing ranges from tight knot cedar at the cheapest, to standard composite decking to composite with a proprietary plastic wrap, to PVC decking, to clear grain cedar at the most expensive. We steer people away from standard composite because it has a tendency to absorb moisture. Instead we suggest plastic wrapped composite. The price variance in plastic wrapped composite decking is due mainly to appearance (i.e. color, grain pattern, and streaks). PVC is more expensive than the plastic wrapped composite—and substantially more realistic looking. The price within PVC also changes according to color and grain, so the less repetition in the grain pattern, the more natural streaking, and the darker the color, the higher the cost.

Cedar vs. Composite

The main difference between cedar and composite/PVC is maintenance. This is important because according to the experience of our employees, people generally don't care about cost. They care about the amount of work they'll have to put into their deck.

Cedar decking requires frequent care. You should clean it several times a year with a mild bleach, soap, and water solution (approximately 10% bleach). If the deck needs a stronger solution, we carry cedar deck cleaners. When your cedar deck begins to absorb water instead of shedding it, you need to strip it. This involves first cleaning (as directed above), stripping using a "stripper" (a solution that takes off the stain, using a brightening agent), letting it dry, and then re-staining it. Depending on the conditions of your deck, you'll need to do this every year or two, maybe three if you're really lucky! The less sun your deck is exposed to, the less you'll need to stain it, but the more you'll need to clean it. A cedar deck in good care will last approximately 20-25 years. A cedar deck with no care will turn gray, but will still last you a good 10-15 years.

In contrast, composite and PVC decking requires a light cleaning two to three times a year with mild dish soap and water or with a composite/PVC deck cleaner. These decks generally have a 25 year warranty, and will outlast the wood frame you build it on. The decking is expected to fade a small amount, but it has a 20-25 year warranty for excessive fading under proper conditions.

(For example, improper conditions for PVC would be prolonged exposure to rubber. A rubber mat or a rubber hose left for a period of time on PVC decking will cause a white discoloration on your deck.)

Fastening your deck

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When considering the price of composite decking, you need to look at how you plan to fasten your deck. Composite/PVC deck screws (that match the color of your deck) are $43 per 100 sq ft. There are also hidden fasteners that fit into a groove in the side of the decking and connect your boards "invisibly." All stainless steel fasteners are $130 per 100 sq ft. Stainless steel fasteners with a plastic clip are $54 per 100 sq ft., but despite the lower cost, West Coast Decks uses stainless steel with the plastic clip on all of their decking.

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There's also one other product: the camo. The camo is a screw gun that drills your deck screw through the side of your decking at an angle into the frame. This technique puts you at $32 per 100 sq ft, plus $47 for the camo tool. Warning: this is a tool that only Azek decking has tested and approved for their product. It only works on PVC decking, and we would not recommend that you use it on composite decking or on cedar decking because they can crack.

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