Buyer Guide to Garden Decking
A garden deck not only creates additional usable space in your garden it can truly transform the look. If done properly it can last for years.
According to the online mortgage advisor, a good deck can add up to 10% to the value of your home.
Here we will discuss some of the deck board options available.
With several composite deck board options on the market, it can be confusing deciding on what product to purchase. This article focuses on 4 of the main options available. The aim is to offer some insight and some key considerations of each one in turn. Please note the opinion stated is that of the author and further research is advised before making your decision.
First a little about us
We are Dalton and Sons a family-run business that spent years installing decking, fencing, and cladding. More recently we decided to open our own landscaping products supply company. We focus on products that are very low maintenance, easy to install, and kind to the environment. Our aim in this and in future articles is to use our knowledge and experience to offer you our opinion of the different products on the market. In the hope that we can assist you in making more informed decisions to enable you to purchase what best suits your needs.
This article will focus on garden decking which has long been a firm favourite for creating garden patio areas. We will look at 4 types of material often used for decking. This includes Softwood Timber, Hardwood Timber, UPVC (Un-plasticised Poly Vinyl Chloride) and WPC (Wood Plastic Composite) composite.
In the past timber deck boards were the most common material used for decking. Probably because they were the most readily available and the most affordable to homeowners. Today however things have changed. Timber prices continue to rise, and the price of other low-maintenance products has fallen. Other factors that today influence buyers’ decisions are the need for long-lasting low maintenance coupled with the need to be environmentally friendly. For that reason, we look at decking prices, maintenance requirements, and how environmentally friendly each product is.
Soft Wood Timber decking
Softwood timber decking at first glance appears the cheapest option available. Cost tends to vary but expect to pay somewhere around £35 – £40 per sq metre for a good quality deck board. Although this appears cheaper than the alternatives on the market, we would suggest it isn’t, as you will see here.
New timber decking is often pressure-treated with preservatives to prolong life and stop insect infestations. However, once the deck is installed it then requires routine staining or painting to obtain the look you want to achieve and to keep the timber preserved. We have worked with lots of decking treatments over the years. We are of the opinion that despite what the treatments may claim on the tin or container, a wooden deck will need retreating as often as annually. The cost of such treatments and the labour time involved is often overlooked. Over the decks’ life span, these costs can amount to a considerable sum.
At the end of the timber deck’s life span the chemicals used to preserve the deck can become problematic. One of the safest ways to dispose of a pressure-treated decking is via landfill. It could take many many years for the timber to decompose completely and question if chemicals escape into the ground. We also often hear of old timber deck boards being incinerated but this is highly dangerous. It releases cocktails of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere which end up in people’s lungs. To learn more click here.
Another consideration is softwood used for decking is often imported from across Europe. The demand for these imports causes high levels of deforestation even if sourced from renewable sources. With demand for softwood timber ever increasing due to more modern methods of building. It could be suggested that we are consuming higher levels of timber, than nature’s replenishment rates. Which if true could see future timber prices continue to rise.
HardWood Timber decking
An alternative timber decking is hardwood timber decking. This timber produces some of the most beautiful natural timber colours and is often considered long-lasting. It is however more expensive than softwood costing on average £75 – £90 sq metre for good quality timber. In our opinion installation costs tend to be higher
due to difficult working practices. For example, is harder to cut and drill. Again, it is an imported material but traveling further coming from more topical sources and as with softwoods is still a contributor to deforestation.
With a good maintenance plan, a hardwood deck can last on average up to 30-plus years. However, hardwood still needs regular routine maintenance, so you need to consider costs and labour requirements when choosing hardwood decking. Finally, end of use considerations are the same as with softwood timber whereby preserved timber can’t be incinerated and if sent to a landfill can take years to decompose.
uPVC composite decking is produced from 100% plastics making it very light weight and low maintenance. It will never need the
routine painting or staining regime of timber decking. Until more recently uPVC decking was more apparent around static caravans but has started to be used in public gardens.
This type of decking is available in solid or hollow board construction. Whilst hollow boards may be considered weaker than solid, they are more than strong enough to cope with everyday residential use. In fact, hallow boards are actually purpose-designed to save weight and help keep the boards cooler in the summer. From experience, we suggest solid boards tend to absorb more heat from the sun and will cause the boards to shrink and expand more than hollow boards.
A good quality uPVC deck is completely waterproof and often sold as highly slip-resistant. It is also often suggested that the life expectancy of a uPVC deck is around 15 years before needing to be replaced. During this lifespan, the deck will require very little other maintenance. Cost-wise around £70 – £80 sq metre, making it the most expensive we have seen so far in this article. Given the positive benefits outlined about uPVC decking, you may be surprised to learn that uPVC has been claimed to be the most damaging to the environment. This is because it is made from 100% synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride. It has been claimed by Greenpeace that the use of such uPVC products causes the chemicals to be emitted into air, water, and land causing serious health problems.
To read more follow this link here.
WPC Composite decking
Composite deck boards are extremely strong and when produced are given a woodgrain composite or groove finish to beautify the surface. Since composite still contains wood in it ‘s makeup it generally looks more natural than uPVC decking. We suggest this is especially true after its initial stabilising process. This process happens during the first 12 -16 weeks after the product is exposed to sunlight. The boards gradually lighten by approx.10% – 15% and the glossy look of new boards gradually settles to make the boards look more natural. Once the process stabilises you are left with a look that will last many years.
In terms of maintenance composite decking is one of the lowest of all the deck products we have focused on here. Often only requires soap and water clean periodically. Many composite deck manufacturers claim the long-life expectancy is said to be able to last up to 30 years plus although none offer guarantees for that long. A further reason composite decking is growing in popularity is due to its easy installation method. From experience, we can tell you it cuts and reacts like timber during the installation process. Composite also uses a concealed clip fixing system which means no fixing holes are visible on the deck surface.
Until recently it appeared that when WPC reached the end of its life it would eventually end up in a landfill. Recognising it was already made from waste that had been diverted from landfills doesn’t seem so bad if it provided more usefulness before finally going to the landfill. However, when searching on the internet it quickly becomes evident that WPC is now being considered a product that has the potential to be recycled yet again. It seems this is early days but of the studies read by the author it suggests that is certainly going to be a possibility in the future.
In summary this article has shown all decking products have their advantages and disadvantages.
Based on the points raised in this article we believe WPC Composite Decking is the best value for money, has the longest lifespan, requires the least amount of maintenance, and is the least damaging to the environment.