Which Type of Decking Material is Best for Your Garden?

Raised deck with step upwards, in narrow area

 

Perhaps that question should ask: –

“Which decking material is best for your garden, your lifestyle and your budget?”

 

Decking is part of your garden and needs to fit in both practically and from the visual perspective.

It can be used: –
• as a stepped area where there is a drop from house to garden
• instead of a patio to be the link between house and lawn
• as an extra seating area
• to create a boardwalk through a wooded part pf a larger garden
• as a jetty extending out over an informal pond

The end use you, your garden designer and landscaper have decided on should help with choosing the correct material for the decking. So, what are the options?

 

Wood Decking Material

Wood has been the obvious go-to material for decking even before this type of garden structure was called decking! For example, raised terraces and platforms in Tudor gardens were created out of wood for both short term events – like the visit of Queen Elizabeth – and as permanent structures.

The main difference between woods is whether it is softwood or hardwood. Both types of wood can be bought with a variety of finishes – smooth, grooved, reeded (narrower grooves), for example.

Grooves in the wood, when the deck is laid with the appropriate fall, helps channel water off the deck. A ‘fall’ is when there is a slight slope – usually between 1:100 – built into the deck. This should be done so it falls away from buildings etc, towards a well-drained area such as beds or lawns.

 

Decking Material #1 – Softwood

Softwood is currently the most used decking material. Softwoods are mainly sourced from conifers, such as pine.

Pros
• Cheap
• Readily available
• Easy to stain to whatever colour you want

Cons
• Yearly cleaning and staining / treating with preservative required if it’s to last

 

Decking Material #2 – Hardwood

Temperate hardwood comes from broadleaf deciduous trees such as oak and ash. Tropical hardwood from broadleaf deciduous trees like yellow balau and opepe, for example.

Pros
• Wow factor
• More durable than softwoods
• Can be stained

Cons
• More expensive than softwood
• Yearly oiling recommended

 

Wood Decking – general points

There will be variations within the colour of the boards, along with knots in the grain, as this is a natural decking material. This is true of both softwood and hardwood.

Cleaning with a proprietary cleaner is recommended on an annual basis for wood to prevent the growth of algae in damper climates. Using a pressure washer to clean decking causes damage to the surface of the wood, and is not recommended.

Lifespan of 10 -20 years, possibly longer, possibly less. Depends on the upkeep, where the decking is situated and the type of wood.

Note – all wood used should be FSC certified. The FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council – is a non-profit organisation that sets high standards for forestry practices. The wood with an FSC certified label will have been grown and felled in an environmentally responsible manner. The FSC certification is considered the “gold standard” designation for wood harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious and economically viable.

 

Composite Decking Material

Composite decking material is also known as wood-polymer composite, synthetic decking, wood alternative decking. There are many types, but these can be categorised into wood-mix or wood-free composite.

 

Decking Material #3 – Composite, wood / plastic / bamboo mix

Pros
• Generally made from recycled materials
• No splinters
• No need to stain / oil / use preservative
• Consistent product colour
• Slip resistant

Cons
• Can get too hot to walk on barefoot
• More expensive than softwood
• Not fully algae / mould resistant

 

Decking Material #4 – Composite, wood free

Pros
• Stain resistant
• Minimal maintenance
• Algae and mould resistant as no wood fibres
• Interesting textures, colours and visual effects available

Cons
• Expensive to buy and fit
• Gets too hot to walk on barefoot if hot summers / a sunny site.

 

Composite Decking – general points

Composite decking material has a guaranteed lifespan of 20 – 25 years, sometimes longer. Wood-free composites are sometimes given a lifetime guarantee.

Their colours will fade over time, as wood does.

Some of the cheaper versions look exactly that – like a poor version of wood. However, some composite materials can look stunning as a high-end, definitely not-wood deck.

 

Decking Material # 5 – Now for Something Completely Different

“There’s another option?” you ask

Yep – aluminium. For decking that looks stunning this could be your answer if you have the budget.

Pros
• Weather resistant
• Doesn’t rot in damp or degrade in sunlight
• Stays cooler than composite decking materials
• Doesn’t splinter as wood might
• Fireproof
• Recyclable if you get bored with it

Cons
• Expensive to buy
• Expensive to install – specialist recommended

Aluminium decking could suit both contemporary gardens and traditional gardens. It’s all about looking and designing house, garden and owners as a whole.

 

Choosing Your Decking Material – what else?

So, those are a few basics about the decking material options. But what else should be under consideration? What other things might affect your final decision?

In order to choose the right decking material for your garden, you, your designer and landscaper will need to consider: –

 

Is the decking going in a sunny or shady spot?

Sun may make a composite deck too hot to walk on if you’re a bare-foot family, have pets or crawling babies. Shade, especially in damper areas of the UK, may mean regular cleaning to remove algae.

 

All decking will require some maintenance!

This could just be sweeping leaves off in the autumn, but may also include cleaning to remove general dirt. Generally speaking, softwood requires the most maintenance.

 

Your Budget

You will need to consider the initial outlay of design, materials, construction, waste removal, etc. These may be part of a larger garden design and landscaping budget or just for your decking.
It is important to consider the ongoing, long term costs as well. For example, regular maintenance – will you do it yourself or pay someone?

 

Legal stuff –

Planning permission is not usually required, unless: –
• it is raised more than 30cm from the ground
• it will allow you to easily see over your neighbours’ boundary
• the deck covers more than 50% of your garden
• you are in a –
conservation area
national park
own a listed building
other area with strict planning regulations

There are some other criteria, but if your decking is being designed and constructed by a reputable garden designer or landscaper, they should know what is relevant to your situation and advise you accordingly.
For example, decking which is higher off the ground will need a balustrade and must meet certain other legal and health & safety requirements.

 

This blog can only be a starting point, but hopefully has given you some helpful tips. Asking for samples and going to see the different materials laid out at showrooms are other things you can do. But it may be an idea to discuss with your designer or landscaper first, as they can direct you to showrooms within your budget.

Do get in touch if we can help!

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