Decking Options
Credit: mjpyro

If you decide to build your own deck, you should know that there are several alternatives to natural wood on the market that offer lower maintenance than traditional pressure treated wood.

Although these various materials may be more expensive up front, they often carry a lifetime warranty and are cheaper than wood in the long run because of lower maintenance and replacement costs.

From my personal experience, natural wood, even when it is pressure treated, requires a lot of maintenance and repair due to bowing or warping wood with deck boards.

Options for Building a Deck

Composite Deck Boards

PVC Vinyl and Plastic

PVC vinyl and plastic decking materials are shipped in kits that contain everything necessary to install the decking other than the screws. The kits are preordered to the exact size you need, usually through a store like Home Depot or Lowes. The kits come in multiples of the combined width of a deck with fasteners so order the one closest to your deck size.

The installation process uses what is known as a blind screw process by using a T-clip system that allows faster installation and a uniform look by controlling the spacing in between each board.

The drawback to using this type of material is that it tends to expand and contract in extreme cold weather, so if you live in a northern region of the United States or Canada where there are freeze and thaw cycles, this might not be a good option for you.


A better option might be composite materials. Composite deck boards are made from a blend of wood fibers and recycled plastics to create a rigid product that will not rot, split or splinter, warp with age or crack from harsh UV rays. Furthermore, because you can order it in various colors to match your preference, there is no need for staining, painting or sealing it from the weather or sunlight.

Composite boards can be cut using the same circular or table saws that are used to cut regular wood. A large tooth blade is recommended. This type of decking comes in many different colors and most types are installed in the same way as traditional wood boards, by driving screws through the top of the deck boards into the joists below.

However, there are other types of composite decking that use a tongue and groove system that fastens the boards to the joists using a blind screw method which leaves no holes in the boards.

Composite decking can be ordered online, or through one of the large home improvement stores and delivered to your home in bulk.

Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP)

A lessor known material called fiberglass reinforced plastic, or FRP, is another durable choice that will last a lifetime. This material is 3 times as strong as wood and is not affected by heat, sunlight or severe storms.

The decking is normally preordered to size but it can be cut if need be with a circular saw with a diamond tip or masonry blade.

The decking boards of this type are installed on the deck joists using specialized retaining clips which allow each board to snap into place with no visible screws.


This type of decking material is probably the least used because it is the most expensive and not readily available in all areas. However, aluminum decking offers sturdy, lightweight and waterproof flooring for decks.

Installation is easy for basic deck designs, but for more elaborate deck patterns, using this type of material can be difficult.

KREG SDK-C2W-700 2-Inch, #8 Coarse, Deck Screw, 700 Ct
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(price as of Jun 12, 2016)

How to Install Composite Decking

Deck Installation Tips

Composite Boards

  • Position each one with the factory crown up so water will run off
  • Space each row 1/8 to ¼ of an inch apart to allow water to pass through the deck
  • Pre-drill pilot holes for each of the deck screws but do not counter sink as water will fill the small hole

Tongue and Groove Decking

  • Position a starter strip at the far end of deck with 2 ½ inch galvanized deck screws driven into the lower runner found under the lip of the strip
  • Fasten deck groove into starter strip and drive a 2 ½ in deck screw to hold in place
  • Position next tongue into last groove and continue the process
  • Leave a ¼ inch gap between boards laid end-to-end (for boards longer than 16 ft) and make sure the ends are centered on a joist
  • If necessary, rip the last deck board to size and place last board and secure with deck screw
  • Attach a facing board to conceal loose ends

T-clip System

  • Screw t-clips into ledger at each joist
  • Position first board against the ledger tight
  • Loosely attach t-clip on the joist for the next board
  • Push another deck board tightly against the front facing t-clips then attach t-clips to the new board and repeat the process across the deck
  • Attach a facing board to conceal the end
DEWALT DC970K-2 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit
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(price as of Jun 12, 2016)

Final Thoughts

Backyard Deck
Credit: mjpyro

Most of these materials are designed to be used by DIY home owners. Each have differing installation methods and even those can vary by the different manufacturer of the same products, but most are designed for standard building practices such as joists spaced 16 inches on center.

Whatever system you decide to use, buy decking boards that are long enough to span the width of the deck if possible. Most boards come in standard lengths of 16 feet or 6 feet. If your deck is longer than 16 feet, it will be necessary to place boards end-to-end to cover the length. 

If that is the case, be sure to stagger the joists so they do not overlap from row to row and cut each end-to-end board so that it rests in the center of a joist.  Since 2 boards will be meeting end-to-end on one joist, pre-drill pilot holes to prevent screws from splitting any of your decking boards or the joists.

Before placing an order online or in person at one the home improvement stores, check with local building codes in your area because you may be required to get a permit to use certain materials.

Be sure to take safety precautions when working outside on your deck and follow any instructions provided by the manufacturer.