Is decking the perfect finish for your home? For Australian cities and towns that are blessed with good weather, most of the year-round architectural timber decking is the ideal way to create inviting outdoor spaces.
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Whether you want to frame your pool with jarrah decking, create an outdoor entertainment space or construct a cosy front verandah, there are so many ways timber decking can add to your home.
Is real timber decking worth it? What are the other options and which should I choose?
There are many decking options catering to different budgets and purposes. For maximum durability and natural beauty, you can’t go past premium hardwoods like jarrah, blackbutt and ironbark.
Natural timber decks can increase the value of your property and create visually stunning areas that you’ll enjoy for years to come. From deep reds to luminous gold – no other materials compare to the richness and beauty of hardwood timbers.
Alternatives to hardwood timber decking include pressure-treated woods, composite decking and PVC planks. Here is a list of pro’s and con’s to help you choose the right material for your project.
Pressure-treated woods such as treated pine are a cheaper alternative to hardwood timber decking. However, they’re not as durable and do not age as gracefully as hardwood timber decking.
- Pros: Cheap.
- Cons: very short service life. Requires treatment to increase durability, sometimes toxic treatment.
Composite decking is made from a combination of wood fibres, plastics and resins.
- Pros: Lasts longer than timber, requires less maintenance and is supplied in one length for easy installation.
- Cons: Will get extremely hot to walk on in the sun and can expand and contract length ways with change in temperature leaving large gaps on the ends of the boards.
PVC planks are made from plastic materials and hold up well when exposed to weather elements but they are not as structurally strong as real timber decking.
- Pros: PVC planks last longer than timber and require less maintenance.
- Cons: PVC decking doesn’t look like real timber and the plastic waste at the end of its service life cannot be recycled. The production process also results in significant carbon emissions.
How does all this compare to natural hardwood timber decking and which option is best for me?
Nothing matches the aesthetics of real timber however it does require re-oiling to maintain the timber colour and increase longevity. Below is the comparison between real timber and PVC / Composite Decking:
Sustainability: Not all real timbers are sustainably sourced and not all brands of PVC & composite options are sustainable. Timber is a renewable resource. Plastics and PVC on the other hand aren't a renewable resource. Some composites and PVC brands are made from recycled material. Timber is much easier to recycle than PVC and composite decking. Recycling PVC and Composite decking on the other hand produces more carbon emissions.
Environmentally Friendly: Timber has a very low carbon footprint, much lower than PVC and composite decking. Using sustainable timber is much better for the environment.
Maintenance: Timber does require maintenance compared to composite which requires almost none. Some PVC and composite decking brands do require sealing to maintain the colour and reduce colour fading, we recommend you ask this question before purchasing composite or PVC decking.
Aesthetics: With its striking colour variation and natural features timber decking looks much better aesthetically than composite and PVC decking. Composite and PVC are much more even in colour and although they are produced to match timber most don't come close to looking like real timber.
Usability: When maintained timber is much more user friendly as it doesn't splinter and is much cooler to walk on in the summer months especially when it's exposed to full sunlight. Composite and PVC can become extremely hot in the sun under barefoot, sometimes too hot to walk on without shoes. If timber is not maintained, composite and PVC are the more user friendly option.
Installation: Composite and PVC decking are supplied in one length and mostly longer than 4.2m and timber is mostly supplied in random lengths this often makes composite and PVC decking easier to install.
Cost: Composite and PVC decking will mostly cost anywhere between $120 – $200 p/m2 for the supply of the decking only. The popular options used for timber decking is generally between $60 p/m2 – $140 p/m2. In most cases using timber will cost you less.
What should you choose?
If maintenance is your biggest concern then PVC and composite decking would be the best option for you. As there are a number of brands of PVC and composite decking we recommend you thoroughly research your options as not all are equal.
If you want a good looking deck and you are prepared to oil your decking and maintain it once in a while then natural timber is recommended. It may not be as hard as you think to maintain real timber decking and some timber options offer lower maintenance than other timbers.
Poolside decking? Outdoor kitchen? Where are you going to install your deck?
The purpose and location of your deck may influence what materials and design you choose. For example, a poolside deck will need to be more durable than an undercover deck used for outdoor dining.
Weather elements such as UV rays, wind and rain can cause your deck to age faster. More durable timber species and decking designs can prevent issues like warping and discolouration.
Proper maintenance also plays a role in preserving the life of timber decking. Keep in mind different species require different levels of maintenance to upkeep their appearance and structural integrity.
Do you live in a bushfire prone area? Some species of timber like blackbutt and spotted gum are naturally fire-resistant. Depending on the BAL rating of where you live, you may be required to meet particular regulations when it comes to building a deck.
Comparing the best timbers for decking – which one is right for you?
Here’s the lowdown on the best timber to use for decking.
Jarrah is a rich red West Australian native hardwood that ages well. Maintenance will be required to preserve the colour but many people choose to let their jarrah deck age naturally. This elegant weathered grey look goes particularly well with modern beach house designs.
- Durability: high
- Price: $85 – $200 p/m
Another Australian native hardwood that is highly durable. It is also naturally fire-resistant, making it an excellent choice for bushfire prone areas. It has a natural golden brown colour and takes well to stains if you prefer to bring out other tones. Blackbutt decking should be periodically resealed as it can crack if left unsealed.
- Durability: high
- Price: $110 – $200 p/m
Like blackbutt, spotted gum is fire resistant and highly durable. It's an Australian native with colours from straw brown to dark brown and interesting, uneven textures. Spotted gum undergoes little shrinkage compared to other hardwoods.
- Durability: high
- Price: $110 – $200 p/m
Extremely durable, heavy and dense, Ironbark is the timber to choose if you want a deck that is going to last for a very long time. It performs especially well as poolside decking. Its colours are pale brown through to deep red. It’s resistant to fire, termites and rotting.
- Durability: very high
- Price: $110 – $200 p/m
Burnt ash is thermally modified American White Ash. The process involves exposing the timber to high heat which modifies the cell structure of the wood. The result is a durable timber that is highly resistant to rot and undergoes minimal expansion and contraction.
- Durability: Very high
- Price: $150 – $280 p/m
Consider sustainable and locally sourced timber
On top of your deck’s appearance, durability and maintenance requirements, you may want to consider its environmental impact. Wood is a renewable resource and one of the most environmentally friendly building materials when it’s sourced from sustainably managed forests.
Check out your timber company’s policy on sustainability and consider choosing locally sourced timbers to reduce carbon emissions from transportation. Australian hardwoods such as blackbutt, spotted gum and jarrah will also give your deck a home-grown appearance.