Choosing the Right Chicago Decking Materials: Pros & Cons

deck remodel

Decking Materials

With spring right around the corner in Chicago and everyone eager to start getting outdoors to enjoy street festivals, and the lakefront, and plan those summertime backyard BBQs…now is the time that we start to think about our outdoor projects! More specifically, deck remodeling. If your springtime to-do list includes renovating your existing deck or building a larger deck space, it’s important to consider selecting the right material. There are several decking material options to choose from, all with different levels of maintenance, long-term costs, and investment values.

Not all decking material is created equal. Prioritize your needs by ranking what is most important to you as you move forward with your deck project – budget, material color, low maintenance, stone vs wood, etc. You will want to consider how you plan to utilize the space to ensure your design fits within your lifestyle needs. Also, consider your environment and how the weather, as well as your landscape/surroundings, will affect the overall look and lifetime of the material you select.

We will dive into the four main categories of decking material and the pros and cons of each – pressure-treated wood, composite aluminum or steel, and stone or concrete.

Pressure Treated Wood

Pressure-treated wood is usually of the pine variety. Its nomenclature is due to it being placed in a pressurized chamber and then sealed for protection. This wood treatment method is best at protecting wood boards from erosion. While sealing and staining do provide moderately durable surface protection, pressure treatment penetrates much deeper into the wood boards than just surface level. Wood decking is by far the most widely used, making up approximately 75% of all newly installed decks.

Pressure-treated wood comes in at the lowest cost; however, it also has a lower long-term value with higher maintenance costs with regular repair and replacement required over time. All wood, natural or pressure-treated, will warp, crack, and rot over time. Wood decking will also naturally sun bleach to a gray color requiring regular staining to maintain your color of choice. The expected lifetime of a natural wood deck is around 10-15 years depending on the level of care you provide with upkeep. Your wood deck should be inspected annually for maintenance such as sanding, staining, and sealing.

Pros: Lowest upfront costs, natural wood look and feel (dependent on your design aesthetic).

Cons: High maintenance costs, will warp and crack, must be evaluated for annual sealing and staining.

Composite Deck Materials

If your design vision includes the look of wood with much lower maintenance needs and cost, composite is the best option for decking material. Composite wood is a blend of recycled plastic and wood fibers. It is generally a minimum of a 50/50 mix with some composite wood lines calling for up to 80% of recycled materials. This provides a stylish flair with a lower environmental impact. There are two styles of composite wood boards that you can choose from – capped and uncapped. Uncapped composite boards are open at the ends whereas capped composite boards have a protected cap on the ends, keeping it closed off to the environment.

The blend of recycled plastic and wood allows composite boards to be superior against weather conditions and erosion. Uncapped composite does leave the wood core of the board open to the elements, resulting in higher maintenance and regular cleaning for mildew compared to the capped boards. Composite boards also come in a variety of colors to mimic the look of naturally stained wood. Composite is naturally both fade and slip-resistant. It is comfortable underfoot with no risk of getting splinters compared to natural wood. The life expectancy of composite decking can last for up to 25 years if properly cared for and maintained.

Pros: Low maintenance, high performance, environmentally sustainable.

Cons: Higher upfront costs compared to pressure-treated wood, require regular cleaning to prevent mildew if opting for uncapped boards.

Aluminum or Steel Decking

Aluminum and steel decking is a popular choice in multi-unit Chicago buildings due to the durability, safety, and fire resistance of the material. Aluminum decking does come with a high material and installation cost, but in turn, offers the longest life expectancy at 30+ years. Aluminum won’t rust, warp, splinter, rot or crack. It is naturally weather and mold-resistant. Aluminum does not come in a variety of styles and colors so be sure the industrial look matches your design and is not a sacrifice to your overall vision.

Steel decking also offers the same level of durability, safety, and fire protection as aluminum, but does require regular maintenance to de-salt and periodic application of protective coatings. The protective coatings keep the steel structure underneath from oxidizing by allowing the coating to oxidize instead. This protects the steel from corrosion and is imperative to upkeep to prevent rust and erosion. In addition, steel or aluminum may not be the best decking material if you like to utilize your outdoor space in the colder months to sit around a fire or grill. Metals are prone to taking on extreme temperatures and freezing faster than wood or composite.

Pros: High performance, long life expectancy.

Cons: High up-front cost, requires regular maintenance, prone to erosion, and is affected by weather conditions.

exterior remodeling

Concrete or Stone

Concrete and stone are primarily used for ground-level patios or deck areas. It is best in smaller surface area locations, where wood or composite are better suited for larger areas. Stone and concrete provide a luxurious appearance that blends well with a home’s modern aesthetic when well-designed. Concrete and stone are also great material options when considering the replacement of your front staircase and patio.

The expected life span of concrete and stone depends on your exterior contractor’s installation standards and craftsmanship, environmental factors, as well as upkeep and maintenance. Concrete and stone are relatively low maintenance, but do require regular inspection to check for settling, cracks, and any structural issues. Depending on your surroundings, it may also need routine pressure cleaning to remove mold and mildew to remain naturally slip-resistant.

Pros: Long life expectancy, most luxurious aesthetic.

Cons: High up-front costs, best for ground-level deck or patio, can get very hot in the sun.

Contact Our Chicago Deck Remodeling Contractors

If you are ready to take the next step and get moving on your deck project, contact the experts at Areté Renovators to help bring your outdoor design to fruition. Our tenured installers and design team will make sure to create an outdoor space that you will enjoy and love for many years to come. We will partner with you to ask important questions to ensure our design and material selections are within your investment range, lifestyle, upkeep expectations, and long-term goals. Contact our team today at 773.683.3033 to schedule a consultation to review your Chicago deck remodeling project and guide you on the best next steps. We will be here every step of the way from initial consultation through construction, project completion, and warranty. We look forward to welcoming you into the Areté family.