Core ProTips

Which Outdoor Material is Best for Your Home?

We get a lot of questions from customers who are adding on a new custom deck, screened-in porch, stone patio, or some other outdoor living structure. A big one is the question of which outdoor material is best for a Virginia, Maryland, or DC-area home. This is important for a variety of reasons, including our area’s unique climate, the diversity of housing styles, cost, longevity, maintenance, and more.

In order to determine the right materials for your project, it takes a little time to navigate the trade-offs and make a choice that balances form, function, and budget. Over the past 21 years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to learning the latest innovations and to sharing this knowledge with our clients. We enjoy building with all types of materials, so we’re able to focus on what is best for you.

Pressure-treated Southern pine is the standard of outdoor construction. It’s inexpensive and can last for decades, and it stays looking great with proper care and protection. Aesthetic appeal can be enhanced with higher-grade clear lumber and routed edges that deliver more of a finished furniture appeal. This material requires routine cleaning and periodic staining and/or sealing. Even with a higher level of care, pressure-treated pine will ultimately age with minor cracking, warping, and darkening of color. Mixing materials such as metal pickets can make long-term care easier and cheaper, and it helps your deck or screen porch look better for a longer time.

Composite decking has been a popular upgrade for nearly 20 years. The technology has greatly improved since its inception, where earlier technology often scratched, stained, and swelled with moisture. Basic composite is a wood/plastic mix that tends to scratch easily and looks like a synthetic version of painted wood.

More modern, all-plastic decking carries a higher price tag but greatly resists scratching and staining, and it also looks remarkably realistic like hardwoods. Composite decking can be used with either traditional wood railings or composite railings that greatly reduce long-term maintenance.

Adding a synthetic railing will add significant materials cost to your project but should be considered to achieve lower maintenance with superior long-term performance. There are also powder-coated metal railing components that are often less expensive than composites.

The third major class of decking materials consists of alternative woods and exotic hardwoods. Alternative domestics are cedar and redwood, but they’re not cost-effective choices on the east coast since they are grown in the pacific northwest. They have natural decay resistance but require the highest level of care.

Exotic imports such as Ipe, Cumaru, and Brazilian Cherry have incredible fiber strength and anti-rot properties but cost more than the highest-priced composites. They are extremely elegant and a must-have for some consumers, but they do require consistent refinishing and cleaning to maintain their great beauty.

No material is the perfect choice for everyone. It’s all up to your budget, upkeep expectations, and personal style. We provide pricing and detailed information for each material to help you decide. There are also numerous websites that provide quality ratings, environmental concerns, and manufacturing company reputations. A little bit of research can help you decide what material is the best match for you.