Alternative Decking Materials: A Complete Guide To Non-Wood Decking

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alternative decking materials

Since the first deck was installed in a home, wood has been the primary decking material. However, since then, we have come to find and use alternative materials. Some better, some worse, but all a viable option.

If you are looking to build a new deck but aren’t sure what material to use, we have you covered. In this review we will discuss what it takes to build a deck and show you the top alternative decking materials available today.

Most Popular Alternatives to Wood Decking

Wood is always going to be a good decking material, but there are better options that are more durable, require less maintenance or have longer life. Here are a few of the top non-wood decking options.

  • Composite Decking. Composite uses wood and plastic mixed together to create a strong, long lasting alternative to wood planks.
  • Aluminum Decking. Aluminum can become hot, but it won’t ever rust, corrode or draw insects.
  • Rubber or Grass Deck Tiles. Paver tiles of rubber or artificial grass add comfort and functionality to your project.
  • Poured Concrete. Long lasting, decorative and durable, concrete makes a great decking option when handled correctly.
  • Bamboo Decking. Tough, resistant and hypoallergenic, bamboo is quickly replacing a lot of flooring options as one of the best, including decks.

Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Right Decking Material

buyers guide choosing decking material

Before you can decide which alternative material is right for you, there are several factors that you should consider first. Each one will help narrow your choice down until you are more sure of the best decking choice for your exacting needs.

Deck Size & Measurements

Before you can plan your budget, layout, materials or labor costs, you need to know how much space you have to work with. Unlike carpeting or LVP flooring, a deck has more measurements.

You need to know the square foot of the space, of course. But also the linear foot of the deck area. You need to know if there is a slope in the yard, where the natural drainage lies and where the bottom of your entrances are.

Take the time to measure all of your space, in three dimensions and then measure again. Those numbers will dictate everything you do until the project is complete.

Grade Level

Decking has a few different installation options and they all require different materials. The primary options are below-grade, at-grade and above-grade. The “grade” is essentially the surface of the ground and up to 30 inches over it.

Below-grade decking is anything that is placed in the ground. Think support beams, framing and posts. At-grade is anything on the ground surface to 30-inches over the surface. Because of the contact with the ground, these two options require materials that won’t rot or corrode because of the water content.

Above-grade is anything 30-inches over the ground surface or higher. There is minimal ground contact here, so the materials used are different. However, depending on how high you plan to build (a second story deck, for example), will require much different material than a standard ground-level deck.

Framing and Joists

The framing and joists are the parts that no one will ever see or walk on, but without them you won’t have a deck. These are the parts that the decking boards are attached to and they need to be sturdy, installed correctly and of the right material.

Regardless of the decking material on top, almost all decking frames, posts and joists are pressure treated lumber. Because of its chemical composition, this lumber is resistant to rot, corrosion and insects. It is sturdy, strong and durable, making a great foundation for any deck.

Stairs, Railing and Lighting

Building a deck is more than just the frame and decking planks. Your deck also needs accessories. The most common are stairs. Leading from the deck to the door or to the yard (or both), stairs are almost an essential part of deck construction.

Railing isn’t always required but can work to complete a deck and make it look finished and complete. Cladding and lighting are less common when first installing the deck, but typically end up a part of the project before it is all over.

No matter what you decide during the planning stages, it is wise to keep your options open and room in your budget to make adjustments or additions as your needs evolve.

Installation

Having your decking installed is also a major factor to figure out before you begin. Most decking should be installed by a trained professional. However, decks can be a DIY project if you have the time, desire and knowledge.

Building a deck isn’t the easiest project you can take on at your home. It also isn’t the most difficult. The biggest factors are time and budget. If you have the know-how and time, DIY deck building is doable. However, if you don’t have the time and have the room in your budget, hiring a professional is usually a better option.

If you need help finding a trained and fully vetted contractor, we can help. We have partnered with Networx to give you a free tool for finding that perfect contractor. Each result is sent directly to your inbox and will contain only local, fully checked, rated and reviewed professionals. 

Costs and Warranty

Many alternative materials will come with a warranty that will protect your investment against things like damage, defects, fading staining and more. Each material will have different coverage and for different term lengths.

The range of coverage can fall between 5 years and lifetime. You will need to look at the brand’s paperwork before you buy to know what is or isn’t covered and for how long.

Just like the warranties, the initial and up-front costs will also vary greatly. Some materials are more affordable or budget-friendly than others. You can end up paying only a few dollars per linear foot, or over $30 per linear foot.

The range will depend mostly on the type of material used and the amount you need to complete the job. A typical or standard deck can cost anywhere between $4000 and $12,000.

Top Alternative Decking Materials

top alternative decking materials

In today’s creative and innovative world full of technological advancements, virtually any material can be purposed for decking. If you can think it, you can probably make it happen. However, not every option is a great investment.

In this section we will take a look at the top rated, most popular and best alternative decking materials for you. We will cover each in a detailed review and also explain the pros and cons you will face for each type. Read through the list and find your next decking solution.

1. Composite Decking

Composite decking boards are constructed of a wood pulp and plastic mixture. This creates a tough, durable board that won’t dent, scratch, crack or splinter. There are also different ratings for composite decking that make it suitable for ground contact installations as well as some brands that have underwater applications.

Factory dyed to mimic almost any color, style or wood grain pattern, the through-color application means a fade resistant board. The planks are also resistant to termites and boring insects so it will last a long time without any damage.

The typical composite warranty starts at 25 years and can go up to lifetime for certain brands and styles. If you want a sturdy, durable decking that installs as easy as natural wood and can even be made to look like real wood, composite is one of the best options.

When it comes to pricing, composite decking isn’t exactly cheap. However not only do you get a great decking material that is easy to install, it is also virtually maintenance free. You never have to stain, paint or resurface the boards. This means that what you pay upfront and for install is about all you will ever pay for the deck.

Best for: Homeowners with a larger budget upfront that want low maintenance decking solutions.

ProsCons
Excellent warranty coverageHigh initial cost
Available in all regionsCan have a plastic appearance
Won’t fade or splinter 
Relatively easy to install 
Low maintenance 

2. Vinyl Decking

Vinyl decking is relatively new to the industry and it has a place where it fits really well. While you can get vinyl boards for a full install, the biggest corner of the market is in caps and decking kits.

These are vinyl sleeves or cap pieces that fit over existing decking. So if you have a wood deck that is faded, worn, splintered or just outdated, you can cover it with the vinyl cap kits for a brand new look with limited difficulty.

The vinyl is extremely durable and resistant to fading UV damage, wear and tear and all weather conditions. It is also inexpensive when used as a kit or capping, though the solid vinyl boards can get expensive.

Like composite decking, vinyl needs little to no maintenance aside from a good wash a couple times a year. The warranty isn’t up to industry expectations at this point, but as more brands start to roll out styles and options, the warranty rises and the cost will drop, too.

Best for: Homeowners with existing decks that need a new look.

ProsCons
Caps, boards or coversNot the best warranties
Low overall maintenanceNot readily available everywhere
Several installation options 
Stain, fade and UV resistant 
Long life capable 

3. PVC Decking

pvc decking

Plastic is a tough sell in a world that is turning green, but PVC decking is still a popular option because it is highly affordable. With prices that cut other options to pennies on the dollar, PVC is a strong solution that offers a long lasting answer for many homeowners.

Because it is PVC, it is not the most green solution out there, and it isn’t recyclable or biodegradable. This is a sore spot with a lot of people, but for those looking for a long lasting deal, it is hard to beat.

One of the biggest decision making factors is that PVC is one of the easiest installs out there giving it a boost for the DIYer. However, it can also be cheaply made. Some brands trying to undercut costs will make thinner boards which can become brittle over time, or warp and bow with normal wear and tear.

Best for: Those looking for the cheapest, easiest option for a deck.

ProsCons
Won’t creak or squeakCan stain and fade
Easy to installMay bow or warp with cheaper options
Cheapest option upfront 
Resists rot and insects 
Doesn’t crack or splinter 

4. Aluminum Decking

Thinking outside the box is aluminum decking. While it isn’t as widely popular it is catching on as one of the hottest trends today.

Aluminum decking is manufactured to look and feel like real wood and it does a great job. Being a metal, it can get hot under foot when in direct sunlight. It is advised that you always wear shoes when on an aluminum deck.

However, with that minor caveat aside, aluminum is lightweight, easy to install and highly affordable. It doesn’t dent, crack, splinter or warp like wood can and it won’t attract insects, rot or corrode. Also, even in the harshest weather aluminum won’t rust or wear away.

One of the best parts is that if you ever do decide to get rid of this well-warrantied decking, it can be recycled. For the green-conscious homeowners out there, this may be one of the best options you can find.

Best for: Owners that want a durable, unique deck that will last for years.

ProsCons
Lightweight materialCan get hot underfoot
Won’t fade, crack, splinter or warpMay not come in colors or styles to match your needs
Resistant to insects, rot and corrosion 
Affordable for most budgets 
Minimal tool, DIY installation 

5. Paver Decking Tiles

paver decking tiles

While you can use paver stones to build a deck (using a silica plate system) paver decking tiles are made from rubber, plastic, artificial grass or a sawdust and hardwood mix. These tiles are simple to install and are soft underfoot.

Using a glue-down method or an interlocking tab system a full paver deck can be installed as a DIY project over the weekend. Once completed, the low deck surface is easy to walk on, offers slip resistance and is soft enough that anyone falling (children or the elderly for example) won’t have many problems.

Depending on the brand and style you choose you can find vibrant colors, patterns or create your own. Half of the fun is in the designing of the deck while the other part is in using it. With rubber pavers, you can have a slip, fade, rot and insect resistant deck that will last for years to come.

Best for: Anyone that requires a softer deck or that wants a complete DIY install option.

ProsCons
Simple DIY installStyles and options may be limited
Multiple styles, colors and optionsNot the most eco-friendly option
Highly durable 
Soft underfoot 
Won’t rust, corrode rot or decay 

6. Rice Hull Decking

Rice Hull decking is another alternative that is trending and growing in popularity today. Made from rice husks, salt and mineral oil, these boards look and feel like real wood. They also install like real wood.

Unlike wood, though, rice hull decking boards won’t crack or splinter, do not emit noxious fumes and are skid resistant when wet. They make great decking for pool surroundings, in wetter climates and is the most eco-friendly option available.

The boards can be dyed to almost any color and are 100% recyclable. They also maintain temperature year round, are relatively affordable and can be installed as a DIY project just like real lumber.

Not only are rice hulls made for decking but also railing, cladding, fascia, siding and much more. Similar to bamboo, it is hygienic, allergen free and can even be cut and milled to fit your needs. The best part is that this renewable resource comes with a limited lifetime warranty in almost every instance.

Best for: Those looking for the most eco-friendly decking option. 

ProsCons
Up to lifetime warranty coverageNot readily available everywhere
Easy to installCan get expensive when pricing linear feet
100% recyclable and renewable 
Multiple style and color options 
Won’t rot or decay even in wet applications 

7. Bamboo Decking

From rice to grass, we now look at bamboo decking. Another renewable resource, bamboo is finding more and more uses in our homes. As a decking material, bamboo is tough, durable and resistant to many insects, rot, decay and mold.

Bamboo is also hypoallergenic, weatherproof and resistant to fading, staining and damage. If the boards do get dented, crack or splinter, they are easily replaced. However, it does have a higher maintenance routine than most other options. Bamboo requires sealing, staining or pigment to prevent fading and maintain its weatherproof abilities.

When choosing a decking bamboo you have two main options, stranded and woven. Woven is the strongest and one of the most durable options out there. Strand bamboo is still strong, but not as durable as the woven styles.

Bamboo has a mostly affordable cost and a great warranty though. It also has the additional cost of installation as it should be handled and installed by trained professionals.

Best for: Homeowners with a larger budget that want a more unique decking.

ProsCons
Lightweight and durableNot 100% waterproof
Multiple styles to choose fromCan get expensive in some regions
Sustainable and renewable resource 
Hypoallergenic properties 
Resists insects and rot 

Alternative Decking Options At A Glance

In the chart below we compare the top alternative decking options on various criteria such as life expectancy and cost. The listed prices are averages from all brands and all regions. Your actual cost may be higher or lower depending on your brand choice and where you buy.

TypeStylesInstall MethodLife ExpectancyCost
Composite Decking200+ colors and optionsDIY, Pro20 to 50 years$8 to $15 per sq. ft.
Vinyl Decking100+ colors and optionsDIY, Pro25 to 40 years$12 to $15 per sq. ft.
PVC Decking100+ colors and optionsPro40+ years$5 to $10 per sq. ft.
Aluminum Decking20+ colors and optionsProUp to lifetime$12 to $15 per sq. ft.
Paver Tiles100+ colors and optionsDIY, Pro25+ years$10 per sq. ft.
Rice Hull20+ colors and optionsProLifetime$10 to $20 per sq. ft.
Bamboo Decking20+ colors and optionsPro30 to 50 years$5 to $15 per sq. ft. 

Frequently Asked Questions

faq alternative decking materials

In this section we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about decking in general. If you have other questions, please feel free to ask us in the comment section below.

Q. How much does it cost to install a 20 x 20 deck?

  1. The actual cost will vary depending on a lot of factors. Material, region, installation method and features are the biggest factors. However, on average a 20 x 20 foot deck of alternative materials averages to between $8000 to $10000 total, or about $25 per square foot, installed.

Q. What is a good size for a deck?

  1. According to construction and building crews, the optimal size for functionality, space and visual aesthetics is no more than 20% of the home’s square foot size. So, for example if you have a 2000 square foot home, your deck will look best and function optimally when it is about 400 square feet in size.

Q. How many boards will I need for a 10 x 10 deck?

  1. With an average width of 6-inches and a thickness of 5/4-inches, you would need at least 22 10-foot boards for a 100 square foot deck. This can vary depending on material, design and layout of the deck, though, so precise measurements are required.

Conclusion

When it is time to add a deck to your home, or replace an existing deck, you aren’t limited to just wood. While wood is a good option that has been used for centuries, alternative options are growing in popularity.

Some options like aluminum and composite decking are stronger, longer lasting and don’t have the same negative aspects of natural wood. Bamboo and rice hull decking is more expensive but is also more eco-friendly.

No matter what option you go with, you want to ensure that your new deck is installed properly, and that the material you do end up going with will last you long enough to be worth the investment.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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