Best Decking From Consumer Reports' Tests

Our extensive tests expose aluminum, composite, and wood decking to extreme conditions, to see which ones hold up for the long haul

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A person sitting at a table on a wood deck  while petting a dog Photo: Getty Images

If you’re planning on building a deck this year, you’re bound to encounter some pretty harsh realities. Inflation, coupled with an unprecedented lumber shortage, has caused decking prices to skyrocket. One estimate from Homeserve—a home repair service that operates across the U.S. and in Canada—reports that decking costs are up 66 percent since the start of 2021. A quick search at Lowe’s reveals a single 16-foot decking board in pressure-treated pine costs just under $26—not far off from the $32 the store charges for a Trex Enhance board of the same size. Prior to the pandemic, even entry-level Trex would’ve been at least double the cost of wood.

When you’re choosing between decking boards, know that pretty much any deck will look great when it’s brand-new, but how materials hold up over time can vary considerably. A deck built with subpar materials will start showing its age in a year or two. Fast-forward a decade, and a wooden deck that was beautiful that first summer might have warped or cracked wooden boards. Even a composite deck might have a faded finish or a span that sags between joists.

Historically, most decks were made from wood, such as pressure-treated pine or cedar. But a proliferation of new materials, including aluminum, composites, and vinyl, offer compelling alternatives.

However, when it comes to picking a material, play the long game. Rather than making a choice based on short-term availability, consider performance, longevity, and maintenance.

More on Decking

“The desire for minimal maintenance has helped alternative decking materials like vinyl or composites grow in popularity against wood,” says Min Kim Bryant, CR’s senior market analyst who covers decking. “Wood is still dominant in most of the country, but in the Northeast, alternatives now account for more than half of all newly built decks.” 

Of course, it’s not a given that all wood alternatives will perform equally or that they’ll beat out traditional wood options.

“Only one type of decking that started with strong performance when it was brand-new managed to hold up well over a span of three years,” says Rich Handel, who leads decking testing at CR. “On the flipside, plenty of deck boards started with only mediocre performance when they were new, and got worse over time, sometimes discoloring or fading as they aged, too.”

How CR Tests Decking

For wood alternatives, we test individual product lines from brands such as Azek, Fiberon, and Trex. With wood, we simply test by species (like yellow pine, cedar, and ipe). Wood of a particular species should perform similarly, regardless of where it’s milled or sold.

In our Yonkers, N.Y., test facility, we use specialized instruments to test each decking sample for resistance to flexing, to ensure that boards won’t bow or bend if you’re entertaining a crowd or if you park a heavy grill in one spot all summer long. Next, we size up which materials resist common stains, such as ketchup and mustard, and which offer some slip resistance—extra-important if you’re installing a deck near a pool.

We also drop weights of various sizes on the surface of each board to see which samples dent on impact. And we send more than a dozen samples of each material to two areas with extreme climates: hot and dry Arizona, and Florida, where the humidity presents a different challenge to certain materials. We assess those samples yearly for three years, evaluating their appearance and retesting for all the attributes above, to see whether age and exposure to the elements affect overall performance. Wood products are tested without a stain or sealer.

For a look at all the considerations, start with our decking buying guide. CR members can also jump right to our decking ratings or read on for the very best decking from our tests. Unless otherwise noted, the prices below are per linear foot.

Best Overall Decking Material

Best Wood Decking

Best Composite Decking

Paul Hope

As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer, I've always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I'm not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test, often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I'm restoring in my free time.