Decking is the most visible part of a deck and gets all the use and exposure to the elements. Selecting the cheapest decking materials doesn’t make your deck look cheap, it just means more money remains in your pocket. Whether your choice is due to aesthetics, budget, durability, maintenance, or if it’s DIY friendly, the choice is often personal and practical.
The 5 cheapest decking materials are 3/4” plywood, 5/4”x6” pressure-treated lumber, cedar, composite decking, and bamboo. Each offers wood grain and texture and has market longevity demonstrating its durability and aesthetic appeal. Some others are just as good but their square-foot cost just didn’t make the cut.
In this guide, we’ll compare and review the most affordable decking materials and explain what to look for when selecting decking. We’ll also compare composite and wood decking, identify the cheapest composite decking, and where to buy to get the best prices. Plus, we’ll identify the best low-cost decking material. Our goal is to provide you with the information to help you make the best decking choice for your outdoor living space.
- Affordable Decking Options: Quick Comparison
- Cheapest Decking Materials in 2022: Review
- Is Composite Decking Cheaper Than Wood?
- Cheapest Composite Decking
- What to Look for When Choosing Affordable Decking Material?
- Where to Buy Composite Decking Cheap?
- What is the Best Low-Cost Decking Material?
Affordable Decking Options: Quick Comparison
Selecting the best decking material for your project can be a daunting task. In the table below, we highlight the most affordable decking options by square foot and compare key factors to assist with your choice.
Prices are based on those found at three local NY competitors and do not include installation or fasteners. Decking material is a commodity and prices can vary from day to day and location to location. So, it may be cheaper to buy in the fall for next year’s build and drive 50 or 60 miles to get a better price.
|Affordable Decking Options|
|1. 3/4″ Plywood||$1.50 – $2.50||Real wood grain, smooth finish||Low to Medium||10 – 30||Medium-High||Yes|
2×4, 2×6, & 5/4×6 Decking
|$2.00 – $3.50||Real wood||Medium||15 – 25||Medium||Yes|
|$2.50 – $3.50||Real wood with grain highlights||Medium||20 – 30||Medium||Yes|
|4. Composite Decking||$3.00 – $10.00+||Price affects wood look, feel, and color||Medium to High||10 – 30||Low||Yes|
|5. Bamboo Decking||$3.00 – $5.00||Price affects color, feel, and look||Medium to High||25+||Low – Medium||Y/N|
Cheapest Decking Materials in 2022: Review
Whether building a new deck or just resurfacing an existing one, decking is the most visible component. It is exposed to foot and paw traffic, the elements, and the ever-appraising eye of neighbors and friends. Selecting the most affordable option may be more budget-friendly, but it may mean more maintenance and less aesthetic appeal.
The options presented are the cheapest price-wise per square foot whether DIY or installed by a pro. Square foot coverage and cost aren’t linear foot costs or coverage, so don’t confuse the two. Just because they’re low-priced, though, doesn’t mean they won’t make presentable and durable decking. However, maintenance is key to appearance and lifespan, so consider those factors when making any decision.
1. Pressure-Treated Decking
Pressure-treated decking is the most common decking in both the USA and Canada. Chemicals are infused under pressure into the wood to make it more resistant to rot, mold, mildew, and insects. The treatment improves its durability and lifespan. It’s available in greenish to brownish tones and the planks are easy to cut and install. Perpendicular joist spans for 2” thick decking can reach 24” OC, while 5/4” should only span up to 16” OC.
The decking shows character knots, checking, and wood grain, which can be enhanced with different wood stains. It can also be allowed to fade to a grayish tone over the years if preferred. Alternatively, let the lumber season for 3 to 12 weeks after installation and stain, seal, or paint it to blend or complement its surroundings.
- Inexpensive and easy to install
- Will last 15 or more years, longer with maintenance
- Can be painted or stained
- Real wood grain look and feel
- Durable and solid
- Decking can warp, split, check, or fur
- Chemicals can rot fasteners and brackets
- Requires more maintenance if stained versus painted
- Environmental and health concerns due to chemical preservatives
Average price per square foot
- 5/4”x6” pressure-treated lumber is $2.25 – $3.00
- 2”x4” pressure-treated lumber is $2.50 – $3.10
- 2”x6” pressure-treated lumber is $2.00 – $2.50
2. Cedar 5/4×6 Decking
Cedar is naturally decay, rot, and insect resistant, and comparatively lightweight compared to other decking. Heartwood is denser and harder than sapwood and withstands environmental conditions better. It lasts longer than pressure-treated wood and will fade to grayish tones over time.
To maintain its natural highlights, colors, and hues, it needs to be sealed every 12 to 24 months. Cedar can also be stained or painted to improve its longevity and resistance to weathering. An alternative to 5/4×6 decking is 2×4 or 2×6 cedar boards which can also span further.
- Attractive wood grain and rich coloring
- Naturally resistant to rot, mold, mildew, insects, and moisture
- Strong and durable
- Will last 20 to 30 years depending on care and maintenance
- Sustainable and environmentally friendly
- Affordable natural solid wood
- Softer and easily dented or scratched
- Requires yearly maintenance
- Can deteriorate sooner if near ground or in shaded areas
Average price per square foot
- 5/4”x6” cedar lumber is $2.50 – $3.50
- 2”x4” cedar lumber is $4.10 – $4.60
- 2”x6” cedar lumber is $5.75 – $7.50
3. 3/4″ Plywood
Plywood that has been sanded on one side, also known as good-one-side (G1S) plywood has long been a decking favorite due to its price and ease of installation. The 4×8 sheets are easy to cut and leave no gaps for fingers or toes to get caught in, or things to fall through. It also helps keep insects and other bugs out. Plywood is often used for sheltered decks or gazebos but can be used for exposed decks too.
Available in exterior grade for less than $2 a square foot, or pressure-treated for a modest 10 to 20 cents extra per square foot. It can be stained or painted to complement any color scheme, which also improves its look and lifespan. Depending on exposure to the elements and paws, claws, and feet, a stain will require reapplication every 12 to 36 months, while quality paint can last 10 or more years.
- Fast and easy to install
- Good coverage per sheet
- Durable and rigid
- Wood grain look
- Easy to stain or paint
- No gaps between boards
- Requires restaining every 1 to 3 years of painting every 8 to 10
- Thickness between sheets can vary up to 1/8”
- Moisture can cause bubbles or lamination issues
- G1S exterior grade 3/4” plywood: $1.60 to $1.90
- G1S pressure-treated 3/4” plywood: $1.80 to $2.20
4. Composite Decking
Composite decking is available in a variety of colors, tones, and qualities depending on the manufacturer. It’s made of ground-up wood fiber and recycled plastic with a wood image overlay and embossed grain pattern.
Budget-friendly composite planks can last 10 to 15 years, while premium boards can last up to 30 years. Decking capped on 3 sides is less costly than that capped on 4 sides and doesn’t have the longevity or durability of the higher quality boards. Price, profiles, and color options vary from brand to brand, and product series too.
Special fasteners and tools may be required for installation, and cuts need to be treated to prevent moisture damage. Seasonal or yearly maintenance is required to prevent mold and mildew and keep the planks looking good.
There are fewer color choices with the more economical products too. Additionally, scratches and dents are more difficult to address than in real wood, and the planks get hotter in the direct sun than solid wood. Plus, they tend to be slipperier than real wood.
- Looks like wood
- Resistant to moisture, UV, scratches, and mold
- Several color options
- No splinters, cracking, or insects
- Low maintenance
- Easy to clean
- Durable and long-lasting
- Heavier and denser than real wood
- Can’t be recycled
- Begins to fade in 1 to 2 months
- Moisture can cause mold, mildew, and rot
- High quality is pricey
Average price per square foot
- Budget-friendly 1”x6” composite decking $3.00 – $4.00
- Medium grade 1”x6” composite decking $4.50 – $6.00
- Quality grade 1”x6” composite decking $6.50 – $10.00+
5. Bamboo Decking
There are four main types of bamboo decking available in both solid and hollow core boards. Solid or fused bamboo is made of laminated layers of long lengths of solid bamboo. The flattened lengths are bonded together with phenolic glue under high pressure for a more stable, dense, and solid board.
The boards are 90% bamboo and 10% glue and are ideal for exterior use. Strand woven bamboo planks are commonly used indoors. They are made of chips or strands of bamboo and glue and are heated and pressed to form planks.
In engineered bamboo boards the bamboo is cooked to remove the sugars and the strips coated with phenolic resin, compressed, and heated to make beautiful yet tough exterior grade deck boards. Capped composite bamboo decking is made of ground-up bamboo blended with recycled plastics. The mix is extruded into super-strong dense boards capped on all sides for greater protection.
Bamboo decking will age and fade to grayish tones unless sealed or stained. Many products are denser than Ipe and very strong. Some are manufactured with tongue and groove ends and are so strong they can be butted together between joists, resulting in fewer cuts and waste.
- Very dense and strong
- Easy to seal, stain, or paint
- Insect, mold, mildew, and rot resistant
- Environmentally friendly and sustainable
- Realistic grain and wood colors
- Staining and sealing aren’t required in warm dry zones
- Some are recyclable
- Available in 6” and 8” widths, and lengths up to 16’
- Moisture damage is possible
- Some aren’t recyclable
- Must be stained or sealed in areas that receive a lot of rain, snow, or cold
Average price per square foot
- Budget-friendly 1”x6” bamboo decking $3.00 – $5.00
- Medium grade 1”x6” bamboo decking $5.50 – $8.00
- High grade 1”x6” bamboo decking $10.00 – $14.00
Is Composite Decking Cheaper Than Wood?
Composite decking is more expensive than pressure-treated or cedar decking but less expensive than most hardwood varieties it often imitates. Additionally, composite boards typically require less maintenance such as yearly sanding, staining, or sealing. As a result, their long-term cost less is less in the overall life span of the deck, so it may prove cheaper. However, much depends on the quality or grade of the composite decking and the environmental conditions to which it’s exposed.
Cheapest Composite Decking
The cost of composite decking varies from location to location and with each brand. Most manufacturers offer a budget-friendly grade or line that has limited color options and minimal grain imprinting.
The lower grade is often hollow core or grooved or scalloped on the base to reduce material costs, plus they may be thinner, all of which can affect strength. Additionally, they may not be capped for protection, or only capped on top and sides, which reduces manufacturing costs.
Prices will vary from store to lumberyard and city to town. The cheapest composite decking we were able to find was UltraDeck’s ‘Natural’ at $3.20 a square foot and ‘TRIUMPH’ at $3.70, and Trex’s ‘Enhance Basic’ at $3.66. Other manufacturers offer economical lines, but their lowest prices were over $4.00 a square foot.
What to Look for When Choosing Affordable Decking Material?
When looking for decking material it’s important to consider more than just the price. How durable the material is, often impacts lifespan and price, while the maintenance requirements can improve its lifespan but decrease your leisure time. Here are the main factors to consider when selecting a decking material.
Durability means how well a material withstands the elements, its strength to support expected loads, and how well it will withstand feet, paws, claws, and furniture movement. It also means how well a product will resist insects, mold, mildew, and decay. Durability is linked to lifespan and maintenance, and often to price.
How long a material will last before it must be replaced is a big concern. Some materials boast a lifespan of 25 to 50 years and others have quietly existed for centuries. So, be cautious when considering lifespan as other factors come into play to keep a deck looking good and prevent rot or decay. If the conditions are ideal and you do everything a manufacturer recommends, you can expect the material to last how long they say.
Installation typically refers to how easy it is to install the decking. It can also address the type of fasteners required, DIY or pro, and the speed with which it can be placed. Some products are more DIY friendly than others, while some require special tools and fasteners.
The tools required may be proprietary to the type of fastener and/or decking manufacturer. Hiring the pros can more than double the cost, but it will usually be done more quickly, and hopefully properly. Installation issues can also affect the lifespan and warranty.
Maintenance often begins with installation. Properly installed and protected decking means you start out with a level playing field. How well and often you sweep it, wash it, apply sealer, stain, or paint, will determine its color retention and lifespan. There is no such thing as zero maintenance.
Allowing dirt and debris to sit on most decking material will lead to staining, the development of mold and mildew, and eventual rot. Decking that doesn’t require sealing, staining, or painting to protect it from the elements is lower maintenance than those that do.
Warranties may apply to materials or installation. Many manufacturers offer product warranties of 15 to 25 or 30 years for structural integrity and separate 10 to 25-year warranties against staining or fading. However, most are not transferable between homeowners. So, that 50-year warranty isn’t likely to be much use if selling in 5 or 10 years.
It is also important to read the fine print as some warranties are prorated in different increments and cover less sooner. Many professional installers also warranty their work which covers labor if they need to fix something that was their fault.
The price per linear foot differs from the price per square foot, so keep that in mind when calculating the price. With most solid wood decking the only additional installation cost is the fasteners and sealer/preservative to protect saw cuts. Some composite decking requires special fasteners and installation tools, plus a sealer for cuts and/or special end caps.
The type of decking, its quality, scarcity, manufacturing costs, and shipping are factors that affect the price. More exotic woods will cost more than readily available pressure-treated lumber or cedar. The same applies to different qualities and finishes of composite or plastic boards. ZIP or postal code can also impact the price, so shop around for the best price.
Where to Buy Composite Decking Cheap?
If you’re looking for the most inexpensive place to purchase composite decking, check out the big box stores and home improvement stores. They buy in larger volumes and are often able to undercut smaller operations or independents.
Your ZIP or postal code can also affect prices too, so shop around. “Let your fingers do the walking” was a catchphrase long ago for using the telephone, it still applies but includes both the phone and the internet. End-of-season sales or rebates are also helpful if you can find them. Additionally, prices can vary significantly from store to store of the same brand name in the same municipality.
What is the Best Low-Cost Decking Material?
The best low-cost decking material is pressure-treated 5/4”x6” lumber. It’s solid wood, durable, shows wood grain and other natural characteristics, and is DIY-friendly. The chemically treated wood is resistant to insects, mold, mildew, and rot. If you don’t wish to stain or seal it every 12 to 36 months, consider protecting it with a quality primer and paint to complement your style.
A good primer and paint should last 10 or more years, allowing more time to relax and enjoy your outdoor space. Regardless of the type of decking material used, a well-maintained deck should last 20 to 30 years or longer depending on exposure to the elements.
Hopefully, you have a better awareness of the inexpensive decking options available and where to look for them, so you can make the best decking choice for your budget.