The decking timber that you can buy from your local supplier will come in a choice of hardwood or softwood. This is not a reliable description of the relative toughness of the wood, but it relates to the species of tree that the wood comes from. Softwoods are coniferous trees and hardwoods are angiosperm, or flowering, trees. In general softwoods are less hardwearing than hardwoods but here are exceptions so make sure you understand the relative costs and life span of the materials on offer before you decide which to use.
Softwood decking comes from fast growing coniferous trees. This means that it is more economical than hardwood and cheaper to buy. Typically manufacturers will farm softwood in one of the large temperate coniferous forests in Northern Europe or North America. Over 90% of all decking comes from pressure treated softwoods because of the availability, ease of working and inexpensive pricing.
Some of the common woods used for softwood decking include pine, spruce, hemlock, fir, red cedar and redwood. Softwoods often have a light green/brown colour that turns to honey-brown after a few weeks exposure to sunlight.
Hardwood timber comes from trees that have a slow growth rate and will cost more to produce than faster growing trees. This timber often comes from rainforest area and until recently the supply of hardwood led to environmental concerns. Now, the hardwood timber that people use for decking comes from responsible tree farmers and re-planted forests to ensure that there will be another crop. Legislation prevents the import of hardwoods that are not sustainably farmed.
Hardwood decking comes in a range of colours and shades. Oak can make great looking decking that suits older properties. One of the most common hardwoods used for decking is an import from the Far East called Yellow Balau that comes in a variety of warm colours and is suitably hard-wearing for use as decking. Other common hardwoods include teak, mahogany, ebony and lauan. Most hardwoods have a golden brown or red/brown appearance.
Accoya – Treated Wood (Acetlyated Wood)
An alternative to hardwood if a high performance timber is required is a type of modified wood which is even more enduring than tropical hardwoods. Acetylated wood is softwood that passes through a modification process which increases its strength and durability and yet is environmentally sustainable. Accoya is guaranteed for 50 years making it an exciting proposition for structures that need to be ‘built to last’.
Choosing Between Hardwoods and Softwoods
Just to confuse matters, hardwoods are not necessarily harder than softwoods. Some differences do exist, but the principle and suitability for a decking area is broadly the same for both materials. Softwoods travel less distance than hardwoods and have a faster growing cycle which helps to keep the price down. Often a hardwood deck costs nearly double the price of an equivalent softwood deck.
Treating the timber decking can alter the colour of either type of wood to match your requirements. If you leave the wood without treating it then it will eventually fade to grey.
Both hardwoods and softwoods can make fantastic decks, but the main deciding factor is likely to be cost.