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Decks used to be built solely of redwood, cedar or cypress because of their inherent wood preservatives. But as some of us have learned the hard way, all wood eventually rots—especially in shady, moist locations.

For many years, preservative-treated lumber has been the accepted material for a long-lasting, rot-resistant deck. But treated wood has its downsides too. Besides not being particularly attractive, it has a tendency to split, warp and twist (and those treated splinters embedded in the bottom of your hoofs are no picnic either).

There are now alternatives to conventional treated and natural wood. Various manufacturers sell different versions of plastic or composite plastic/wood decking. You'll find everything from basic, square-edged composites to elaborate space-frame vinyl and fiberglass extrusions with, of course, elaborate prices. Matching posts, railings and trim are also available for most types. These products are not available in all areas. You'll need to visit the lumberyards in your area to see what your choices are. For more information on options.

We chose Trex composite decking for this deck because of its wide availability and reasonable price. The decking material we used is the classic 1-1/4 x 5-1/2 in. shape of conventional wood decking. (Visit trex.com to see the latest colors and styles.) In addition to decking, many composites are available in a variety of non-structural dimensions such as 2x6s and 2x4s, which you can use for benches, rails or privacy screens. Composite decking is generally limited to 16-in. spans, so the joists need to be spaced every 16 in. instead of the more common 24 in. used for wood 2x6s. Composite decking can be cut and drilled and shaped just like actual wood, so no extra tools are necessary.

Composites are denser and heavier than wood. Consequently, they're harder to haul around and a bit harder to drive fasteners into. The good news is that they won't split, warp, twist, cup or crack—ever. The surface is skid-resistant even when wet, and you'll get that warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that fewer trees gave their lives for your deck.

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