The Best Types of Wood to Install in an Outdoor Living Space

The best type of wood to install for a porch

You’ve got a client who wants to install flooring in their outdoor living space, like a patio or a deck.  Choosing the right species and type of flooring for your clients will make the difference between an outdoor space that delights and one that disappoints.

Why should they choose wood over brick, tile, or stone? Here are just a few reasons: Stone is expensive and can be difficult to truck into certain locations. Cement is difficult to repair if it cracks, and let’s face it: it usually doesn’t look very nice, especially compared to solid wood flooring. Tile is expensive.

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Your clients can’t go wrong by choosing to install wood as flooring for their outdoor living space. Although wood may require more maintenance than something like concrete, there’s no disputing it: wood is the most beautiful choice.

But if you’re installing hardwood floors in an outdoor space, the factors at play are a bit different than those inside of a house. Namely, you have to consider direct exposure to sunlight and weather. So a different planning process has to take place.

When you’re planning to install wood flooring outside, take into account how the client plans to use the space and what the conditions are like in the area. What’s more important: Dimensional stability because of humidity fluctuations / unstable weather in their area, or hardness so that the wood can stand up to heavy foot traffic? Do your clients have pets? Kids? Do they plan to host a lot of parties outside? These are just some of the questions you want to consider when planning a floor for an outdoor living space.

Here are some of the best most popular solid wood species used in outdoor living spaces:

Yellow pine is the most common species of wood used for decking. This is mostly because of its wide availability in the U.S. However, pine requires a lot of maintenance since it’s a softwood, and it warps rather easily.

Tropical hardwood species including Ipe, Golden Ironwood, Red Balau, Mahogany, and Cambara are great high-grade options for decks because they are dense, durable, and naturally resistant to rot and insects. However, any dark species of wood will attract light and heat up to very hot temperatures during the summer, making it a bit difficult to use the flooring at times unless it’s covered in shade.

screened-porch-670263_1280Redwood and Cedar are also commonly used in decks and other outdoor spaces. They’re both softwoods, so they’re easily damaged by heavy foot traffic and thus not recommended for clients who plan to do a lot of hosting out on their deck. However, the tannins and oils present in redwood and cedar act as natural defenses against bugs and rot. They don’t have to be pumped full of chemicals to keep their natural beauty, as other species do. Both redwood and western red cedar tend to fade to gray over time with exposure to UV rays.

Cypress is a sturdy species that often doesn’t need a finish to maintain its long term appeal. Oils present within the cypress tree make it naturally resistant to rot and insects.

One thing to keep in mind: The heartwood of a tree is more rot-resistant than sapwood. If your client’s lifestyle demands an extra durable outdoor living space, you might want to tell the manufacturer of the decking that you’d like all heartwood for the project.

Besides solid wood, here are some other types of wood available for decking and other outdoor living spaces:

Pressure-treated wood is the most common type of decking material because it’s the most readily available and cheapest choice. It’s easy to cut and fasten, which makes it perfect for a DIYer. One downside of pressure-treated wood that it’s not very dimensionally stable, so it’s more prone to splitting, warping, and cracking than solid wood. You likely want to avoid installing this wood in places where the humidity levels fluctuate more than average.

Composite wood is a common decking alternative to solid wood. It contains wood fiber and plasticgazebo-195524_1280 which is either new or sourced from recycled materials. The wood/plastic mixture is mixed together with pigments, UV inhibitors, and preservatives. Composite wood must be scrubbed fairly regularly to prevent a mildew buildup, but less long-term maintenance is needed than with solid wood since composite decking contains UV inhibitors and pigments. Composite wood won’t split, rot, or require additional coats of stain. However, the downside to this is that you can’t change the color of composite wood flooring once it’s installed.

One benefit is that there are no splinters, and composite wood doesn’t attract termites and other bugs. One downside of composite is cost: about 30% more expensive than pressure-treated wood. However, your clients won’t have to spend money on stains and coatings to keep the wood looking pretty as it ages. Some other downsides include the fact that composite wood just doesn’t look like real wood, and composite materials may contain pesticides that pose health hazards.

Composite decks come in hollow and solid varieties. Hollow boards are cheaper and not as sturdy as solid  because they can hold water inside, but solid boards expand and contract more than hollow boards.

Even though you’re working outdoors, most of the same rules apply as an indoor install. Make sure to acclimate the wood to the environment, and follow proper moisture measurement procedures during the installation.

It’s also best practice to install planks that are narrower than 6” in outdoor spaces. Anything wider, and you put yourself at a higher risk of problems like splitting or cupping.

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