Wood dominates the decking market, and pressure-treated lumber is by far the king of the hill. Ray Steward, owner of RWS Decks in Towson, Md., knows why. “Pressure-treated pine still owns the greatest percentage of the market because it’s easy to cut, easy to install, and is readily available,” Steward says. “But the main reason is that it’s really cheap, costing about 73 cents per linear foot.”

In addition to cedar, redwood, and Douglas fir, builders may choose exotic species such as teak, ipe, and mahogany for decking. But there are newer options, including thermally modified and acetylated lumber.

“Acetylation effectively changes the free hydroxyls within the wood into acetyl groups,” says Lisa Ayala, North American sales manager for Accsys Technologies, which produces the Accoya brand. “This is done by creating a reaction with acetic anhydride, which comes from acetic acid. When the free hydroxyl group is transformed into an acetyl group, the ability of the wood to absorb water is greatly reduced, rendering the wood more dimensionally stable and extremely durable.”

Jim Flickinger, market development manager for Kingsport, Tenn.–based Eastman Chemical Co.’s Perennial Wood, says his company’s acetylation process makes wood three times more stable than unmodified wood. “The modification process makes it less susceptible to the shrinking and swelling that lead to cracking, cupping, and warping,” he adds.

Heat-treated wood producers say their lumber does the same thing as acetylated product but doesn’t use chemicals to do it. The beauty of the product, says Thomas Flynn, a representative with Costa Mesa, Calif.–based Thermory Wood, is that “85 percent of the movement in the wood is eliminated after treatment.”

Decking material preference depends on a number of factors such as area of the country. Steward says, for example, that composite is the dominant option among affluent single-family buyers in the Baltimore area, with tropical species a close second. “People who have the money and resources to maintain a deck are choosing exotics such as ipe and other Brazilian hardwoods,” he says.

Domestic woods tend to have a strong hold out West, and softwood producers say their products are in a unique position for when the market returns.

Because of the maintenance requirements of pine and the price of composites and exotics, species such as cedar and redwood are good options. “Redwood is in a sweet spot due to its superior performance, natural beauty, and excellent price position,” says Chris Gaines, marketing manager for The California Redwood Co. in Arcata, Calif.

The truth, of course, is that no material is bullet-proof—all of them have pros and cons. In the long run, it’s up to you to decide how and when a material will suit your buyer’s needs.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.