When it comes to building a deck, one of the primary considerations is the type of wood to use for the decking boards. The decision between standard 5/4×6 vs. 2×6 boards is not just a matter of cost or aesthetics but also involves understanding the characteristics of the wood being used and how it will perform in an outdoor environment.
In this post, we’ll explore why, for softwoods such as pressure-treated pine, opting for thicker deck boards may be beneficial, while for hardwoods like Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Brazilian Redwood, and Garapa, it’s not necessary due to the woods’ incredible durability.
The Case for Thicker Boards in Softwoods
Softwoods, such as pressure-treated pine, are popular choices for decking due to their affordability and availability. However, these woods are less dense and not as durable as hardwoods, making them more susceptible to wear and tear from foot traffic, scratches, splinters, weather, and pests.
Here’s why using thicker decking boards like 2×6 can be a good option for softwoods:
- Increased Strength and Durability: Thicker boards inherently have more mass, which can translate to increased strength and durability. This is particularly beneficial for softwoods, as the extra thickness helps compensate for the material’s natural susceptibility to bending, warping, and cracking over time.
- Better Support Over Spans: Decks designed with wider joist spacing can benefit from thicker decking boards. 2×6 boards can span longer distances between joists compared to the standard 5/4×6, providing a sturdier surface with less flex.
- Enhanced Aesthetic Appeal: For some, the appearance of thicker boards is more appealing. The robust look of 2×6 decking can add a sense of solidity and quality to the deck’s overall appearance.
- Longevity: Thicker boards may also last longer, especially when properly maintained, due to their ability to withstand environmental stressors more effectively than thinner options.
- Resurfacing: With thicker deck boards and the issues with pressure treated lumber such as splintering, cracking and cupping you can sand thicker deck boards to restore the deck surface to a fresher looking deck surface. Cracking will usually still be visible but the wear and tear that softwood decks see such as scratches from dog nails will sand out.
Hardwoods: Durability Without the Bulk
On the other end of the spectrum, we have exotic hardwoods like Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Brazilian Redwood, and Garapa. These materials are renowned for their incredible durability, density, and resistance to decay, pests, and weather-related damage. Here’s why the standard thickness of 1×6 or 5/4×6 can suffice for these types of wood:
- Inherent Strength: Hardwoods are significantly denser and stronger than softwoods, meaning they can handle the same, if not more, stress and weight without needing the additional thickness.
- Longevity: These woods are naturally long-lasting, with some varieties boasting lifespans of up to 75 years or more without significant degradation, even in harsh outdoor conditions.
- Aesthetic Versatility: Hardwoods offer a wide range of colors, grains, and textures. The use of 1×6 or 5/4×6 boards allows for a more refined and elegant decking surface that highlights the natural beauty of these woods without the need for bulk.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Given the premium price tag on these hardwoods, using 2×4 boards can be more cost-effective while still achieving a deck that is incredibly durable and aesthetically pleasing.
The choice to use 2×6 decking boards ultimately depends on the type of wood you choose for your deck and what your priorities are in terms of durability, aesthetics, and budget. For softwoods like pressure-treated pine, opting for thicker boards can provide the additional strength and longevity needed for a lasting deck. Conversely, for hardwoods known for their exceptional durability and beauty, such as Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Brazilian Redwood, and Garapa, sticking with the standard 1×6 or 5/4×6 boards is often sufficient to create a stunning and resilient outdoor space. No matter which path you choose, ensuring proper installation and maintenance is key to enjoying your deck for years to come.