Choose your materials wisely.

Sometimes you get a DIY itch that only a big project will scratch, and there’s nothing like an outdoor project to get those handyman and handywoman juices flowing. Tackling a gazebo or deck project is one of the most satisfying things you can do with hammers and saws, but before you dive headfirst into a new project, it pays to do some planning.Southern Yellow Pine Cooler Bench from Wood. It's Real.

Your local lumberyard or home improvement center has a wide range of decking and dimensional lumber to choose from, so how do you know what’s best for your project? Two of the hottest products right now are pressure-treated wood and composite boards, and you could easily spark a bar fight among impassioned supporters of each one.

We’ll help you avoid the fisticuffs and maintain your friendships. Just check out our guide on the subject to figure out the pros and cons of these materials before you order your lumber.

First, Some Definitions

It helps to know what, exactly, you’re looking at when you get to the store or warehouse. Everything might look like wood, but it’s not. Pressure-treated lumber is real wood — typically Southern Yellow Pine — that’s infused with preservatives to prevent rot and help the boards last for much longer than their natural lifespan. Composite decking, on the other hand, is made of a mix of wood fiber and plastic that form a dense, weather-resistant material for building. Composite boards are somewhere in between wood and plastic but aren’t exactly one or the other.

Consider Your Location

One major factor in choosing your material is the location where you’ll build your project. Intense sunlight can cause composite boards to fade over time, leaving you with a washed-out or dull-looking deck. Because composite boards can’t hold paint or stain — alas, it’s a drawback of the stain-resistant material — you won’t be able to change or restore the color in a few years.

What’s Your Style?

southern yellow pine wood decking

Composite boards come in a few basic colors, but you may end up paying a premium for designer colors if you have a specific shade in mind to match your home’s existing exterior. Pressure-treated lumber, on the other hand, can be stained in virtually any color you can imagine — or you can seal it with a clear coat if you prefer the look of natural wood. Choose a translucent stain to imitate rich tropical hardwoods, or choose an opaque stain if you prefer a painted look.

What’s Your Budget?

There’s a reason that three-quarters of decks are made with pressure-treated wood: It’s a sturdy, affordable choice. Composite boards typically cost more because the manufacturing process is far more intense. Even so, you’ll almost certainly use at least some pressure-treated lumber for an outdoor project like a deck or gazebo: Deck joists and structural beams are nearly always made with sturdy Southern Yellow Pine. Its density allows it to hold nails and screws tightly, while the flexibility of real wood makes it easy to cinch all the pieces together. All that comes at the best bargain in the lumber yard.

Building Green

southern yellow pine

If you’re at all concerned about doing the environment a solid while you build, wood is your best choice. It’s a sustainable product that grows right here in the United States, so you can feel good that your home improvement dollars go right back into our own economy. Because composite boards are infused with plastic, they add to carbon emissions that create greenhouse gases. If you’re looking to tread lightly on the Earth, working with real wood will help.


There’s a lot of reasons why smart DIYers choose pressure-treated lumber for their outdoor projects. With proper maintenance, real wood will look amazing and serve your family well for a long, long time.

(Images via Wood. It’s Real., via Shutterstock)