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Is Hardwood Decking Better Than Softwood Decking?

When on the search for quality decking that looks the part, and has great endurance, a common question that crops up, time and time again is:

‘Is hardwood decking better than softwood decking?’.

In this blog, we’re going to address the answers to this question. The fact of the matter is, in order to answer this common conundrum, you’ve got to identify what you are really looking for in your next deck.

building a deck

We’ll run you through the key differences between hardwood and softwood decking, the pros and cons of each as well as the best applications for different requirements so that you can suss out whether hardwood or softwood is best for you.

Back to basics – the difference between hardwood and softwood timber

timber stack
The term ‘hardwood’ and ‘softwood’ refers to different types of timber. Both have different characteristics, based on the type of tree and its growing condition from which the timber is derived.

Here are a few things you need to know about hardwood and softwood…

Hardwood timber comes from angiosperm trees (trees with flowering plants) that have been grown at a much slower rate, compared to softwood, which comes from gymnosperm trees (evergreen trees) that grow more rapidly.

The slower growth rate gives hardwood greater durability and more distinguishable visual characteristics in its colour and woodgrain.

Compared to softwood, it has a more complex and compact structure, which creates a much stronger cut of timber.

You’d typically expect to find a range of warm beech, walnut and maple hues and tones when working with hardwood. This striking visual appearance makes hardwood a popular choice in furniture making and of course, decking, where a particular visual aesthetic is looking to be achieved.

Examples of hardwoods used for decking include Oak, Iroko, and Yellow Balau.

Hardwood has a much longer drying process. A longer growth period and drying time contribute to its price, which is typically higher than softwood timber.

But, what about softwood timber?

Softwood Decking
Whilst hardwood timber is renowned for its superior strength, durability and striking visual appearance, softwood timber is certainly not to be snubbed at.

In fact, it too has a shed load of fantastic properties that make it a great choice for a range of applications, including decking.

You’ve probably hazarded a guess that due to its slower growth rate, softwood is not as dense as hardwood.

That makes it lighter, easier to work with and cheaper to transport. Whilst it’s not as strong as hardwood, it is still acknowledged to be strong timber.

Hardwood or softwood decking?

low maintenance garden design
So when it comes to decking, is hardwood or softwood better?

Before we answer this question, there are 3 main things you need to ask yourself:

1. What is my budget?

This is important because there is a noticeable difference between the two decking types.

2. What do I want my decking to look like?

Are you choosing a modern look or would you like something more traditional? Do you plan on painting or staining your deck, or are you opting for a natural timber finish?

3. How much time are you willing to put into decking maintenance?

Timber is a natural product that without maintenance will deteriorate. However, some timber types require more maintenance than others.

The best decking for a smaller budget

What is really great about decking is that there is a range of choices available to suit different budgets.

You don’t have to break the bank to install a deck, and a quality deck is entirely achievable on a smaller budget.

If you’re trying to save the pennies, one of the best decking choices is pressure-treated softwood decking. You’d expect to pay around £12-£13 per 3m decking board. Here at Equestrian Fencing, you can choose from two board profiles: reeded and smooth. Because the timber has been pressure treated, you’re already one step ahead of keeping rot and decay at bay.

softwood deck

If you have a little more to spend, you could consider Siberian Larch Decking. You should expect to pay £37 – £42 per board for these varieties of softwood decking.
decking in garden

And finally, if your budget is bigger, you may wish to consider hardwood decking. Yellow Balau Decking is a popular type of hardwood deck. Its slower growth rate and superior density is reflected in the price.

You’d typically expect to pay £49-£52 per decking board. Here at Equestrian Fencing, you can choose from a grooved or smooth profile.

Finding a decking that matches your landscaping ambitions

Before you rush out and buy decking boards, consider how you want the decking to look in your garden.

Timber decks provide a natural look; however, some display different colours and tones which lend themselves to various garden and landscaping styles.

slightly raised deck

If you’re striving for a modern look, you may wish to turn your attention to a Western Red Cedar, which is a softwood decking, or perhaps Yellow Balau which is a hardwood. Both pair well with other more modern garden colours such as black and grey.

If it’s the more traditional style you’re going for, Siberian Larch has a wonderful golden colour that will weather to a silvery grey over time.

And if you want the option to customise your deck with a splash of colour, choose pressure-treated softwood.

decking and table

The difference between hardwood and softwood decking maintenance

And finally, in the questions above, we asked you to consider how much time and effort you’re willing to put into maintaining your decking.

All decking needs some level of maintenance, but generally speaking, hardwood decking, such as Yellow Balau, is a lot more hardwearing and resistant to rotting and decay.

You will still need to sweep the leaves off your deck from time to time, but washing, treatments and stain application requirements are less frequent than with softwood.

Softwood decks should be cleaned and treated once a year at least, usually in the springtime. However, a hardwood deck only needs to be restained or treated every 2-3 years.

A comparison summary of hardwood and softwood decking

. Softwood Hardwood
Price Cheaper - starting from £12 per 3m decking board More expensive - starting from £37 per decking board
Weight Lighter Heavier
Strength and durability Good Excellent
Maintenance needs Bi-annual deep clean and staining Annual - every two years deep clean and restrain
Colours Lighter warm tones Darker, reddish tones

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