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composite boards as alternative decking materials to wood

Lured by stunning decking, but put off by the price? We understand your pain. It’s undeniable: wooden decking is on the rise globally, but with that popularity has come greater demand, higher quality and… higher prices. Fortunately, there are many decking alternatives to traditional wood that open the doors to a whole world of possibilities for your garden.

Before we reveal our top 10, let’s explore some of the other reasons attached to why you might want to ditch the timber for a cheaper deck alternative.

Why you might want to opt for deck alternatives to wood

When you’re planning your raised decking area, whether to create an intimate suntrap and seating area or a platform for an outdoor pool, a myriad of factors will likely influence your decision: price, physical characteristics and the look you are going for. For example, if you want the natural aesthetic of solid wood, but don’t want to compromise on the slippiness, you might select a composite decking as an alternative.

Other reasons might include combatting the natural downsides of timber decking, such as its more complicated maintenance procedures. Of the various types of decking, wood is most prone to cracking, splintering, rotting, and warping, thus requiring additional care and upkeep to keep it from staining, scratching and becoming unsafe underfoot.

Alternatives to wood decking might offer some of the following benefits:

  • A longer life expectancy
  • Stronger weatherproofing
  • Higher levels of slip resistance
  • Reduced maintenance time / costs

Weighing up the pros and cons of wood decking

While timber decking is known for being the classic garden decking material that matches up effortlessly with rustic, country garden designs, it can also be one of the most expensive landscaping options for those wanting to create a levelled patio space.

What’s more those stunning looks will diminish over time if you neglect to treat it year on year, so not the best option if a budget-friendly price tag and low-maintenance requirements are your priorities.

Our 10 favourite timber decking alternatives

Enough about wooden decking. Let’s roll on to the alternatives, which we’ve curated to accommodate a range of installation abilities, tastes and budgets.

Deluxe wood decking alternatives

two outdoor chairs on a realistic wood decking alternative

1.      Composite decking

The first entry to our list of deck alternatives to wood is composite decking, due to its unbeatable ability to mimic the intricate graining of natural, weathered timber. Compared to wood, composite decking costs more, but it’s worth it. The higher upfront price is balanced by self-recovery in 2-3 years due to minimal maintenance. Being durable, looking after it is simple: 2-4 hours of cleaning with a pressure washer or soapy solution will do the trick.

Whatever your specific needs, we promise you that composite decking can live up to them as there are so many benefits.

Composite, a mix of wood fibres and plastic, maintains its look over time unlike timber and comes in a wide assortment of colours and textures, ideal for creating your dreamy garden escape.

a railway sleeper deck in the process of being built

2.      Railway sleeper decking

Railway sleepers have a multitude of applications, with one of the most prevalent being the construction of raised platforms for seating and levelling off a garden – as you might have anticipated. If you have a sloped backyard, building an alternative decking surface with some reclaimed sleepers provides a stunning appearance.

These substantial wooden blocks serve as an excellent means to infuse a rustic allure, seamlessly enhancing the beauty of a vibrant lawn while also providing a heightened sense of organization to the landscape’s inherent undulations.

While it’s possible to build a decking area with railway sleepers, it’s important to note that it is a difficult task to get them perfectly flat and aligned (especially if you are working from concrete foundations), so make sure you have an experienced landscaper on the case.

natural stone paving as a timber decking alternative

3.      Natural stone

Not the cheapest on the list, but certainly one of the most visually appealing, natural stone paving is incredibly durable. Laying varieties such as natural limestone or slate yields impressive results, yet the path to achieving this comes at a substantial cost (product and installation) and involves intricacy. Unlike composite decking, natural stone demands a sturdy base, often necessitating extensive excavation. Handling heavy, challenging-to-cut stone demands strength and experience for DIY installers.

porcelain slabs as alternatives to wooden decking

4.      Porcelain

Like natural stone, porcelain paving slabs are naturally durable and non-porous. You can find them in all sorts of colours and patterns from cool bluestone to porcelain planks finished off with natural wood effect patterns, but one thing remains true for all varieties – they look effortlessly modern. They are also frost-proof and provide a longevity of up to 50 years in some cases.

Again, you’ll see similar downsides as stone paving; porcelain slabs can be as or more expensive than natural stone and, given their density and brittleness, they can be tricky to lay and level. We’d also only suggest this alternative for contemporary gardens as their uniformity and sleek appearance can clash with more classic, rustic and dishevelled backdrops.

concrete slabs as an alternative to timber decking

5.      Concrete pavers

Concrete pavers are wonderfully economical substitutes for natural stone and come in various colours and shapes, resembling either brick or stone. When you install them, they’re placed in sand, allowing flexibility against temperature changes without cracking. Permeable types will aid drainage, so make sure to do your research.

Some of their downsides include fading, surface scratches, limited pattern options due to geometric shapes, weed growth, and unevenness. Whilst not the best value on the list, if you’re looking for a cheap alternative that will provide an even ground level for seating, concrete pavers do just that.

pvc as a wood decking alternative

6.      PVC decking

Though the notion of “plastic decking” may not sit well with many, we have to admit PVC decking has gained in popularity. Its easy installation provides added strength (no splinters), quietness (no creaks), its resistance to rot and pests making it appealing.

DIY-friendly, PVC mimics wood’s appearance and suits budget-conscious and installation-focused individuals. Despite environmental concerns, it’s among the cheapest decking alternatives. Yet, it might fade, warp, bow, or become brittle with prolonged sun exposure, given its plastic nature, so do be warned.

Cheaper, budget-friendly alternatives

painted pallets used as decking

7.      Upcycled pallet decking

Another visually intriguing and cost-effective alternative to wood decking, pallets can give you the experience of decking at a microscale all whilst providing a bit of contemporary fun – especially if you decide to paint them!

Utilize preconstructed pallets from builders’ yards for a basic decking foundation, enhanced with added boards. Each pallet covers about one square meter, placed on stable gravel, fastened together, and topped with boards.

Pallet decks are simple to set up, requiring next to no time and skill. However, they are less stable and durable than expertly crafted decks, especially when exposed to the elements. Due to potential warping or breakage, caution is necessary when constructing a deck from them.

bricks as a wood decking substitute

8.      Brick patio

If you want to create a deck, or otherwise a level seating area, in your garden and want to avoid the use of traditional timber decking boards, brick makes a classy substitute. It’s a classic building material that is durable in swathes and is readily available. Take inspiration from the timeless patterns that path beautiful pedestrian areas in your favourite cities, or even consider injecting some vintage flair with a set of reclaimed or weathered bricks.

Do bear in mind, however, that the installation might take you some time to complete due to the small size of each brick – especially in comparison to larger paving slabs. One final piece of advice, be careful that it is installed to a professional standard as brick patios can be susceptible to frost heaving.

a railway sleeper deck in the process of being built

9.      Gravel

Gravel is often overlooked as a decking alternative, as let’s be honest, it creates a completely different look. But if you’re down for it, gravel can offer an inexpensive and uncomplicated installation.

While its softness is a drawback for furniture and walking, gravel grid systems, plastic or fabric meshes, can enhance its usability by compacting the gravel into a solid surface. Combining these grids with pea gravel forms a budget-friendly, comfortable area suitable for entertaining guests at the garden table or strolling about in the morning sun – a seamless solution for creating an appealing space.

bark chipping being used as a garden decking substitute

10.   Bark chipping

The simplest of them all, bark chipping landscaping is another affordable option with next to no maintenance required. It’s a natural product, so easier on the environment and easy to access at lower prices. Whilst bark chipping can help to repel some pests and insects, a level finished off with bark chippings really pales in comparison to the sophisticated look of composite decking alternatives or stone pavers.

Our verdict

Whichever way you sway, there are plenty of alternatives to catch your eye that will allow you to get the look you are aiming for and at any budget.

If cost-effectiveness, natural aesthetics and durability are the most important, then a wood-look composite deck might be your top choice. But gravel is also a viable option if price tags are a concern or when you want to have a go at installing it yourself.

Still uncertain? If you’re still brimming with questions that we haven’t answered here, or you would like to hear some additional advice, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team.

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