In almost every climate that I’ve worked, there have been plenty of covered porches to update and repair. One porch I worked on was floored with cedar tongue and groove boards. Unfortunately, due to the angle of the sun, the wood had been damaged to the point of becoming splinter central. The homeowners had dreamed of using the porch as a comfortable extension of their living room, but that wouldn’t happen before we put in beautiful, durable, and splinter-free deck flooring.
With the right materials, covered porches, whether screened or open, can serve as a second living area from which to enjoy long summer nights, fresh spring mornings, or the crisp evenings of fall. Well-designed porches feel like they are an extension of the inside of the house, and in the warmer months they may very often serve as an added room of the house. There are lots of materials that work for this situation, but in my opinion, the best decking for a covered porch is low maintenance as well as being comfortable and beautiful. Here are the options I usually choose, and their pros and cons.
Choosing the Best Decking for a Covered Porch
Cedar, redwood, ipe, other tropical hardwoods, and the better lines of composite decking are all materials that I regularly use in clients’ homes. In moist climates, ipe and composite decking are excellent choices, while cedar and redwood also perform well with a high-quality sealer.
Each of these materials also brings a different stylistic element to a project. While a tropical hardwood like ipe may feel elegant, sometimes it will look too formal for a particular space, and the homeowner and I will decide that an earthier material like cedar would make a better fit. Whatever the list of available materials might be, there are a few considerations that help me make a final decision on a decking material for a covered porch.
Comfort and Durability
Whether the goal is a more refined look or a charming rustic aesthetic, it’s pretty important for a porch to be able to handle lots of traffic without becoming damaged too quickly. Deep cracks, gouges, deterioration from moisture, and splintering are all common forms of damage that can be avoided through design and material choice.
- Comfy and solid in the elements: In moist climates, even covered porches become exposed to the weather often enough to affect the decking boards. The most important element in keeping decking in good shape is an element of moisture protection. With wooden decks, this translates to using a good sealer, applied liberally and frequently. When this doesn’t happen, not only does moisture start to penetrate the boards, but the wood becomes harder to clean, making it necessary to pressure wash the boards. Composite decking that’s protected by a resin capping is far less porous than wood and typically can be cleaned with a mop or a damp rag.
- Can handle heavy feet and heavy furniture: A dense board and some kind of surface protection are what make porch flooring last. Ipe, one of the densest woods available, often feels like slightly springy concrete. As long as its surface is protected from the sun, it will provide an ideal surface, at a somewhat expensive price (and with the inevitable fading from beautiful red-brown to gray). Coming close to ipe’s density are the better lines of composite decking. In addition to their density, they come with the protective capping material we mentioned earlier, which gives them a similar strength and feel as ipe, but without the need to seal or oil the surface.
- Barefoot-friendly: When wooden decking breaks down, warps, or expands due to moisture, splinters form and fasteners begin to pop out of the surface, leading to a surface that can be dangerous to bare feet. Regular, conscientious maintenance can avoid this, as can using composite decking that comes with a smooth, sturdy capping material.
The number one request I get from clients is to create a porch that acts as an extension of the inside of the house, and that means it has to look great as well as feel great. Whether it gets used all year long or only seasonally, the right deck flooring can make an outdoor space feel as comfortable and look as beautiful and finished as the living room.
- Smooth surface: For some people, having a dense and solid-feeling surface gives them the feeling of being in a more “indoor space.” For people like this, cedar and redwood, with their frequent knots, are not necessarily the ideal fit. These clients much prefer the denseness and uniform look of tropical hardwoods like ipe, which is far closer to typical indoor flooring woods like fine black walnut. But while ipe is an elegant choice, it does require some maintenance. I’ve found that a good alternative is to use a composite decking that looks like ipe and comes with lower cost and effort. Low maintenance composite decking comes in a variety of colors and grain patterns which can match both tropical hardwoods and distressed hardwoods.
- Hidden fasteners: Another element that can help in giving porch decking a seamless indoor feel is installing the decking boards using hidden fasteners. These are metal or plastic brackets with a slot that allows a screw to be driven into the joist below while the bracket holds the boards in place and links them to each other. They are often paired with specially-designed grooved boards. Using these special fastener systems keeps the decking surface free from the splinters that can form around nails and screws, and helps avoid tripping and scraping on popped fasteners.
There is a time and place for almost every decking material. While covered porches are typically well protected from the elements, the decking boards chosen will still need to be durable enough to withstand the weather as well as the wear and tear of regular use. This can be hard to achieve when the goal is also to build a porch surface that’s as comfortable, safe, and beautiful as an indoor wood floor. For this reason I’ve found that it’s easiest to use fully capped high-quality composite decking.
At the top of my list is the Infinity Decking produced by Fortress Deck, as it’s protected by an enhanced resin capping material which is designed to look like wood while providing a smooth, slightly grippy surface that feels natural and enjoyable to walk on. Fortress’ decking is made using bamboo flour instead of sawdust, which makes it more resistant to moisture, so you shouldn’t have any swelling or warping. And whenever my clients or friends need to pair fixtures or hardware with the deck, I always tell them about Fortress’ expanded catalog of building materials, which includes other innovative products like specially-coated railing and fencing and beautiful ornamental hardware.