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5/4 Deck Boards vs 2×6 Decking

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Owning a home comes with many decisions. Building your own home comes with even more. While you may be preoccupied with what you want your home to look like inside, you shouldn’t underestimate a homey feeling outdoor space. One popular choice among many homeowners is a deck where they can grill, entertain, or simply rest in comfortable chairs and enjoy each other’s company and the fresh air.

If you want to build a deck in your backyard the biggest decision you will make is what type of wood you will use. Generally, your choice will be either 5/4 deck boards or 2×6 decks boards. At first glance, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two of these boards, so how do you know which to choose?

Below, we will go over the differences between the two to help you make the right decision for your home and family. Read on to find out more. 

What Is the Main Difference Between 5/4 and 2×6 Boards?

There are several differences between these two wooden boards, however, the main difference is that they are different sizes. While they are both 5.5 inches wide, a 5/4 board is 1 inch thick, whereas a 2×6 board is 1.5 inches thick. This size difference leads to a variety of other differences between these two boards and how they will be used. Let’s explore them and how they might affect your choice based on the uses you have planned for your deck. 

Which Board is Heavier?

Because the 2×6 board is thicker than the 5/4 board, it is significantly heavier. A 12-foot long 2×6 board is twenty-eight pounds, whereas a 5/4 board is nineteen pounds. A nine-pound difference may not seem like a lot, but it can affect your efficiency in a couple of ways. 

  • You will be able to unload and carry more of the 5/4 boards at one time.
  • You won’t get tired as quickly, and thus will be able to work for longer periods.

Which Board is Sturdier?

On the other hand, if you want a deck that can hold a lot of weight (such as if you enjoy entertaining and throwing parties) then a 2×6 is a better option, for the following reasons: 

  • The 2×6 boards are thicker and less likely to warp, cup or break under pressure than 5/4 boards, which is good for ground level decks.
  • The 5/4 boards tend to be made from the least sturdy part of the tree or younger trees. This type of wood twists and curls as it dries. This, in turn, leads to the increased potential for the boards to cup and rot faster than 2×6 boards.  

Which Board Requires More Joists?

Part of building a sturdy deck is having the proper support system. For decks, this comes in the form of joists, which is an integral part of the structural base. Joists are made of mostly wood, sometimes steel, that are laid perpendicular to the house supported above beams and reinforced by joist hangers. The deck boards are then laid flat on top of the joists.

No matter what size boards you choose, you will need to have joists first. However, because the 2×6 boards are thicker and thus span more room, not as many joists are needed. Generally speaking, for a 2×6 board, you will need a joist every 24 inches. For a 5/4 board, on the other hand, you will need a joist every 16 inches. 

This means that while you may have to pay more for the boards themselves if you decide to use 2×6 boards for your deck, you will pay less for the joists. 

Which is Better for the Environment?

Another factor to consider before beginning to build a deck is how it will affect the environment. When it comes to this particular issue, a deck built out of 5/4 boards is the better option between the two choices. More trees will be cut down to create the thicker 2×6 boards.

However, if you’re more keen to use the most eco-friendly decking option, I would suggest using composite. Since composite is made with 90-95% recyclable materials, it is the best choice for the environment. Composite uses less trees than either 5/4 or 2×6 decking boards.

Which Type of Board Looks Better?

When it comes to appearance, the 5/4 boards tend to be more attractive, due to their rounded edges. This impacts the look of the deck in the following ways:

  • It creates a shadowy effect. This in turn helps disguise any differences in gap size between the boards. On the other hand, 2×6 boards have straight edges, so any flaws or differently sized gaps between the boards are more obvious. You can round the edges with a router, but that will mean more labor to rout each 2×6 board.
  • It’s easier to clean. With rounded edges, there is a large space near the top that is easier to pull out all the dirt, leaves, and other debris that may get trapped in between the boards. On the other hand, the gaps between 2×6 boards are the same from top to bottom, so cleaning them out is a trickier endeavor. Either way, you should pressure wash your deck on a regular basis to keep both types of decking free or debris and/or mildew and mold.
  • Less water gets trapped. Water pours off rounded edges easier than straight edges, meaning that with a deck made of 5/4 boards, you are less likely to have lingering puddles of water than if you have a deck made of 2×6 boards. 

Maintenance

Regardless of which size decking you pick, each will require the same type of maintenance to prolong the life of each decking board. The 5/4 size may need a bit more maintenance wince it is thinner and will degrade faster than the 2/6 board. If either size boards are made out of pressure treated wood, here’s our guide on painting or staining pressure treated wood. If you do decide on staining your decking boards, here’s a guide to staining a deck with a roller.

Conclusion

Owning or building a home comes with many decisions. One of those choices for many homeowners is whether to build a backyard deck and what type of wood to use for the deck. Two options to choose from are a 5/4 deck board or a 2×6 deck board. Each of these types of boards has pros and cons.

If you choose 5/4 boards, you will have a deck that is a little better for the environment, easier to clean, and does not show flaws as easily. If you choose 2×6 boards, it will be much stronger for things like a hot tub over a deck, and is overall sturdier due to the part of the tree it comes from.

Which you decide to use for your deck depends entirely on how you plan to use your deck. If your deck is higher than 30 inches, check out our article on how to build deck railings.

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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