Comfort, elegance and living space make a deck one of the best home improvement investments you can make. According to the annual Remodeling magazine "Cost vs. Value Report," you'll get back nearly 75 percent of what you pay for a deck if you sell your home within the first year after the deck is built. That investment can vary widely, from around $15 per square foot installed for pressure-treated Southern yellow pine decks to more than $30 per square foot for cedar and redwood. Building it yourself? Depending on materials and the intricacy of your design, figure on about $1.50 to $5 per square foot for the planks and another $4 to $6 per square foot for joists and posts. An array of new decking options can make all that effort and expense last longer and cut down on maintenance during its life. While pressure-treated "green" Southern yellow pine still goes into 80 percent of all decks, there are several alternatives even within the pressure-treated (PT) lumber category. Other choices include exotic hardwoods and a variety of nonwood products, such as engineered vinyl systems and plastic-wood composites. And there are the different shapes, widths, grades and treatments within categories. This guide to the major decking materials includes pros, cons, grades, costs and availability for each, along with some advice to make your investment last.