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Maintenance-Free Decking: PVC vs. Composite

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PVC vs. Composite Decking

Do you know how to avoid staining a deck? Build it from something other than wood. There are a hundred different low-maintenance decking products on the market, but the two most popular are composite and cellular PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Both will save you from your summer staining rituals, but there are differences between the two. And even within these two categories, there are many different manufacturers and a wide variety of products, but here are some general characteristics:


Composite decking has been around since the early '90s. Many popular brands are made from 50 percent wood fibers and 50 percent recycled plastic. Composite decking is a solid color all the way through, so the ends of boards are not as noticeable. It's stiffer than PVC and can span greater distances. Its stiffness also makes it easier for one person to handle and helps hide minor imperfections in the framing. Composite is also less slippery than PVC when it's wet. You should be able to get at least 20 years of use, depending on the conditions. Expect to pay about $6 per sq. ft. just for the decking.


PVC decking is the relative new kid on the block but is quickly gaining popularity. Most PVC decking is made from 100 percent plastic—and no wood means no mold or mildew. It holds its color, it's easy to clean and it won't stain if you spill a little suntan oil or hamburger grease on it. PVC is much harder and more scratch resistant than composite decking, which is good news if you have a large dog or heavy patio furniture. All these benefits don't come cheap, however: PVC decking will cost you about $10 per sq. ft. Some companies offer a limited lifetime warranty.

— Mark Petersen, Contributing Editor

For more information on decking products, ideas and techniques, search for "decks" at the top of this page.


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  • Comments
    • by posted on

      composite looks more durable, however I still like the old wood deck feeling, less rigid

    • by posted on

      One of my reservations about either of these is the heat factor.  Would I be able to walk (barefoot) on either one after the sun had been hitting it during the afternoon?  How do they compare to wood in this situation?

    • by posted on

      I have 180 feet of decking I have to replace.  Above the deck floor (which is PT wood) is all cedar.  The horizontal members have to be replaced most of this is top rail and there are 3 sitting areas (built in seats) as well.  In my last home, I replaced all the top rail with 1" X 6" solid Trex square edge decking (15 yrs ago).  It was wonderful stuff.  The deck was out in the open and therefore didn't suffer from any of the problems Trex had with mildew.  We live in upstate NY.

      What is your advice on a composite or manufactured material I can use for the top rail?  Currently it is all 1" X 6" dimensionally.  My biggest concern is that most composite decking today has a nasty end profile- so that it would look rather silly on the ends of all the top rails to have a decking profile.  The Trex I used before was solid and looked terrific and was easy to install, requiring no end coping or reverse back cutting and fitting of end pieces.  

      I'd like to use a medium brown color to match the existing deck boards and cedar.  I'm having trouble finding stuff in my area that fits this need.


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