Synthetic Decking Comes of Age
A maturing industry means composites and PVC deck planks look better than ever and can last for decades.
Synopsis: Options for synthetic decking have improved in recent years, offering decades of low-maintenance good looks. This article describes the performance characteristics of the three types of synthetic decking capped composites, uncapped composites, and PVC and lists reputable products and pricing in each category. It also includes tips to make your deck dollars go further, such as employing drainage and rail systems.
As life spills out from the kitchen into the backyard, decking options are multiplying, from improved materials to less-obtrusive railing systems, from outdoor kitchens to LED lighting. “We build outdoor living environments,” says Pete Ciaraldi, who specializes in high-quality decks, windows, and siding in Salem, N.H. “It’s a ‘three-season room’ now. People have breakfast out there before the kids get up.”
Filling the space between pressure-treated pine and pricey tropical hardwoods are a variety of synthetic decking materials, promising decades of splinter-free service with minimal maintenance. Miles ahead of first-generation wood-plastic composites—which fell short of marketing claims—today’s PVCs and composites offer 25 to 30-year warranties against fading, staining, and mechanical failure.
Today’s best synthetic deck boards will stand up to sun, rain, and snow for decades, requiring only a yearly wash to look good again. Hidden fasteners make the finished product look even cleaner, and a growing range of rail systems and accessories complete the package.
While the initial cost of PVC and composite decking is double that of pressure-treated pine, slightly higher than cedar, and about even with tropical hardwoods, the long-term equation is quite different. When you factor in the semiannual expense of cleaning and resealing wood decking, synthetic materials jump easily into the lead when it comes to long-term value.
Reality checks for synthetic decks
Having solved their early chemistry and manufacturing problems, composite and PVC decking now compete on subtler features like color and texture. But a few misconceptions still dog the discussion around synthetic decking: maintenance, overheating, and stability.
“Zero maintenance” is a myth—Synthetic decking is low-maintenance, not no- maintenance. Decks undergo a barrage of weather, dirt, pollen, leaves, foot traffic, cooking grease, condiments, wine, and other abuse. Left to build up on decking and rails, dirt, moss, and mold will cause permanent staining and fading on almost any material, a reality that was often misunderstood in the early days of composite products. These days, if you clean messes as they happen, and give your synthetic deck a quick yearly wash and a scrub with a hose, brush, and mild soap, it will look great indefinitely.
That said, sun is relentless in some regions, and despite the UV protectors in today’s synthetics, colors fade over time—more or less depending on the specific product.
If you miss a few years of maintenance, or just want to deep-clean and brighten your deck, experienced contractors recommend a number of rejuvenators for both composite and PVC decking, including DeckMAX and Spray & Forget.
From Fine Homebuilding #282