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Synthetic and Composite Decking Materials

When building a new deck, composite or synthetic building materials — as opposed to traditional treated wood — offer homeowners many options and benefits in terms of aesthetics and longevity. When planning a new deck, it is the contractor’s responsibility to help clients pick the best material for their outdoor space. Compared to wood, composite or synthetic materials offer not only a unique look, but also less maintenance and an extended lifespan.

“The alternative decking market continues to grow,” says Michael Beaudry, the executive vice president of the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA).

Synthetic Decking Options

Remodelers looking to offer synthetic or composite decking options to their clients should familiarize themselves with the two most popular options: wood composite and PVC. Although similar, the two have different attributes.

  • Wood Composite: Originally introduced in the mid-1990s, wood composite decking materials are a hybrid blend of recycled plastic and wood fibers. The amount of wood in the blend varies between 10 percent and 60 percent, but there is always some wood mixed with the plastic component, Beaudry says.
  • PVC: Formally known as polyvinylchloride, PVC a newer trend in the decking industry. Consisting entirely of plastic, this material is the “cutting edge option” for contractors to suggest to homeowners, Beaudry assures.

Although the popularity of these two decking materials is on the rise, treated wood continues to cost almost 50 percent to 60 percent less than these alternative materials. If a client expresses interest in alternative decking materials, you might overcome their aversion to the higher price tag by explaining the numerous benefits offered by a deck built of composite or PVC.

Benefits of Alternative Decking Materials

Lower Maintenance
With treated wood decks, regular maintenance — in the form of regular cleaning and bi-annual staining or painting — is required for the deck to survive seasonal changes. These newer materials boast a low-maintenance guarantee, says Jeff Donnell, contractor and owner of Donnell Enterprises in New Hampshire.

Wood decks require weekly cleanings, but composite and PVC decks only need to be cleaned once or twice a year to prevent the buildup of mildew, Donnell says. Because these materials are colored and don’t degrade on the surface like wood, they never require staining or painting. As a result, many homeowners are willing to pay a higher upfront cost for less maintenance in the years to come, Beaudry says.

Greater Durability
With treated wood, there is always the possibility of rotting, splintering, splitting and termite damage. Alternative decking materials, made partially or entirely of plastic, deter insects and won’t rot, which results in a lifespan two to three times that of wood decks. In addition, Beaudry emphasizes that most composite and PVC decks offer lengthy, extended warranties to further guarantee the life of the deck.

Synthetic decking materials won’t split or splinter, either. Homeowners don’t need to worry about splinters in anyone’s feet, as the plastic will not break down. Furthermore, there’s an added convenience to composite or PVC, because they are both resistant to stains and weather damage.

Aesthetically Pleasing
The appearance of a deck is the primary concern for most homeowners, according to Donnell. Once criticized for its glossy and unnatural appearance, the look of alternative decks has made great strides in recent years, Beaudry says, adding that many homeowners are switching to composite and PVC decks because they prefer the appearance of these newer materials. Available in a variety of colors, finishes and shapes, composite and PVC decking offer great variety to homeowners, Donnell says. Although they are made to resemble wood, they often have a glossier appearance that appeals to many homeowners.

Easier Installation
When comparing the ease of installation between treated wood, composites and PVC, uniformity is the largest difference. According to Donnell, treated wood can check, split and warp as it dries, before building even begins, which can result in more time and money spent. Because composite and PVC materials are mass produced, they are more uniform, which makes it easier for a remodeler to install. And unlike treated wood, synthetic materials don’t split or require drilling prior to beginning a project, which reduces the time needed for installation, Donnell says.

Working with Synthetic Materials

With all of the benefits associated with composite and PVC decking materials, Donnell says the first step for contractors is to know the product. By understanding the available options for building decks, the benefits of each, and the differences regarding installation, contractors are able to choose the right material for their client’s specific needs. The right material to select for beginning a new project varies “as every individual has different tastes, environmental concerns and budget,” Donnell says.


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