In Rudy McAdams' Maryland showroom for decking, lumber, and handrail products, decks made of all types of materials stand side by side for homeowners to compare. Although the vinyl, wood, and composite decking materials vary widely in cost, durability, and ease of use, McAdams says his customers' decisions usually boil down to one key factor.
"Aesthetics," says McAdams, owner of Leisure Specialties. "It's purely aesthetics."
Vinyl, or PVC, has overcome problems with squeaking, expanding, and contracting to become known as a durable, low-maintenance building material for decks and railings, but manufacturers still face the challenge of pleasing customers that just want the natural wood look. "Some people look at PVC and think it looks too plasticky," McAdams explains. "We find the business to be purely an aesthetic decision."
But with new vinyl products, homeowners discover many benefits and wood looks too, says Chris Bednar, director of marketing for Kroy Building Products. "Vinyl decking and railing products are the smart alternative to wood. They provide the look of wood but they don't split, rot, fade, or splinter." White accounts for about 70 percent of Kroy's vinyl sales, followed by khaki, tan, and gray, he says, but other manufacturers are creating vinyl that mimics even the color and shading of wood.
Vinyl decking and railing products offer other benefits as well. Many come with a limited lifetime warranty, usually guaranteeing the product will be free from manufacturing defects under normal use–a guarantee that customers weary of endless upkeep and maintenance find particularly reassuring. "Its longevity is so much better than composites," says McAdams, who sells all types of decking materials. "There's no absorption, it's more resistant to staining, and it's extraordinarily lightweight."
Those qualities are driving rapid sales growth. Although plastic and other alternative decking materials like aluminum are projected to remain under 2 percent of the aggregate decking market through 2009, the demand for vinyl decking has expanded greatly in recent years, more than tripling from $40 million in 1994 to $130 million in 2004, according to the Freedonia Group, a business research firm. That growth will continue at a rate of 13 percent annually to $240 million in 2009, the firm projects.
"Five years ago you couldn't sell a stick of it," says Charlie Henry, president of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based vinyl distributor American East Coast Distribution. "Now we're closing in on composite. It's without a doubt going to be the deck of the future." The new look of vinyl is a key factor in that growth, he adds.
Manufacturers say they feel pressure to create a vinyl product with a traditional wood feel. "Composite has taken a lot of attention in the past because most vinyl rail and decking looked more like plastic," says Denis Hamel, president of ICA Global, manufacturer of ForeverWood vinyl decking. "People are finding out there are some great PVC materials that look and feel like lumber."
Hamel says it took five years for his company to develop a product with wood's color, shading, look, and feel. "Lumber has a natural variation in shade. We have been able to control output to ensure variation in shade. Some is lighter, some is darker." He says the texture, which features grooves, is also more authentic and non-slippery.
Vinyl railing also is sporting a traditional finish. "Now the details of connectors, pickets, and balusters are much more like their wooden counterparts," says Ernie Sears, president and owner of Manassas, Va.-based Backyard America, an outdoor products distributor and contractor specializing in deck and porch products.
Although vinyl has made large strides in appearance, it still has a way to go. "It's hard to get a vinyl deck that fits in as naturally as a wooden deck," says Sears. "If you're looking at a redwood house, you're not likely to sell any vinyl decking or railing."
Meanwhile, manufacturers are enhancing vinyl railings with additional features and accessories. "We're seeing product line expansions with more than your typical top railings," says Patti Pellock, marketing manager of deck and railing products at CertainTeed. The company's EverNew railing system, for example, includes glass balusters for a clear, unobstructed view, and better airflow than full glass panels. Kroy Building Products offers its Performance vinyl railing with decorative caps in accent colors like forest green, blue, and cranberry.
Besides wood looks, manufacturers hope to sell consumers on the promise of long-term savings and low maintenance. While the initial cost of vinyl decking is higher than pressure-treated wood and roughly the same as composite materials, homeowners save on maintenance and upkeep, Kroy's Bednar says. "Homeowners will spend far less time and money maintaining the rail over the life of the product, so basically the return on investment is a lot higher than wood."
While the Freedonia report describes the price of vinyl decking materials as more than twice as high as pressure-treated wood, some distributors and builders say the initial investment is not quite so costly. A vinyl deck typically will cost 30 percent to 50 percent more than treated pine, Sears says, noting a homeowner can expect to recover the additional expense in about five years.
Plus, points out distributor Henry, "you don't have to stain it every few years."
Builders should not overlook the benefits of a lightweight, maintenance-free decking and railing material, Forever Wood's Hamel says. "Installation is very quick and you don't need any special tools. You can install our products in about half the time you would with wood or composite."
Sears verifies the ease of application. "We would much rather install vinyl decking. It goes down very quickly, it's very easy to handle. Most of our guys would prefer to put that down."
Builders also benefit from vinyl's durability because they spend less time responding to complaints and callbacks. Nick Hill, owner of Midwest Deck 'n Dock, which has been building and selling vinyl products in the Chicago area for 13 years, says that 90 percent of the builders in his area have stopped building lumber decks because of the number of complaints they receive.
"Vinyl lasts longer," he says. "You won't find it splitting, warping, cracking, or changing colors on you. Wood retains mildew and mold. With vinyl you can just wash it off because it's non-porous."
Hill says the only callbacks he has had were because the owner left a grill on that melted the deck or accidentally knocked a plank off. "The vinyl decks we did 10 years ago, they look like we did them last year," he remarks.
Sears, who has been offering vinyl products for 10 years, says that although he offers a limited lifetime warranty on almost everything he sells, the warranty isn't used. "I don't think we've ever had a warranty claim on any vinyl product, and we've had them installed all over the country in every environment," he says.
Make that one more reason homeowners will love cool, clean vinyl under their feet.
Developed more than 25 years ago as a leakproof way to create a walkable roof, deck, or balcony with habitable space beneath it, waterproof sheet vinyl membrane flooring remains a cost-effective option for waterproofing deck space.
Unlike vinyl deck boards, which simply take the place of treated wood boards in traditional deck construction, vinyl membranes come in sheet form and are usually installed over an existing wood, concrete, or fiberglass deck to make it waterproof. Often constructed with a thin layer of vinyl over polyester, these products are installed on a slope, guiding water over the edge of the deck or into a gutter or drain system. Vinyl membranes create a solid, low-maintenance surface that is slip-resistant and often more comfortable to walk on than deck boards.
While underdecking products may be a more appropriate choice for homeowners seeking to preserve the look of an exotic or redwood deck, the cost of a pressure-treated wood deck with a vinyl membrane, including the plywood for the deck surface, is comparable to a composite deck without the additional cost of underdecking. And unlike underdecking, vinyl membranes are usually building-code approved for use over living space, meaning that a walkable roof deck with a membrane surface could be used over a garage or habitable storage space.
Railing Dynamics. The Strata decking system is a two-layer "hybrid," the manufacturer says, made with a base board of injection-molded pre-consumer scrap polymers and a top vinyl layer. The base boards' built-in spacers eliminate the need for fasteners. The non-slip deck skins can be easily replaced at a low cost, according to the manufacturer, and will not stain or fade. 800-488-7245. www.rdirail.com.
Genova. Reinforced with a 12-gauge aluminum P-channel, the company's vinyl railing products are offered in white and tan 6-foot and 8-foot sections, as well as in stairway sections. The vinyl deck board's tongue-and-groove design adds strength to the structure, the manufacturer says, allowing for joist placement up to 24 inches on center. The boards eliminate exposed fasteners. 800-521-7488. www.genovaproducts.com.
Kroy Building Products
Kroy Building Products. Constructed of durable co-extruded vinyl with hidden fasteners, Performance Vinyl Railing offers a choice of styles to complement any home, the manufacturer says. The standard, contoured, over-the-top, and T rails are available in white, tan, and khaki, with blue, cranberry, and forest green decorative caps. The railings come in 6-, 8-, and 10-foot lengths, and some are ADA compliant. 919-678-4840. www.kroybp.com.
ICA Global. ForeverWood vinyl deck board, pictured, and DeckoraWood vinyl resurfacing products replicate the natural wood-grain appearance of pine, cedar, or redwood lumber, the manufacturer says, and their surfaces provide slip resistance while mimicking the texture of natural wood. Both lines resist scratches, mold, mildew, and stains, and are guaranteed to keep their natural wood-grain characteristics, says the firm. 866-922-1922. www.forever-wood.com.
Procell. Featuring solid-core, cellular vinyl construction, this decking system is engineered to be 30 percent to 40 percent lighter than average decking, according to the manufacturer. Fibertech flax additives minimize expansion and contraction and the dense surface prevents grain loss or scratching, the firm says. Boards are available in five colors by Americhem's Colorfast Solutions. 251-943-2916. www.procelldeck.com.
Xccent. Constructed with a steel core and vinyl coating, SteelDeck is strong enough to be used with 24-inch on-center joists, according to the manufacturer, so it requires less investment in the frame. The decking is available in five colors and custom sizes for modular and parquet designs, and is compatible with traditional framing or the polymer coated SteelDeck framing system. 800-933-4748. www.xccentdecking.com.
Ventana USA. The firm provides deck fabricators with curved, aluminum-reinforced vinyl railings that are bent to the fabricator's specifications. The company stocks vinyl and aluminum profiles from most major extruders and bends railings to a standard radius of 36 or 48 inches. The railings can be routed for a ready-to-assemble radius bend, and can be customized for specific applications. 724-325-3400. www.ventana-usa.com.
Thermal Industries. Embossed with a textured wood-grain pattern, Dream Deck with Vy-Grain vinyl deck planks look like wood but require almost no maintenance, according to the manufacturer. The planks' tongue-and-groove design eliminates the need for spacer tools. The Dream Rail CA (concealed attachment) system, pictured, has concealed fasteners for a sleek and streamlined design, the manufacturer says. 800-245-1540. www.thermalindustries.com.
VEKA Innovations. Made with reinforced cellular vinyl, VEKAdeck boards meet ASTM standards for impact and puncture resistance and are thermally reflective to stay cool to the touch, the company says. The lightweight, slip-resistant board is available in gray, khaki, tan, white, or almond, and its low water absorption makes it appropriate for wet or humid areas, according to the manufacturer. 888-797-0200. www.vekadeck.com.
Homeland Vinyl Products
Homeland Vinyl Products. The firm manufactures more than 76 profiles for decking, railing, fencing, and accessories. The Gorilla Deck system features an interlocking design that locks boards together to create a water-shedding surface, keeping the area under a deck dry. The Modulus interchangeable railing system allows homeowners to change or update their railing's design and color without replacing the entire system. 800-999-6813. www.homelandvinyl.com.
CertainTeed. Designed to be used with the EverNew Oxford vinyl railing system, the EverNew glass baluster railing features 3/8-inch-thick balusters made of clear or smoked tempered glass. The firm's SnapWrap vinyl post wrap is installed around existing wooden porch or deck posts to change their look or to improve endurance against the elements, according to the manufacturer. 800-233-8990. www.certainteed.com.
Royal Crown. Deck Lok vinyl decking products feature a snap-connect system that facilitates quick installation, according to the manufacturer. Manufactured with a tri-color extrusion process that creates realistic textures, the plank components mirror the color and look of wood, the firm says. Deck planks come in dual-color combinations, with a light color on one side and a darker color on the reverse. 800-488-5245. www.royalcrownltd.com.
ADS Weatherdek. Constructed of a PVC film laminated to a polyester backing, this vinyl sheet applied membrane system is designed to create a waterproof finish for deck and balcony areas, the manufacturer says. The membranes, which are formulated with UV and heat stabilizers, mildew inhibitors, and fire retardants, are available in more than 25 combinations of color, pattern, thickness, and texture. 800-667-2596. www.weatherdek.com.
Dec-k-ing. Manufactured by laminating two layers of PVC to a polyester mesh, this mildew- and salt-resistant vinyl membrane is suitable for any climate, according to the manufacturer. The product comes in a variety of prints and colors with a rough, textured surface for greater traction. The membranes contain UV inhibitors and fire retardants and require only water and a mild detergent to clean, the firm contends. 800-804-6288. www.dec-k-ing.com.
Duradek. This sheet vinyl membrane for waterproofing decks and balconies is reinforced for strength and stability and has a textured finish to increase slip-resistance, the firm says. The product requires little maintenance except for cleaning, according to the manufacturer, and includes mildew inhibitors and heat stabilizers. The ultra marble mocha membrane pictured is 60 mil thick for decks and surfaces requiring heavy-duty protection. 800-338-3568. www.duradek.com.