PVC and composite decking are both popular alternatives to natural wood. They are a lot more durable and they don’t require as much maintenance when compared to real wood decking. They have many similarities but there are also some key differences between the two. Many people don’t know where to start when deciding which is right for them because they are unsure exactly what the differences are.
This article will clear up all of those questions and discuss the pros and cons of each, the affordability, and the installation of each option. If you don’t know which type of decking is right for your garden, read on for more information so you can make an informed decision!
Table of Contents
- What’s the Difference Between PVC Decking and Composite Decking?
- Is PVC or Composite Decking More Affordable?
- Which Decking is Easier to Install?
- The Pros and Cons Comparison:
- The Pros of PVC Decking
- The Cons of PVC Decking
- The Pros of Composite Decking
- The Cons of Composite Decking
- Are Both Composite and PVC Available Capped and Uncapped?
- Which Decking Has Better Traction?
- Is PVC or Composite Decking Cooler in the Heat?
- Is PVC or Composite Decking Higher Risk During a Fire?
- Is PVC or Composite Heavier?
- What Are Some of the Best Composite Decking Brands?
- What Are Some of the Best PVC Decking Brands?
- Is PVC Decking or Composite Decking More Environmentally Friendly?
- What’s the More Popular Decking Option?
- The Verdict – Which Decking Should I Choose?
What’s the Difference Between PVC Decking and Composite Decking?
PVC decking is made from 100% recycled plastic, which has been made to look like wood. Composite decking is made from a mixture of plastic and natural wood fibers, so it tends to have a more natural look. Both types of decking can be capped for extra durability.
Both types of decking material are tough and resistant to the elements, but PVC tends to be more durable than composite because it is entirely made from plastic. PVC usually lasts longer for the same reason.
Composite decking is more prone to mold and mildew than PVC because it has natural wood fibers in it. So, although composite is more durable than natural wood, it is still prone to some of the same problems, while PVC is not.
Is PVC or Composite Decking More Affordable?
Cost is one of the major factors you should consider when picking which decking material is right for you. There is no short answer because the costs vary depending on the brand and the quality of the decking. The color and thickness of the boards also makes a difference. However, you can expect composite decking to cost between $3 and $12 while PVC decking ranges from $10 to $15.
Trex decking is one of the most popular composite brands out there. They offer a range of different decking options, some more expensive than others. Their Select and Enhance ranges cost between $5 and $9 per square foot. They also have a more expensive range, Trex Enhance, which is more durable.
This costs $10 to $12 per square foot. A basic deck that is 125 to 150 square feet, with no railings or added extras, will cost roughly $2,000 for the boards and the installation.
Azek decking is one of the most popular PVC brands on the market right now, but how does the price compare? They offer 3 different decking options; Vintage, Arbor, and Harvest. The Harvest style is slightly cheaper, with a price range between $9 and $12.25 per square foot.
The Arbor style ranges between $11 and $13, and the Vintage range costs between $11.80 and $14.40 per square foot. A 150 square foot deck made from Azek Harvest will cost roughly $2,700.
Trex and Azek are both top brands and come out at the higher end of the price range. However, you can usually expect PVC decking to cost more than composite decking and natural wood options.
Which Decking is Easier to Install?
Composite decking is significantly easier to install than PVC decking for a few reasons. Composite decking cuts more like real wood and standard tools can be used to cut it to size and get the right shape. PVC, on the other hand, is more difficult to manage without specialized tools.
PVC is also prone to more expansion and contraction with temperature changes. This needs to be accounted for when installing the decking, and if you don’t get the gaps between boards right, it doesn’t look great.
Ideally you should hire a professional to install it for you, and this will be easier with composite decking because there are simply more people that do it. If you are installing it yourself, you should think twice about using PVC because it can easily go wrong.
The Pros and Cons Comparison:
The Pros of PVC Decking
1. Low Maintenance
One of the major pros of PVC decking is that it’s low maintenance. It’s waterproof and it is completely immune to insect attacks and rotting. So, you don’t need to worry about sanding it down and sealing it every few years to keep it in good condition.
2. Scratch Resistant
PVC boards have a very hard exterior surface, especially if they have been capped. That means that they are less likely to get scratched up and dented.
3. Easy to Clean
Cleaning PVC decking is so easy, you just need to use a hose or maybe a pressure washer if you haven’t cleaned it for a while. You don’t need to use any specialist cleaners or do any excessive scrubbing.
4. Good Color Choice
There is a big choice of colors available with PVC decking because it can be made pretty much any color you like. There are all kinds of wood-effect options but you can get more unique colors too, so it’s easy to find something that fits with the rest of your yard design.
The Cons of PVC Decking
1. More Expensive
The biggest downside of PVC decking is that it’s more expensive. That said, there are budget ranges that are roughly the same price as composite decking.
2. Less Realistic Aesthetic
Although they are made to look like wood, you’re never going to mistake a PVC board for a real wood board. Composite decking has a more realistic look too because it contains some natural wood fibers. So, if you want an authentic product, PVC probably isn’t right for you.
3. Prone to Fading
PVC decking can be prone to fading in the sun. It will lose its color and can crack after many years of sun exposure. However, this is usually a problem with the cheaper options, so if you invest in good quality boards, you don’t need to worry about it too much.
4. Harder to Repair
PVC decking doesn’t act like wood, and it’s more difficult to cut and shape. This means that if you do need to replace boards for any reason, it’s a more difficult job.
5. Retains Heat
On a hot day, PVC decking will hold the heat, so it can be very uncomfortable to walk on. This is a big issue if your deck will be in direct sunlight because it can stop you from enjoying it on summer days when you would normally get the most use out of it.
The Pros of Composite Decking
1. More Realistic Wood Look
Nobody is going to be fooled by composite wood either. However, when you are comparing it with PVC, composite decking does have a more realistic wood effect because it contains some wood fibers.
2. Low Maintenance
Composite decking is also low-maintenance compared with real wood. It is more waterproof and resistant to damage, so you don’t need to keep finishing it as often. But bear in mind that when compared with PVC, composite requires more maintenance.
Composite decking is very low-slip material, so it’s safe even when it is wet. This is a big benefit if you have young children.
3. Cheaper than PVC
If you are looking to save money, composite might be the way to go. In most cases, it’s cheaper than PVC decking, although it is still more expensive than natural wood.
The Cons of Composite Decking
1. Retains Heat
Composite decking still contains a lot of plastic, so it has the same issue that PVC does with heat retention. Bear in mind that darker colors will hold the heat a lot more than light ones, so think about heat when designing your deck.
2. Can Get Moldy
Because there is some natural wood in the composite material, it can still get moldy. If you don’t get on top of mold and mildew issues, it can ruin your deck. If the boards are fully capped, this locks out the moisture and you are far less likely to have problems with mold, but this is more expensive.
3. More Limited Color Choice
There is still a fairly large range of colors available with composite decking but it is more limited than PVC. If you want a natural wood shade, you’ll be fine, but if you want something a bit different then PVC is the better option.
4. Prone to Fading
Composite decking boards are also prone to fading in the sun after a while. This can be prevented by sealing them with a UV-resistant sealer. However, this does mean more regular maintenance.
Are Both Composite and PVC Available Capped and Uncapped?
Yes, composite and PVC are both available capped and uncapped. When the boards are capped, they are coated with a polymer coating to make them more durable and, in the case of composite decking, block out moisture. You can have boards that are capped on the top surface only or boards that have a full cap all the way around.
Capped boards are more expensive, but it is often worth it for the added durability and longevity.
Which Decking Has Better Traction?
Both composite and PVC decking have excellent traction. Even when wet, there isn’t much chance of slipping. This is especially true if they have been capped because they will usually have a textured surface to improve traction. However, composite decking has a slightly rougher texture, in general, so it wins on traction by a small margin.
Is PVC or Composite Decking Cooler in the Heat?
PVC and composite decking both have problems with heat retention, and this is due to the plastic content. So, PVC decking tends to be worse because it is 100% plastic.
Is PVC or Composite Decking Higher Risk During a Fire?
Plastic has a high heat release rate, which means that it is more likely to ignite and it burns hotter. So, you would expect composite and PVC decking to be dangerous in a fire, with PVC being the worst. However, manufacturers put additives into their decking materials to prevent fires from spreading.
Decking materials are given a Flame Spread Rating, which indicates how quickly a fire will spread. The rating goes from A to E, with A being the best. In many cases, PVC comes out on top.
TimberTech, for example, manufactures composite and PVC decking. They give their composite decking a Class C Flame Spread Rating, but their PVC is better with a Class A Rating. Bear in mind that all manufacturers are different and other ratings may be different. You should be able to find information about Flame Spread Ratings on their individual websites.
Is PVC or Composite Heavier?
Composite decking is much denser than PVC, making it around 50% heavier. PVC is roughly the same weight as your average wooden deck board.
What Are Some of the Best Composite Decking Brands?
These are some of the best composite decking brands on the market right now:
- TimberTech AZEK
- Wolf Decking
You can find more detailed information about the different brands in our in-depth guide here.
What Are Some of the Best PVC Decking Brands?
These are some of the best PVC decking brands:
- Azek Decking
- Fiberon PVC
- TivaDeck PVC Decking
- Wolf Serenity Porch
- Zuri by Royal
You can find reviews of each option in our full guide here. (could potentially link to the other article on ‘6 best PVC decking brands’)
Is PVC Decking or Composite Decking More Environmentally Friendly?
Both PVC decking and composite are made with recycled plastic, but PVC is more environmentally friendly. The 100% plastic boards will be completely recyclable at the end of their life, but the same cannot be said for composite boards. Composite decking contains more different materials, so it is harder to recycle and is more likely to end up in landfill.
What’s the More Popular Decking Option?
Both styles are very popular and PVC is becoming more common. However, composite decking is still the more popular option at the moment. This means that there are more products available and more installers to fit your decking for you.
The Verdict – Which Decking Should I Choose?
This all depends on your specific needs but, in most cases, PVC is the better option. Although it’s more expensive, it is more durable, you have more choice about the color and style, and it’s more fire resistant. If you do want to save some money though, composite decking boards that are fully capped are still incredibly durable, and they have a slightly more realistic look too.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.