16 Pros and Cons of Vinyl Deck Railing

There are many low maintenances deck railing offerings, and vinyl is one of them. Vinyl is a standard product in home construction from windowsills, siding to shower stalls. Look around your house, and you will most likely see something made of vinyl, which is why vinyl deck railing is a popular option, but it has its pros and cons.

The most significant pros of vinyl deck railing are low maintenance and durability.  Requiring little more than cleaning to maintain and lasting for years. With the top con being appearance, vinyl railing has a plastic appearance.

But that is only two of the biggest pros and cons of vinyl railing on a deck.

But we need to look closer to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of vinyl. To see if vinyl railing is right for your deck.

Going beyond just low maintenance to include its cost to consider.

Even if it looks like plastic, is that a deal breaker?

These and many more questions, need to be answered to figure out if vinyl deck railing is a pro or a con for you.

Starting with the negative things about vinyl, then we will go over the plusses.

Cons of Vinyl Deck Railing

  • Cheap, Unnatural looking
  • Cannot be painted a different colour
  • Oxidization (white chalkiness)
  • Fluctuate in size
  • Vulnerable to UV rays, which can cause fading and cracks
  • Structurally weak

One of the struggles with reviewing vinyl deck railing is its age. Vinyl railing was first introduced in the mid-eighties to residential construction, and as with all innovations, it experienced some growing pains. Some initial ideas in time were found to need to be addressed, which changed the product, but the experience still lingers.

Many of the cons of vinyl railing come from earlier versions, which with innovation, have been reduced, but to deny them entirely would be inaccurate. Therefore, if there have been attempts to correct the con, I will include it but still acknowledge the cons associated with vinyl deck railing.

The biggest con is appearance. Vinyl often looks cheap and unnatural. What can I say, it is.

Let me explain, vinyl is plastic an unnatural material.

Strolling through a wildlife park, you will not come across a piece of vinyl unless it’s litter. This is terrible, but the reason for choosing vinyl is it is not natural, thus prone to rot and decay.

Vinyl’s unnatural appearance, means the railing will also be shiny with a smooth plastic look.

Maybe because of the cheap plastic toys we were given as kids that broke. Making us to perceive plastic as garbage.

Regardless of price and durability, we see vinyl, with think cheap plastic. No fault with the railing material, just our association.

Another con of vinyl railing is for the first few seasons, a white chalky powder will show up on the vinyl, as a result of oxidization. Not a problem as it can easily be washed off, but at times brushing up against the railing will leave a fine white powder on clothes or hands. Something to be aware of.  

The colour with the fewest issue is white, which has become the default colour of vinyl railing. Which is fine if you like white deck railing but is a con if you enjoy a different railing colour.

On top of the initial limit in colours, vinyl cannot be painted a different colour. Installed white, it will always be white. Paint will not adhere to vinyl, preventing colour changes in the future.

Vinyl will also fluctuate in size, expanding and contracting with heat and seasons. Which needs to be accommodated in the design. Often with brackets or inserts allowing the vinyl to expand or shrink without undue stress, by expanding into the hollow railing cavity is cut short but hidden inside the bracket sleeve. 

But if not properly installed movement can cause railing failure.

UV rays are a powerful force, deteriorating the world around us.

Vinyl is no different, will fade and possibly crack over time.

An advantage of white is it will fade and crack less.

Darker colours are more susceptible to heat and its effects.

Darker colours may look great initially, but in time will fade, which can cause issues if you ever have to replace parts as they will be distinctly darker even if they are the “same colour.”

White over time is still fairly close to the original colour.

Vinyl is also structurally weak compared to wood railing. Bending when pushed against but it will also flex more but still not break.

Better-quality vinyl railings are often reinforced with aluminum. Posts too are either sleeves over wood or are reinforced with aluminum.

But vinyl deck railing it is not all negative, it has some wonderful pros.

Characteristics that make vinyl railing a good choice for railing.

Pros of Vinyl Deck Railing

  • Low Maintenance
  • Soap-and-water cleaning
  • Resists scratching
  • Resist Cracking
  • Insects Resistance
  • Basic colour schemes complement many homes
  • Splinter free
  • Painted wood appearance
  • Easily assembled railing kits
  • Well Priced

As already stated, the most significant pro, of vinyl deck railing is Low Maintenance. The only maintenance required is cleaning. Vinyl does not need to be sanded, stained or painted. If you would rather do something else than maintain your deck railing, vinyl is an excellent option, requiring little.

Cleaning of vinyl is easy with soap and water. No special chemicals or tools, just a damp cloth and a bucket of water with soap, or a low-pressure power washer. Vinyl easily wipes and cleans off.

Vinyl is Resistant to scratching, a hard surface preventing scratches. Another advantage is the vinyl’s coloured is consistent throughout the material. So even if you scratch the surface of the railing the mark is less noticeable.

Another part of vinyl’s durability is its resistance to insects. There is nothing in vinyl that attracts or appeals to insects. Unlike wood, which provides both food and homes for insects, vinyl does not. Helping the railing last for years.

Your standard vinyl railing from your big box stores has a basic colour scheme, which is complementary to many newer homes. The look and colour scheme of older homes often will not work well with basic vinyl colour schemes.

There are companies like Illusions Fence, which also manufactures vinyl deck railing. They are a game-changer, with over 30 colour options. Along with imitation wood imprinted vinyl railing. A massive change from the basic colours. To see Illusions Fence railing brochureOpens in a new tab. click the link.

Deck railings are for hands to touch, running down as you go down the steps. Vinyl railing is preferable because it is splinter-free. No nasty splinters when you run your hand along the top rail. No regular sanding is required to remove splinters, as vinyl is splinter-free, from day one and every day after.

From a distance, the vinyl railing has the appearance of painted wood. A classic railing look that is often still appreciated, but without maintenance.

Vinyl railing kits are also easy to assemble, with precut pieces and layouts. Allowing quick and easy assembly, just like Lego, snapping together, creating your railing. An enjoyable experience.

Finally, the vinyl deck railing is well-priced.

Well priced, but not cheap.

Vinyl railing from a big box store will start around $48 a linear foot, a reasonable price for what you get. Vinyl is almost four times the price of similar basic wood railing designs for material but with significant savings in labour. Vinyl is slightly more about 20% or so than Aluminium Railing, which requires about the same amount of labour. Largely leaving the decision on you, not your wallet between vinyl or aluminum railing.

The direct comparison in look and maintenance is composite railing, where the cost spread is significant. Vinyl railing is almost half the price of composite railing.

There are some trade-offs in design and feel of composite which is different than vinyl, but vinyl is clearly the less expensive option.

If the goal is low-maintenance railing on a budget and the look of aluminum isn’t for you.

Vinyl deck railing is an excellent choice with a good price but a more classic deck railing style.

Conclusion of Pros and Cons of Vinyl Deck Railing

Vinyl railing is an excellent low-maintenance deckOpens in a new tab. railing. Something that many of us are striving for, less maintenance and more enjoyment. Vinyl is a very durable residential railing, that is well-priced for a budget-conscious deck.

The trade-off is appearance. Much progress has been made with the look of vinyl. But at the end of the day, it is still plastic. If you can live with that, it is a good railing option at a better price than composite.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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