16 Pros and Cons of Vinyl Deck Railing

There are many low maintenances deck railing offerings, and vinyl is one of them. Vinyl a standard home construction products 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 with its many 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 a broad overview of vinyl deck railing. To help decide if vinyl railing is right for your deck, we need to look closer into the details. What are some specific advantages and disadvantages of vinyl deck railing?

Simply saying vinyl is low maintenance tells you nothing about its price compared to other railing options. What about its appearance that is a con? Is it a deal-breaker or something that can be designed with for your deck?

These and many more questions, which I hope to answer while going over the pros and cons of vinyl deck railing. Starting with the negative things about vinyl, it’s cons and then going over its pluses, the pros of vinyl railing.

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 where found needed 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 its litter. Which is terrible, but the reason for choosing vinyl is it is not natural with all its weaknesses. Vinyl is unnatural as a product and appearance, meaning the railing will also be a shiny, smooth plastic look.

We have a natural repulsion to plastic after our many cheap plastic toys were broken as kids. Therefore, regardless of price and durability, we see vinyl, plastic, and we think cheap. No-fault of the railing material, just our association. See vinyl. You think cheap plastic.

The colour with the least 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 does not adhere to vinyl, preventing colour changes in the future.

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.  

Vinyl will fluctuate in size, expanding and contracting with heat and seasons.Most vinyl railings are designed to accommodate this, with brackets or insert allowing the vinyl to expand or shrink without undue stress, by expanding into the hollow railing cavity being cut short but hidden inside the bracket sleeve.  Preventing unnecessary stress and product failure.

UV rays are a powerful force, deteriorating the world around us. Vinyl is no different, will fade and possibly crack over time. This is one of the most significant advantages of white. It will fade and crack less. Darker colours are more receptacle to heat and its effects. If fading is a concern, stick with white, which will be harder to see it lighten over time. Dark colour may look great initially, but in time will be a much lighter colour, which can cause issues if you ever have to replace parts as they will be a distinctly darker even if they are the “same colour.”

Vinyl is structurally weak compared to wood railing. Some of this is that the vinyl will bend when pushed against but has the advantage of not breaking compared to wood. Because of this, most vinyl railings are now reinforced with aluminum. Posts are either sleeves over wood posts or are also reinforced with aluminum.

But it is not all negative, vinyl deck railing has some wonderful pros. Characteristics that make vinyl railing a good choice for railing. Let look at some of the pros of vinyl deck 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 then 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 is coloured right through. So even if you scratch the surface of the railing the mark is less noticeable.

Another part of vinyl’s durability is resistant 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 lasting 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.

But as I was researching vinyl railing, I came across Illusions Fence, which also manufactures vinyl deck railing. Now they are a game-changer, with over 30 colour options. With even imitation wood imprinted vinyl railing. A massive change from the basic colours I have seen. If you would like to see, click the link to go to Illusions Fence railing brochure.Opens in a new tab. I was impressed by what I saw.

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 required to remove splinters, as vinyl is splinter-free, from day one and every day after.

From a distance, vinyl railing has the appearance of painted wood. A classic railing look that is often still appreciated, but without the 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, vinyl deck railing is well priced. I choose a well priced, 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 design 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. Which is significant. There are some trades offs in design and feel from composite, but vinyl is the less expensive option. If the goal is low maintenance railing on a budget and the look of aluminum does not work. Vinyl deck railing is an excellent option, a good price but a more classic deck railing style.

Conclusion of Pros and Cons of Vinyl Deck Railing

This is my conclusion of vinyl deck railing. It is an excellent low maintenance deck railing. Something that many of us are striving for, less maintenance more enjoyment. Vinyl is a very durable residential railing, 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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