If you love your composite deck, composite railing may be for you. Made of similar material, with the same look and feel. An incredible good-looking product with the same low maintenance care as composite decking. One of the most luxurious looking and feeling deck railing available. But as with every deck railing, composite deck railing comes with its own set of pros and cons.
The most significant pros of composite deck railing are appearance and low maintenance. Composite railing looks fantastic and requires little work to maintain. The most significant cons of composite deck railing are initial cost and lack of structural strength.
Almost every major manufacturer of composite decking also makes deck railing. Blending beautifully with there decking boards, either with similar or complementary colours and designs.
One of the goals with composite decking is to make it look like wood. Wood being the traditional deck material, with its natural strength and beauty. Composite railing is no different, striving for the appearance of a wood railing, a wood railing imitation without the maintenance of wood. Similar to decking, we want wood, but we don’t want the work. Composite does that, beauty with less work.
Evaluating in further detail, we find there are many more pros and cons of composite decking. Let us start with the cons, what we may not enjoy about composite railing, then transition to what we love about composite railing, the pros.
Cons of Composite Deck Railing
- Higher initial cost than most other options
- Requires Increase Structural Support
- Can sag and bend
- Extreme heat will soften railing
- Grilling Clearance
- May fade or stain over time
- Cannot be Painted, no colour changes
- Limited Repair options
Let’s get this one out of the way first, composite railing has a high initial cost, similar to composite decking. Composite material cost more than wood, no surprise. The decking cost more, so will the railing.
How much more? Composite railing starts around $75 lineal foot. This varies a lot by manufacture and markets but expect to pay at least that much. The base price for composite railing is a little more than twice the cost of aluminum railing. But six times the rate of wood railing. To be fair, that is comparing economical designed wood railing. Still, the look and feel of a composite railing is more a high-end wood railing design making the material cost probably closer to twice the price.
Buying composite deck railing is a lot like buying a car. Yes, there is a base price, but we all are going to buy the upgrades like power windows and AC, the same with composite. There are so many “essential” upgrades that need to be included to customize the railing that will affect the price. The railing will perform and look better but also cost more.
Another major con of composite decking is the material. There are many wonderful things to be said about composite railing, and I will get to them, but ultimately it is plastic mixed with wood fibres, which has its limitations.
Composite material has limited Structural Strength. Therefore, composite railing requires additional support. For example, aluminum and wood railing can span 6’ (1.8m), but composite railing needs small feet between the posts supporting the railing.
Composite posts are only sleeves which need to be supported by 4×4 post connected to the deck’s framing. TimberTech has a handy secure mount post. Supporting the sleeve while attaching it to the surface of the deck. Click here to see and learn more about the post mount on TimberTech’s website.
This will be listed as a pro later, but composite railing becomes soft on hot summer days, bending and sagging. Progress has been made with recent railing but is still an issue for composite railing. Being a plastic material, it becomes soft when heated.
Speaking of heat. Barbeques and grill need to be set up with sufficient clearance from composite railing . The heat from a barbeque can damage composite railing, it has a high fire rating class, but it will still melt, or discolour. Always check for temperature when grilling by composite railing. I have another article about protecting railing while grilling. If you wish to read it, click here.
Again, progress has been made from earlier generations of composite decking and railing, but they still may fade over time. The distinct colour first installed is not the colour you will have summers from now. The sun’s UV rays willlighten thecomposite.
Not a significant concern as the chances of spills on the railing is low, but composite can be stained. A small chance as most have a high-performance shell protecting the railing except cutting the material leaves the end cuts unprotected. But generally, these are covered with a decorative piece.
Speaking of colour, what you install is what you get. Composite railing cannot be painted, so no colour changes. The very characteristic that provides years of low maintenance also prevents painting. The paint will not adhere to the composite railing. So even as TimberTech admits, you could try to paint, but the results will not be good. And now you have lost the key benefit of composite, low maintenance as now they will need to be regularly repainted. Just don’t do it. Pick the colour you will love for many years. Select timeless colours, not trendy colours.
As already noted with painting., Composite railing only has limited repair options. If you gouge the railing with a steak knife, short of replacing the component, there is nothing you can do about it. It is not like wood that can be sanded or filled. Replacement of damaged parts often is the only solution.
Composite railing may require special cleaners, dependent on manufacture. Most composite railing will only need soap and water to clean, but some will require more. Some even allow for a gentle pressure washing; soft is the key. Keep the pressure lows as not to leave a mark.
Those are a few of the cons of composite deck railing, but unto the good stuff, the pros. What are the advantages of composite railing, and why you may want it on your next deck?
Pros of Composite Deck Railing
- Look and Feel of wood
- Offers a variety of colours
- Low Maintenance
- Often protected by multi-year warranties
- Environmentally friendly
- Easy to run and hide lighting wiring
- Can be curved for dramatic results
- Easy to work with
There is something about the classic look and feel of wood railing that we are attracted to, but with wood comes maintenance. Composite railing allows you to enjoy the look and feel of wood without the annual work. From large posts to the railing profile, at first glance, can easily be mistaken for wood. Appearance is a real plus of composite railing.
Composite railing cannot be painted but offers a wide variety of colours. Trex at the time of writing has seven different colour options available with their Transcend Railing line. Allowing you to blend the railing colours in with the house or complement the decking. From Trex, TimberTech, to Decorators, most major composite decking companies also offer composite railing that compliments their decking.
There is no other deck railing imitates wood better than composite without the maintenance. If you love the classic look of wood but want low maintenance, composite railing is a good choice. It does not need to be regularly painted or stained, the most time-consuming part of deck maintenance. More days on the deck enjoying it, less maintaining it.
Of the biggest pros of composite railing is durability. Composite railing won’t splinter, bow, or warp minimizing maintenance and keeping you railing looking great for many years. Composite material is designed to last, not weathering, decaying or being eaten by termites. Composite rail will last as long as the composite decking.
Speaking of lasting, composite railing from established companies like Trex and Timber Tech come with 25-year warranties. That’s a long time to enjoy your railing without worrying about it. And if something does go wrong, these companies have been around and will still be around to take care of defects that develop over time.
Composite railing is made from recycled material, making it an Environmentally friendly railing. Trex, one of the leaders in environmentally friendly products, uses a minimum of 40% recycled material. Material diverted away from landfills to beautiful railings.
Hiding deck lighting wires on the post is easy with composite railing. Post wire can easily be run through the hollow post sleeves. No extra cutting grooves to tuck the wire in, simply drop the wire through the sleeve to under the decking.
Not for a DIY project, but composite railing can be bent for dramatic results. Skilled composite deck builders with heating equipment can curve the railing to match the curves of the deck. An amazing look.
Another pro is with composite railing is no special tools are required. Composite railing can be modified and installed using the same woodworking tools as a wood railing. Also, it is easy to work with, similar to wood, except no sanding or painting required.
“No other Trex railing line offers the freedom to mix and match infill and rails like Trex Transcend.”Trex
This workability allows for a high level of customizability. Allowing you to create custom railing, specifically for you and your deck.The many Modular components allow custom-designed railing. Your railing need not look like everyone else’s.
Conclusion of Composite Deck Railing Pros and Cons
There are many reasons why you may choose composite railing. The classic railing look, low maintenance and durability are three of the biggest pros of composite. If you love the look of wood but don’t want the work, composite is a great option. Two of the most significant cons of composite railing are price and lack of structural strength, which show up in several ways. Composite railing requires more support and does not deal well with heat, possibly sagging or bending. With extreme heat from a grill, composite can also melt or discolour.