Over the years, decking has primarily been made from wood.
However, nowadays, non-wood alternatives have become extremely popular thanks to their low maintenance and durability.
With wood decking, you can choose from a variety of different materials, presure-treated, cedar, ipe and redwood just to name a few.
But, two of the most popular alternative materials to wooden decking are vinyl (also known as PVC, PolyVinyl Chloride) and composite.
While wood is the most natural product, vinyl and composite are artificial materials.
If you’re planning on building a beautiful deck to lounge on with family and friends, the first decision you’ll need to make is what material it should be made out of.
If low maintenance and durability are top priorities then synthetic is most likely your best option.
Which leaves you to choose between composite and vinyl (PVC) decking.
Choosing depends on a variety of factors, such as your budget, the style of decking you desire, and how much maintenance you wish to do.
To help you decide what low-maintenance material best suits your deck, we have compiled this comparison guide between vinyl and composite.
We will compare the pros and cons of both and discuss the differences. In just a few minutes, you should be in a better position to make an informed decision on the future of your decking.
Vinyl VS Composite Decking: The Differences
The first thing you’ll need to understand is the differences between composite and vinyl decking materials.
Although they are relatively similar to one another, there are some key differences to consider.
Vinyl refers to a couple of types of decking:
- Decking made from sheets of vinyl
- Decking made from boards
Of course, most of us will immediately think of vinyl sheets when talking about vinyl decking, but the boards are made from the same vinyl material, also known as PVC (polyvinyl chloride).
This is a synthetic thermoplastic material and its flexibility is often used in insulation, hosepipes, and parts of shoes. But, PVC can also be rigid.
In this form, it is used for moulded items.
PVC decking boards tend to be more sturdy and long-lasting than their sheet counterparts. But, both are considered durable.
Some of the leading companies that manufacture vinyl decking boards are Fiberon PVC lines, and TimberTech’s Azek collection but brands like Wolf and Zuri exclusively make vinyl decking.
As for composite decking, this is not made purely from plastic.
While vinyl is made from plastic, composite decking contains wood fibres, as well as plastic polymers.
There are other types of composite decking. A blend of plastic and bamboo, rice hulls, fibreglass and mineral to name a few. Most offer decking advantages to wood-based composites.
But wood-based composite is the most common. The big three composite brands Fiberon, Timbertech and Trex manufacture wood-based composites. Which dominates the composite decking market and the most likely ones you will have available at your local store.
There are also organic fillers and other minerals within the composition of this material.
When opting for composite decking, you also have a choice between:
- Interlocking tiles
- Decking boards
Both have very similar durability and what you choose depends on the design and level of maintenance you desire.
Interlocking tiles are limited to being installed above existing decking or patios. As they have minimum structural strength.
Where composite decking boards are considered to also be limited in structural strength but can span over joists and are ideal for new construction or redecking an existing deck substructure.
When we consider the construction and design of vinyl and composite decking, both are quite similar.
But, we start to see differences when we explore the performance of both materials.
Vinyl VS Composite Decking: Durability
When choosing what material to use, one of the main priorities is how durable it is.
Fortunately, both vinyl and composite decking are considered extremely durable.
Vinyl is more Resistance to Moisture than Composite
But comparing vinyl and composite decking, vinyl is more resistant to rot and moisture.
Their advantage is no organic material.
There is nothing in vinyl deck boards that can absorb water and rot. Being entirely made of non-organic material.
This is why unlike wood-based composite decking vinyl decking can often be installed near or in water or the ground. One exception is Moistureshield with its patent encapsulating of its wood fibres. But for most composite decking a minimum of 6″ (150mm) clearance from water or ground is required to prevent damage.
On the flip side.
Composite is better with temperature change.
Composite is More Stable to Temperature Change than Vinyl Decking
One of the challenges with vinyl decking is high levels of expansion and contraction which need to be accounted for during construction.
Composite decking also needs gaps between boards and end joints but they can be smaller than vinyl. As the boards fluctuate less with temperature change.
The wood fibres make the boards more stable.
One of the most stable composite boards is Deckorators a mineral-based composite. With almost no temperature change.
So for durability.
Vinyl decking is better for rain and high-moisture areas.
Composite is better for areas with temperature swings. If your deck is hot in the afternoon, but cool at night composite will adjust better.
Generally, vinyl decking will be cooler to the touch than most composites. But that’s a different story.
Vinyl vs Composite Decking: Warranty
Closely related to durability is warranty. The longer the warranty, and the more that it is covered the more you can rest assured your decking will last.
Well, this gets a little complicated.
Fiberon and MoistureShield have the longest and most comprehensive warranties for synthetic decking. Both composite and vinyl decking. Including fade, stain and a structural 50-year warranty. Whihc
But most composite decking only has a 25-year warranty whereas many vinyl decking is guaranteed for 50 years.
So as a group, vinyl decking has a better warranty than composite decking.
But know there are exceptions. There are composite decking with a better warranty than vinyl.
For a fuller discussion and ranking of the best composite decking for warranties, including vinyl, click the link. Where I go into much more detail about the differences between warranties and lengths of different brands and materials.
Vinyl VS Composite Decking: Aesthetics
Yes, both vinyl and composite decking have many similarities, in terms of appearance. Both are commonly wrapped with a polymer cap. Protecting the core while enhancing appearance.
While the cap is essential for the durability of both decking materials it adds a significant cost to the deck boards. A large part of this cost is in the blending of colours, streaking, texture and other appearance-enhancing effects.
So because most vinyl decking is more expensive than composite decking it also includes better-looking caps.
Often imitating exotic woods or other intriguing designs. Adding a wow factor to your deck.
If you want your decking to look as close to wood as possible, then vinyl is the best option.
Whereas most composite decking will look more like painted deck boards.
A more traditional look but without the wow factor of exotic boards.
What look you choose is your personal preference. If you want something that looks more like traditional painted deck boards. There are many composite deck boards to choose from.
If you are looking for a more exotic look of clear coated wood boards there will be more options among vinyl decking.
But it will cost you more.
Vinyl VS Composite Decking: Price
Most of us have a budget in mind when building a deck, or any home improvement.
Therefore, a vital factor to consider is the cost of the different materials.
If you look over a list of composite decking board costs ordered by price. You will find most of the composite deck boards on the lower end, with most of the vinyl (PVC) on the higher range.
So if price is a factor, consider composite decking. Generally, it will cost you less than vinyl decking. With many boards like Trex Enhance line or Fiberon Goodlife competitively priced with pressure-treated wood decking. But without all the maintenance. Even Deckoroators trailhead (WBC) and TimberTech prime+ collections are very economical.
Whereas with Vinyl decking you are looking on the higher end. Often costing $5+ a lineal foot. More than double the economical lines of composite.
There are many wood composites that also cost around $5 a foot like Trex Transcend and Fiberon Concordia. But these are the upper end of composite deck boards. The best looking and most durable of their decking.
Of course, there are always exceptions.
Like Wolf Serenity. A vinyl (PVC) deck board that is priced lower than many composite deck boards.
But as a general rule. Composite will cost less, Vinyl will be more expensive.
but the good news with both is.
They don’t require painting and staining over the years, so you can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars on upkeep in the long run.
Vinyl (PVC) Decking Pros And Cons
Vinyl is practically maintenance-free and boasts a luxurious, smart appearance and feel.
It is available in a variety of colours, with some designed with a wood-grain pattern for rustic appeal.
Here are the main pros and cons of vinyl decking:
- Low level of maintenance required (no painting or staining needed)
- Durable and usually comes with a lifetime warranty
- Will not grow mould or rot
- Provides an upscale, smart look
- Resistant to water
- One of the most resistant materials to colour fading
- Less susceptible to marks and damage
- The most expensive decking material
If you want to learn more about the advantages of PVC decking over composite decking, click the link.
Composite Decking Pros And Cons
Composite decking has many pros and cons. Many of these pros are when compared to wood decking. Which is what attracts us to composite decking in the first place.
But here are a few top pros and cons of composite decking:
- Price point
- Lasts for a very long time
- Will never grow mould or rot
- Low level of maintenance required (no re-painting or re-staining)
- The boards are prone to being scratched
- Hot in direct sunlight
In Summary – What Material Is Best?
Vinyl and composite materials are both excellent choices for non-wood decking. Both are more durable and cost-efficient in the long run.
Composite decking is slightly cheaper than vinyl material, and more resistant to warping under high temperatures.
Vinyl decking is better for high-moisture areas, cooler to the touch, and are backed by longer warranties. And look more like exotic wood.
But which one is best for your deck?
It may help to check out Best Composite Decking Brands to better understand which decking is best in different situations.