Composite vs Wood vs PVC Decking: Which is Better and How Much They Cost

Homeowners interested in building a deck for their home have more options at their disposal today than ever before. With that in mind, traditional wood, composite planks, and PVC decking are by far the most popular choices. They are also three materials that are completely different from one another. In this comparison guide, we will touch on each material and tell you what you can expect so that you can make an informed buying decision.

Wood Decking

Wood Deck

When you want a deck that’s just as natural as the outdoors, wooden deck boards are your best option. Traditional wood comes in a variety of sizes, from narrow to wide boards. While you can technically use any type of wood for a deck, there are certain species that are ideal for outdoor usage, while others aren’t cost-effective or don’t hold up well under the weather.

Redwood, Cedar, and pressure-treated lumber are the kinds of lumber used in decks across the United States. Pressure-treated lumber is the cheapest, but is also infused with chemicals that make it resistant to weathering. Redwood and Cedar are both naturally resistant to damage from insects and will last longer than any other type of lumber outdoors without chemical treatment.

While that may seem ideal, both are expensive and can be hard to acquire, depending on where you live. Redwood is the sturdier of the two but typically costs more if you live on the East Coast. Oak and Black Locust have been used with some regularity as well, but again, the cost can be an issue along with warping if the lumber isn’t naturally resistant to the outdoors to a degree.

Tropical hardwoods are another alternative, and much harder than domestic species like Cedar or Redwood. Cumaru, Tigerwood, and IPE are the most popular choices for tropical species. IPE or Brazilian Walnut is the easiest to obtain, and all are considerably more expensive but most structurally sound than their domestic counterparts.

Composite Decking

composite decking

Composite decking is available from dozens of manufacturers and comes in several widths as well. While it’s designed to resemble natural wood, it’s actually made from a mixture of plastic and wood fibers. What’s in the boards varies by brand, but it is a distinctive product that stands out from traditional wood decking or PVC planks.

This type of decking comes in two main formats but in dozens of styles and colors. Capped composite boards have an additional layer of protection in the form of a PVC shell but come at a premium compared to uncapped composite deck boards. You can learn more about the top composite decking brands in our guide, but the important thing to keep in mind is quality, given the number of manufacturers producing composite planks.

PVC Decking

PVC decking

PVC decking is on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to realism when compared to wood or even composite deck boards. These planks are made from a mix of PVC plastic with no wood filler or byproducts. They have a unique look and are extremely resilient in the weather outdoors because of their inorganic nature.

There is only one main style of PVC decking, but it’s available in two forms with capped and uncapped PVC decking.The latter provides more protection at a premium, while uncapped boards are cheaper. This type of decking isn’t as strong as wooden or composite deck boards from a structural standpoint, but they are lightweight and easier to maintain.

Decking Style

Are you the type of homeowner that’s comfortable with the same design or colors for decades, or do you like to change up the look around your home frequently? That can have a major impact on the type of decking you should choose.

While you can design a deck with any of the materials on our list, PVC is a little more forgiving if you intend to involve any radiuses in your plans. We also found more vibrant colors and more varied hues with PVC decking. Considering the overall selection is much smaller, that’s important if you are considering PVC decking for your home.

With wood decking, the color palette consists of browns, although a few have a slightly reddish hue. Wood can be stained, however, which opens the door to an endless array of possibilities. From Blue and Black to Bone White, there is an option for everyone. That said, some colors hold up better than others with UV exposure, and there are plenty of clear options that allow the color of your wood deck to show through.

Composite decking may be made from a mix of plastic and wood, but there are dozens of colors available. Greys, Browns, and Blues are the most popular hues, although there are some more vibrant colors on the market as well. It’s also possible to paint or stain composite decking,  but it all depends on the brand and requires a considerable amount of prep work beforehand.

Construction

Things are a more clear cut when it comes to construction and durability of decking materials. None will hold a candle to an aluminum deck where longevity is concerned, but wood, composite, and PVC decking can all last 20 years or more when you perform seasonal maintenance.

Wood is the winner with strength and dimension stability, but composite boards perform better than some species of natural wood. Hybrid materials can bring unique properties to the table, so composite boards can be scalloped, but still quite strong.

PVC decking is durable as well, but can’t handle the same weight as a deck built from wooden or composite boards. These boards can have 3 or 4-sided protection from the cap on top, just like composite decking. They are the lightest type of decking to deal with if you plan to do it yourself, however.

Sizing

There isn’t a lot of variance when it comes to sizing as most homeowners use standard or wide deck boards. A few companies carry odd sizes, but unlike flooring, the dimensions for decking tend to follow tighter standards across the board.

With that in mind, composite and PVC decking typically come in 12’, 16’ or 20’ lengths. They also have similar profiles, although composite decking can be scalloped or dual-sided. A scalloped board has the bottom cut out, which makes it lightweight, but means you can only use one side. It’s also not uncommon to find composite decking with grooved edges to accommodate a hidden fastening system.

With natural wood, you can find deck boards anywhere from 8’ to 20’ in length and in varying widths as well. The options are broader with pressure-treated lumber, and you can purchase your framing material and deck boards in one trip. Custom deck boards from a mill are an option with natural wood as well.

Installation

If you plan to have your deck installed by a professional, you may believe it’s safe to skip ahead to the next section in our guide, as installation may not be a major concern. Well, that would be a mistake unless you aren’t worried about the budget of your decking project.

Even pros can have trouble with some types of materials, and the scope of your project could increase the time it takes to get the job done. That will raise the overall cost of your project. If time is a concern, wood or composite decking are the best choices.

Long before composite materials or plastic existed, wood was the primary building material. Given the advancements in tool technology, it’s also easier to work with than ever before. If you’re comfortable using a powered saw, cordless drill, tape measure, and level, you may be able to build a deck yourself.

Professionals will definitely not have a problem working with this material, although composite decking isn’t far behind wood when it comes to ease of installation. These boards can be heavier, however, and some hidden fastener systems can be difficult to install, despite how great they look. The same general tools are used, and you can even rip cut a composite board just like a regular plank provided it’s solid – not hollow or scalloped.

PVC decking isn’t exactly difficult to install, but it is “different” and something most homeowners don’t attempt to take on themselves. Mistakes can be expensive, and cuts need to be handled a bit differently. This is where you’ll want to consider a warranty as well. Composite and PVC boards come with a degree of coverage but may need to be installed by a professional for you to take advantage of it.

Fade Resistance

Sunlight and UV rays can wreak havoc on your patio furniture or the paint job on your car. It’s safe to say it can do the same thing to your deck, and it’s not unusual to see a new deck begin to weather within the first year. Fade resistance is something that can vary wildly from one product and brand to the next, but some forms of decking hold up better than others when exposed to the sun on a daily basis.

Natural wood can take the most damage from the sun but is also the easiest to repair or protect. Sealer with UV protection is affordable, and something that typically only needs to be applied every few years. Fade resistance on composite deck boards range from fair to excellent, and largely depends on the brand and quality of their product line or collection.

The same rules apply to PVC decking, although most products have better fade resistance than composite boards in the same range. With higher quality synthetic decking, you can often find companies that guarantee fade resistance for periods between 10 to 20 years.

Stain Resistance

Decks are often used for cookouts or lying in the sun along with casual lounging in the spring, summer, and fall. Whether your deck surrounds a swimming pool or is just an extension off the back of your home, stains are something every homeowner will have to deal with.

Stains can occur from things like condiments, suntan lotion, or bird droppings. Grease from a grill has damaged many decks over the years, and the same goes for deck boards damaged by heavy dogs with untrimmed nails. Stain resistance is high on both composite and PVC decking, and excellent on boards that are capped.

Some substances and even floor mats can damage synthetic decking, whereas you can sand a refinish a bad stain on a wooden deck. That said, wooden decking isn’t nearly as stain-resistant as PVC or composite decking, even with several layers of high-quality protection from a sealer or stain.

Maintenance

Regardless of whether a deck is made from pressure-treated wood, composite decking, or PVC planks, you will have to perform routine maintenance if you want to keep your keep looking its best. Due to the way it’s designed and the fact it’s often capped, PVC is the easiest type of decking to maintain on a yearly basis.

You can wipe up liquids with a wet rag with PVC decking. As these boards are plastic, there’s no chance for stains to set within the grain. Depending on the conditions around your property, a quick rinse with a water hose once a month could be the toughest type of cleaning you are likely to encounter with PVC decking.

Composite decks are also easy to maintain. Just like with PVC decking, they don’t require stain or sealant, just an occasional rinse. As there are more texturing on the surface of these planks, they can be harder to clean, depending on the style. They are far from challenging to upkeep, however, as long as you don’t let dirt and debris build up.

Wooden decking is the hardest to maintain and also the most expensive over time because you will need to seal or stain it every few years. You’ll also need to power wash the deck before applying fresh coats, and as mentioned, it is more prone to staining but easier to repair. Simply put, synthetic decking is easier to maintain but difficult to impossible to repair while the opposite is true for wooden decks.

Warranty

The warranty process largely applies to PVC and composite decking as you won’t find much of a guarantee with deck boards you pick out yourself from Home Depot or Lowes. You will get a guarantee with all composite and PVC decking, although how long depends on the brand and the price.

In our research, we found that most PVC decking manufacturers provide a stain and fade resistance guarantee between 30 to 50 years. By comparison, composite deck boards of around the same quality average 20 to 30 years. That’s just one part of the warranty, as you also have to pay attention to the structural guarantee.

PVC decking has a longer structural warranty than composite deck boards. Several companies offer limited lifetime guarantees or 50-year warranties for PVC planks, while composites come in at 20 to 35 years. As for wood, you can pressure-treated lumber is guaranteed to be resistant to rot and termites, but the only other guarantee you’ll get will be from the contractor using the wood.

The Green Factor

Choosing a deck made from plastic may not seem like the most eco-friendly option, but companies have come a long way in making their products greener in recent years. In fact, there are a handful of companies that have their own recycling programs or ensure their products can be recycled once your deck has reached the end of its lifespan.

That said, there is still an environmental toll from the manufacturing process along with the fact that chemicals and plastic are used to a degree. Composite decking tends to be “greener” than PVC decking, but again, it all boils down the brand, their manufacturing process, and practices. Wood may seem like the ideal choice for obvious reasons, but there are still several areas to be concerned about.

Wood can be repurposed in a number of ways once it’s reached the end of its lifespan. If choosing an exotic species, you will want to make sure the wood has been harvested in a responsible fashion, however. Pressure-treated lumber can’t be recycled like normal wood, and will need to be disposed of separately according to the rules and regulations in the city or county where you live.

Pricing & Availability

Our table gives you a rough idea of what to expect when it comes to pricing, but that’s just a small sample of what’s available on the market today. We also chose 12” lengths and standard width deck boards. That means boards that are wider or longer can cost considerably more – especially with PVC and composite decking.

With availability, you can purchase pressure-treated wood almost anywhere in the United States, whether you live in a small county or major metropolitan area. Big box retailers like Lowes and Home Depot typically have it in stock, along with local hardware stores and deck dealers.

If you’re interested in purchasing PVC decking, your options are limited locally and online. There are a few reputable dealers that will ship PVC decking without breaking the bank, but your best bet is to order them locally. The same goes for composite decking, although you can find some brands through large local retailers and hardware stores.

Brands

Type

Colors

Stain&Fade Warranty

Structural Warranty

12' Board Pricing

Fieron Paramount

Capped PVC

4

50 years

Lifetime

$57-$65

Weather Shield Prime CG

Pressure-Treated

N/A

N/A

Lifetime Termite&Rot

$24-$30

Timber Tech Pro

Capped Composite

16

30 years

30 years

$40-$70

IPE Pre-Grooved FAS

Brazilian Walnut

N/A

N/A

N/A

$4.91/linealft.

Moisture Shield Vision

Capped Composite

3 to 5

50 years

50 years

$57-$65

Trex Transcend

Composite

10

25 years

25 years

$56-$65

Timber Tech AZEK

Capped PVC

26

50 years

Lifetime

$60-$85

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, composite vs. wood vs. PVC decking all comes down to what you want out of a deck. If you’re looking for something easy to maintain, and don’t mind sticking with one color for decades, PVC is an interesting choice. Composite decks are also easy to maintain, but can be stained with some effort and are more cost-effective.

They don’t have as strong of a warranty, and you won’t get any real guarantee with wood, although your color options are endless. Consider your wants and needs vs. your budget in order to find the perfect deck for your home, and check out our ultimate decking guide if you’re looking for more insight into any of these materials.

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