Got PVC? A new category of decking products is hitting the market to help meet the needs and wants of customers, but they aren't perfect for everyone.
PVC decking provides a long list of benefits over composite products–more stain, scratch, and mold resistance; better color retention; improved weather resistance; higher fire ratings–making it perfect for customers who crave durability. But the glossiness of plastic means the PVC planks may not measure up on the aesthetics side. Also, because the PVC products are made from virgin materials, they cost more than some composites.
"While PVC decking continues to grow in popularity, driven by the low maintenance need, it won't replace the wood-plastic composite market," says Steve Harshbarger, product manager of decking for TimberTech. "You have to offer specialized products for specialized needs, and PVC addresses some needs that composites do not."
PVC boards owe most of their strength to the fact that they lack wood fibers, the culprit behind many of composite's weaknesses, such as staining, fading, and mold growth.
"Some of the differences with our PVC products is that we have a glass fiber in there, and we don't have an organic filler," says Adam Zambanini, senior product manager of decking for Trex. "The organic fillers are not as good over time, when you start looking at mold and mildew and stuff like that."
Catering to homeowners who want to do little in the way of deck upkeep, a slew of manufacturers has released PVC products. Trex offers Trex Escapes, made with cellular PVC and glass fiber. Azek has its Azek Deck, which contains flax fibers to help the cellular PVC resist expanding and contracting. TimberTech's XLM expanded polymer decking features a solid cap to improve structural integrity. WeatherReady decking from Gossen is made from solid-core cellular PVC, and fiberon Sanctuary decking contains a foamed, cellular PVC core.
However, plastic decking does come with some challenges. The glossiness of vinyl means manufacturers have to ensure planks don't look shiny. Azek president Ralph Bruno says the flax fiber in the decks helps battle the sheen. He also says the company will introduce darker colors in 2009.
Harshbarger says TimberTech created a more realistic look with XLM's new Desert Bronze color. It sports color streaks to look more like tropical hardwood decking, the manufacturer says.
Also, instead of being able to contain some recycled content like composite decking, PVC decks need to be made with virgin materials. That brings the cost up to around the level of higher-end composites. This also means PVC lines can't boast some environmental benefits that composites can.
Zambanini says Trex defines its composite lines as green. The lines contain waste wood fibers and reclaimed polyethylene. But the company doesn't give its PVC lines the same distinction, he says, because nothing gets recycled in their manufacture.
In the end, it comes down to what traits users want most. If the fear that a deck might fade or stain drives a consumer crazy, PVC might be the material they were waiting for.
"People always have a preference," Zambanini says. "When it comes down to it, on the PVC side, it's a lower maintenance product. That's why someone would make that investment."