PVC's natural water-resistance makes it a good fit for use in baths
Versatex PVC's natural water-resistance makes it a good fit for use in baths

Though gaining ground as an alternative to traditional wood, most industry estimates give cellular PVC only about 10% of the market for exterior trim. That leaves plenty of room for sales growth—but manufacturers also are seeing potential on the inside of the house. And contractors who are using the material for interior trim say it really earns its keep for certain applications.

One development causing contractors to consider PVC for interior work is the growing number of available profiles. Manufacturers have introduced a variety of moldings, along with sheet goods, bead board, and pre-made corners. And of course, dealers’ custom mill divisions will make nearly any molding profile a customer wants. While these products weren’t specifically created for indoor work, they make it easier for contractors to specify PVC for that application. 

While some manufacturers seem uninterested in the indoor market (a couple of them wouldn’t even talk with us), others, like Versatex, are actively staking a claim to it. “We believe it offers a lot of potential,” says Rick Kapres, the company’s VP of sales. 

Moving Up, Looking In

Jonathan Wierengo, VP of marketing with Kleer, says that the percentage of product being used indoors is still a small slice of total sales, but is definitely growing.

“We’re seeing contractors use it in kitchens as well as in baths,” he says. 

Improvements in product quality have made it more suitable for these applications, where customers tend to have higher aesthetic requirements than they do for exterior trim. “We’ve made some enhancements to our formulation, including a tighter cell structure and a better seal edge,” Wierengo adds.

And though PVC accepts paint very well, if the trim will be white it may not need to be painted—depending on how much customers like the look of the bare product. That’s where brand nuances come into play. 

For instance, Gary Katz, a frequent contributor to the Journal of Light Construction and moderator of the JLC Online finish-carpentry forum, prefers Versatex for interior work, specifically for its hue. “It’s not mirror-glossy like some other brands,” he says. “It also has sharp, clean corners and nice edges that mill beautifully with a router bit.” 

Moisture Barrier

One strong incentive to use PVC in kitchens and baths: The material’s imperviousness to water makes it a natural choice for trimming around sinks, bathtubs, and showers. 

John Seifert, a luxury home builder and renovator based on the eastern end of Long Island, has been trimming his homes’ exteriors with PVC for several years and recently started using it indoors. Seifert uses cellular PVC for the insides of his clients’ pool houses, as well as for trim and wainscoting near shower areas in the main part of the home. 

Seifert likes to use V-groove PVC boards and moldings to create a half-wall wainscoting or full-length panels. “We’re able to bring the trim all the way to the floor deck without worrying about water wicking up into the boards,” he says. He uses PVC molding profiles to cap the wainscoting and to trim out windows and mirrors. 

A Consistent Advantage
The fact that PVC is unaffected by changes in humidity is another selling point. Paul Miele, vice president and general sales manager at K-I Lumber in Louisville, Ky., says the area’s high humidity swings can cause unacceptable expansion and contraction in wood trim, even when used indoors. 

The company’s mill division has used Kleer PVC lumber to make everything “from Chippendale rails to raised panels” for use indoors and out. In addition, the contractor doesn’t have to acclimate the material to the home’s interior moisture content, as is necessary with wood trim.

How about PVC’s tendency to expand and contract with changes in temperature? That should be less of a problem indoors. “In most homes, the temperature difference isn’t much more than 10 degrees between winter and summer, so there’s basically no expansion and contraction,” Kapres says. 

Even if the home will see big temperature swings (a summer home that’s unheated in winter, for example), interior trim runs tend to be shorter than exterior runs, making the potential for movement much less. “If it’s installed when the temperature is anywhere near 70 degrees, it’s unlikely to move much later on,” says Katz.

Long interior trim pieces also can be detailed to hide any movement. For instance, Seifert says that he has used vertical tongue-and-groove boards to cover the faces of 10-foot-high walls. Any potential movement is hidden by a crown molding at the ceiling and by a 1x6 baseboard. 

Show, Then Tell
Since it’s still a small market, dealers may have to take the lead to interest pro customers in considering PVC for indoor use. Kapres says that dealers have had success with a basic show-and-tell approach. 

“They will use a PVC wainscoting at the contractor desk or a crown molding in the showroom,” he says. That opens the door to talk with customers who have questions about the product. 

PVC does come at a premium compared with pine, but cost concerns can be addressed by emphasizing the material’s advantages. Kapres suggests pointing out that it reduces callbacks for moisture problems and that it doesn’t need to be painted if the job calls for white trim. “It’s a simple matter of planting seeds,” he says.

Seifert says that while his clients do pay close attention to cost, they’re willing to spend more where it makes sense, which it does in this case. “If I educate them on how the advantages of PVC trim will pay off in the long run, they are almost always receptive,” he says.