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What is Better PVC or Composite Decking?

Which is Better: Composite and PVC Decking?


Two of the most popular decking materials on the market today are plastic/polyvinylchloride (PVC) and Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) decking. While they share similarities, PVC decking is different from composite decking. If you are planning to build decking in your garden, you may have wondered, which is better, PVC or composite decking? What are their differences? Which one should you choose? To help you decide, we will look at the properties of each board and compare them.

PVC/Plastic decking

PVC decking is a flooring material that contains 100% plastic, unlike composite decking, which contains a mixture of two different materials. It is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and has a synthetic appearance. Plastic decking boards come in different sizes and colours and can be used for outdoor garden flooring.

WPC/Composite decking

Wood-plastic composite (WPC) is produced by mixing reclaimed wood fibres and recycled plastics. During production, composite decking undergoes a heating and bonding process, which is cooled to form composite decking boards. These are available in various sizes and colours.

The recycled plastics come from waste shampoo & detergent bottles, including plastic bags and buckets. The quality and how much plastic or wood is used depends on the brand of choice. Many composite manufacturers use lower-quality recycled plastics (LDPE) and wood fibres to reduce production and manufacturing costs. This is the key reason why superior quality composite decking boards are more expensive than others.

Now that you are aware of what WPC and PVC decking is, it is time to compare them. In this next segment, we will be reviewing the properties of the two types of decking, allowing us to reach a conclusion on which board is better.

Composite vs. Plastics: The Benefits

Surface Texture

Composite decking boards can be customised to look and feel like real wood during the manufacturing process. Homeowners who have used wood decking can tell that composite decking offers a similar texture to that of natural wood.

Plastic or PVC decking has an engineered synthetic surface which is the key difference when compared to composite decking. After comparing the surface texture of both materials, we can conclude that composite decking’s surface offers an improved natural wood feel and appearance to that of PVC decking.

Like any product composite and PVC decking are consistency being improved, the recent manufacturing changes in PVC are using an ASA top layer that does provided an improved wood grain appearance that are similar to indoor flooring. Composite decking on the other hand is using mixed colours as seen below and to your left, that truly capture the exotic wood look, the feel and visually appearance of composite decking for us is becoming more natural.

Appearance/aesthetics

Both materials, PVC and WPC, are available as wood-grain boards. Most homeowners find this feature desirable because it mimics the natural look of wood. The natural look of wood is commonly preferred because homeowners tend to like their decking blending in with the natural environment of their garden. Due to this, composite decking is the more aesthetically pleasing board.

Although PVC is available in a wood-grain style, its made with 100% plastics and for some it still has a synthetic appearance, its appearance as mentioned above is similar to that of indoor flooring. On the other hand, composite decking is partly made from wood. This provides composites with a more natural aesthetic, giving them a clear edge over PVC decking in appearance. If you are planning to build a new decking area and a natural wood-like appearance is important to you, then you should seriously consider purchasing composite decking.

Maintenance

WPC and PVC decking are both easy to maintain. Both decking materials do not require painting, sanding, or sealing like wooden decking. If there are any marks on PVC or WPC decking boards, most of the time, these can be easily wiped away using a cloth and hot soapy water.

In terms of maintenance, not one is better than the other when choosing composite or PVC decking. Both require little maintenance, and you don’t need to spend a large amount of money maintaining both of these decking materials. All you need to do to maintain the appearance of your composite decking and PVC decking is regularly clean it using hot soapy water and a soft-bristle brush.

Expansion and contraction

When it comes to how much the boards expand and contract, composites are better. Both generations of composite decking out perform PVC on linear thermal expansion coefficient, what you maybe surprised at knowing is capped composite boards out performs uncapped boards on test results. Capped (PE surface layer) boards on test results produce on average 33/36 x 10-6/K, where uncapped boards on average can range from 40 /46 x 10-6/K . On the other hand, PVC scores on average 70/80 × 10-6/K, making it more susceptible to high temperatures, which will cause it to expand and even weaken or wrap over time. If you are located in an area with high temperatures, it maybe best to choose to install composite decking.

Eco-friendliness

When it comes to choosing a decking area, a priority for many is how environmentally friendly the material is. In this regard, both PVC and composites are becoming more environmentally friendly as manufacturers strive to use recycled materials.

When reviewing how environmentally friendly anything is, it is important to consider recyclability, years of use and production. For this, composite is better than PVC.  Composites are a mixture of wood and plastic that recently can be recycled with specialised equipment to separate. PVC is all-plastic and is not environmentally friendly, its not great for the environment during production, after or when being recycled. PVC can pollute soil and the surrounding air, especially when being burnt.

Weight

Solid composite boards are heavier than PVC decking boards and the former (solid composites) will require a stronger frame to support the added weight. This means more materials are required to build the subframe, and joist centres will need to be placed closer together. However, some manufacturers offer hollow composites, which are significantly lighter. Hollow composites are similar in weight to PVC decking. Generally, PVC is the lighter material of the two.

Safety

Safety is definitely something you will want to consider when looking to purchase decking. Some boards are safer than others, but one of the fundamental issues with wood and other types of decking is slipping. For this, composite decking is better than PVC decking and wood, especially when wet. Composite decking has anti-slip properties. Furthermore, many brands of composite decking boards feature a wood-like grain. A wood grain texture not only adds to the appearance but also adds to its safety. Please note surface treatment after production makes a huge different on slip and scratch performance with composites.

Wood grains on certain brands of composites produce friction, thereby reducing smoothness. Boards that have an embossed surface finish are safer, and the boards have more texture, thus creating more friction and reducing the chance that you will slip on your decking.

If you are building a decking area in which you cannot avoid getting wet, then composite decking is probably the best and safest option for you. Safety may be one of your biggest concerns when it comes to decking, and this is understandable. If this is the case, composite decking is an ideal choice.

Composite vs. Plastic: Which is Cheaper?

Many homeowners want to save as much money as possible when making home improvements. So, when building a decking, you’ll want to get the best value for your money without compromising on quality. For this reason, we recommend composite decking as it offers great quality and a cost-effective solution.

PVC decking is more expensive than composite decking. Composite decking tends to be around £36.10 to £80 per square metre, whereas PVC decking tends to be £70 to £125 per square metre. If you are on a budget, but you still want a great quality board, then composite decking is perhaps the best option to go for. You may be able to get PVC decking boards for slightly cheaper at around £20.14 per 1.5m board. However, it is important to remember that price reflects quality in most cases and pay attention to the dimensions (length and width) and per sqm price overall. The price of your decking boards is dependent on the brand you purchase from and the quality of the boards.

Brand and Quality Matters

One of the factors that may affect the prices of both composites and PVC is the brand. Many top brands of PVC, such as AZEK, produce different tiers of plastic decking materials. Likewise, companies such as TimberTech also have various product line-ups at different price ranges. This is why PVC has a larger price range for the cost per square metre, as various PVC decking line-ups vary in quality.

Naturally, the higher the quality of the materials, the more expensive they will be. Meaning that you can’t compare a top-quality PVC with an average-tier composite and vice-versa. Higher composite decking materials will be more expensive than average-tier PVC, and vice versa. To truly know what they’re worth, you’ll have to compare products of the same price range and quality. With that said, you may have to look at reviews on the internet to reach a conclusion.

Which One Should You Choose?

Both PVC and composites have similar advantages. They are both better than wood when it comes to durability. PVC and WPC decking are both resistant to moisture, mould, rotting, and splintering. Another advantage of WPC and PVC decking is that they’re low maintenance with very minimal upkeep costs. Eventually, you’ll spend more money on a wooden deck than a PVC or composite deck due to the high maintenance costs.

Plastic decking has one weakness that high-quality composites don’t have. As mentioned above PVC is susceptible to high temperatures, which can cause it to expand, warp and even weaken over time. While composites may experience thermal expansion as well, due to their plastic content, they hold their shape and strength better than PVC. Because of this, it may be a better choice to use WPC decking in places with high temperatures.

Arguably, the natural aesthetic of WPC decking makes it advantageous over PVC. Unlike plastic decks, composite decks look more natural and wood-like. Some have unique grain patterns and textures that capture the essence and aesthetics of wood. While some PVC decking boards may come close to imitating wood, they still have a synthetic look.

It is important to remember that there is no right answer. Everybody’s project is different, so people will look for different properties in decking. However, we have found that the majority of homeowners want a beautiful, durable, and relatively cheap decking solution. If this is you, then we recommend composite decking, as it ticks all of these boxes.

Conclusion

Both PVC and composites are excellent materials for decking. Most of the time, PVC will be more expensive than composites, but there are exceptions. When it comes to value, composites offer similar durability to PVC decking whilst also being more aesthetically pleasing than plastic decking and usually cheaper.

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