Composite vs. PVC Decking: Which One is Best?

You may hear the words composite and PVC decking thrown around, but what do they mean and which is best for you. We explain and compare the two types of decking.
Composite vs PVC decking

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Do you want a deck for your home? If so, then there are many different options to choose from.

You may be wondering which type of material is best for you: composite or PVC?

Composite and PVC are both made from synthetic materials, but they have some key differences that make them stand out against each other.

This article will discuss the difference between composite and PVC decking to help you decide which one is right for you!

What is composite decking?

Composite decking is made from synthetic materials such as wood fibre, resins and plastic.

Composite decking is made using a co-extrusion process where all of the raw materials are combined and then introduced into an extruder that melts the mixture.

The molten material passes through a “die” which forms it into boards.

Composite decking comes in two types, capped and uncapped.

The “cap” referrers to as surface layer of more durable plastics which is added to enhance the lifespan. Composite capped decks are typically made to look like traditional wood while uncapped decks have a rough, granular texture and come in many colours.

What is PVC decking?

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl) is an economic and versatile thermoplastic polymer that can be used for a variety of different products. Polyvinyl Chloride offers exceptional durability, weatherability, chemical resistance, light weight-weight properties as well as flexibility.

PVC decking is an economical and durable option for your garden. Made from 100% plastic, PVC is available in many colours and styles.

Key differences between composite and PVC decking

Style and colour

Various colours of decking board

The newest version of PVC decking is a vast improvement on the old plastic looking PVC which faded and looked naff very quickly. Now PVC decking can mimic wood as well as composite decking can.

Both coloured and formed in a similar way and use many of the same materials so the available finish can be almost identical.

Composite has an advantage in this area in the long run as the wooden fibres will age naturally, giving it a more authentic look than the fade which comes from pure plastic.

Another advantage that composite decking has over PVC is its popularity. This has driven more suppliers to create more variety than even before. The range of styles, types and colours of composite decking is far larger than the limited range of PVC decking available.

Cost

For hollow decking boards PVC and composite decking come in about the same at around £60 per square meter.

Its hard to find any examples of solid PVC decking so it may not be commercially available.

Sustainability

Plastic ready to be recycled

Both composite and PVC decking are made from recycled products with composite decking being made from wood and plastic and PVD decking being made from 100% plastic.

As all of these materials are recycled both types of decking could be seen as fairly sustainable but surprisingly PVC is actually more sustainable.

The reason for this is that PVC decking can be recycled again, some products are theoretically infinitely recyclable. Composite decking on the other hand is impossible to recycle as the wood fibres will not survive the process.

UV resistance

10 years ago this would have been a clear win for composite decking however in recent years PVC has improved its resistance to UV and much more durable.

More expensive capped composite decking will be much more UV resistant but less expensive PVC decking will still last well.

Shrinkage and expansion

Expansion gaps in decking

The natural wood fibres in composite decking will expand and contract by a small amount but generally there is never more than a few millimetres of expansion in any one board. We can thank our rather cold climate for this.

Is PVC board on the other hand expansion can quickly become an issue.

PVC decking often changes size quite drastically as a result of extreme temperatures, causing it to expand and contract.

On a particularly hot and sunny day, not only will the plastic radiate heat for bare feet to walk on but expansions could also damage the decking if not fitted expertly.

Weight

The weight of your decking boards is important for two reasons; 1) Building the decking and 2) the feel underfoot.

When you are building decking lighter decking is easier to work with. for this, the much lighter PVC decking is fantastic.

If you are looking for a deck that feels more sturdy underfoot, then composite boards will be the better option as they we much heavier than PVC alternatives.

Heat resistance

Grey, dark grey, darker grey and black (and darker black) are the in colours for decking at the moment. They can give a great clean contemporary look but these dark colours also get hot in the sun.

There is no noticeable difference between the heat resistance of composite and PVC decking. Both get very hot when compared to wooden decking.

In the summer, darker colours will heat up faster than lighter ones. If you don’t want your composite deck to get too hot in the sun, choose a light colour like white or grey!

Slip resistance

Composite decking is more slip resistant than PVC. Composite boards are rougher and denser so they have a better grip on the foot, while PVC decking is smoother which creates less friction.

PVC decking has come along way in creating slip resistant surfaces and will still be very good overall but without the rougher texture create by the wood in composite decking it will be a little slicker.

Another factor to consider with slip resistance is mould and algae resistance.

Mould and algae resistance

Slippery wooden decking

Mould and algae can make decking slippery and damage it over time.

Both composite and PVC decking are highly resistant to mould and algae.

Composite decking has the disadvantage of having rougher surfaces and pours in the wood which means it is slightly easier for mould and algae to take hold.

PVC on the other hand has nothing for mould and algae to latch onto or feed on.

As long as you keep your decking clean PVC will likely never see mould or algae.

I should stress that this is a minor point as most composite decking will never get mould or algae if it is cleaned properly. Its just that PVC is that little bit better in this area.

Lifespan

Overall composite decking can have a much longer lifespan than PVC decking. However this isn’t universally true. Uncapped composite decking will often have a similar lifespan to that of PVC decking, this is 10 – 15 years in most cases.

The higher end capped composite decking however can have a lifespan of over 25 years.

The bottom line is that composite can generally outlast PVC decking however PVC products are constantly improving so its always worth checking the length of guarantee on each product.

Installation

Getting your decking installed or doing it yourself, its a good idea to get something which is not too hard to install. Composite decking is much easier to install for a few reasons.

Firstly, there are way more people that install it so you won’t have an issue finding someone who can get the job done right.

Secondly, PVC decking does not cut like wood, its hard to shape and wont have as wide a range of accessories as composite. Composite decking is easy to cut, shape and install with a wide range of accessories as well.

Finally, as mentioned above the more extreme expansion and contraction of PVC can make some designs ugly.

To account for the expansion on all decking you need to include expansion gaps. For a flush design these gaps should be as small as possible. With PVC these gaps may need to be 5 – 10mm which is very noticeable in decking.

In short, composite decking will be far easier to install if you are planning the project yourself. However if you find a good PVC decking installer none of these issues will matter to much.

To conclude

Composite decking is the better choice for most people but PVC is closing the gap. 

This article has compared PVC and composite decking in a variety of points, including cost, sustainability, UV resistance, weight and look with age to determine which type of material will be best for your needs.

When it comes down to overall quality, we believe that composite decking provides more benefits than PVC does at this time.

However if you are interested in using recycled plastic or want something that resists weather damage more dramatically then PVC could work for you instead–especially since plastics can be recycled.

We hope this blog post helped answer any questions about choosing between these two different types of materials

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