There are a hundred different low-maintenance decking products on the market, but the two most popular are composite and cellular PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Both will save you from your summer staining rituals, but there are differences between the two. And even within these two categories, there are many different manufacturers and a wide variety of products, but here are some general characteristics:
Composite decking has been around since the early ’90s. Many popular brands are made from 50 percent wood fibers and 50 percent recycled plastic. Composite decking is a solid color all the way through, so the ends of boards are not as noticeable. It’s stiffer than PVC decking boards and can span greater distances. Its stiffness also makes it easier for one person to handle and helps hide minor imperfections in the framing. Composite is also less slippery than PVC decking boards when it’s wet. You should be able to get at least 20 years of use, depending on the conditions. Expect to pay about $6 per sq. ft. just for the decking.
PVC decking is the relative new kid on the block but is quickly gaining popularity. Most PVC decking is made from 100 percent plastic—and no wood means no mold or mildew. It holds its color, it’s easy to clean and it won’t stain if you spill a little suntan oil or hamburger grease on it. PVC is much harder and more scratch resistant than composite decking, which is good news if you have a large dog or heavy patio furniture. All these benefits don’t come cheap, however: PVC decking will cost you about $10 per sq. ft. Some companies offer a limited lifetime warranty.
— Mark Petersen, Contributing Editor
For more information on decking products, ideas and techniques, search for “decks” at the top of this page. Plus, check out 7 deck-building tips from the pros.