Vinyl rails are more popular than vinyl decks, but both products have evolved significantly.
Vinyl rails are more popular than vinyl decks, but both products have evolved significantly.

Vinyl remains a small part of the $2.5 billion decking market, only 2%, according to research by Principia Partners, Exton, Pa., a business consultancy focused on building products. Principia lists vinyl's share of the $1.8 billion railing market slightly higher — about 6%. According to Ed Repak, director of construction and drafting for Archadeck, the biggest franchise operation in the deck-building industry, the number of Archadeck dealers who are installing vinyl is “pretty minimal.”

However, “a fair amount of railing and pergolas use vinyl because people want no maintenance,” Repak points out.

Original Drawbacks The original vinyl decking materials came up short with consumers in several ways. They were expensive. Vinyl decks tended to be noisy — they often squeaked. The material was perceived as vulnerable to wear and damage from UV rays. And vinyl just didn't look like wood, which is what consumers want in non-wood decking.

While retaining their original strengths — a non-porous and therefore highly stain-resistant surface, color fastness, and virtually no maintenance requirements — vinyl decking materials have evolved significantly, manufacturers say. “We listened very hard to our customer base that said the product needed to be more like wood,” says Deron Manwaring, national marketing and sales manager for Royal Crown, in Milford, Ind., a division of Royal Group Technology, Toronto.

Product Changes Manufacturing advances have brought the price in line with composite decking, installation methods are easier and faster, and PVC no longer has to look “plastic.”

Royal Crown, for example, produces its Deck Lok vinyl deck boards using three extrusions to create a slip-resistant surface with “non-repeating, variegation” in color and character so that every board looks different, Manwaring says. In a similar vein, manufacturers such as Forever Wood, and Veka Innovations, with its Vekadeck, sell 100% PVC board with wood-grain finish that installs like wood with common fasteners, the manufacturers say. Vinyl decks don't have to be white anymore, either. These manufacturers all offer a variety of colors.

This new generation of vinyl decking is making a run for the money and consumers appear to be noticing. “I think there's more acceptance of vinyl and more understanding of the disadvantages of ‘plastic' decks,” says Joel Berkland of Woolf Distributing, Chicago. One telling indicator: While Woolf Distributing's sales of composite decking material are up 30% so far this year, vinyl decking sales jumped by 60% over the same period.