Low-maintenance vinyl systems, like this one from Royal Crown, are attractive to consumers.
Credit: Courtesy Royal Crown Limited Low-maintenance vinyl systems, like this one from Royal Crown, are attractive to consumers.
Expanding color and style options have enhanced the appeal of vinyl railings.
Credit: Courtesy Royal Crown Limited Expanding color and style options have enhanced the appeal of vinyl railings.

Clean lines. Crisp new color. Never needs painting. Won't rot, chip, peel, warp, or dent.

Vinyl deck railings have a lot to recommend them. And more than anything else — especially to consumers who are replacing a splintered, weather-worn deck of pressure-treated pine — what recommends them is that they're maintenance free — or close to it.

David Block, sales manager for Archadeck of Charlotte, in North Carolina, guesses that roughly 4% to 5% of the decks the company installs feature vinyl railing systems. In the past five years, Block says, demand for the product has grown. An important reason is the clamor for other synthetic materials, especially composite deck boards. That, says Block, plus the fact that “rails are a lot more difficult to stain, maintain, and clean than the decking surface.”

Other contractors who regularly install decks agree that the composite deck/vinyl rail combination is a popular one for consumers seeking a low-to-no maintenance product. “Basically, I explain that if somebody has the budget and can afford a composite deck and a vinyl railing, it's 100% maintenance free,” says Scott Pray, owner of Bozeman Deck Co., in Bozeman, Mont. That option, he says, is particularly attractive to older customers. Block says that it's also popular for younger people “with a busy lifestyle.”

Natalie Williams, of Mid-Atlantic Vinyl, which distributes vinyl railing systems in Virginia, claims the company's sales have doubled in the past year and says the appeal to clients — and the pitch by contractors — is long-term cost effectiveness. Vinyl rail systems do cost more to install — $35 to $50 a lineal foot, compared with half or less for wood, according to several contractors — but clients “don't have to worry about repairing or staining it, and they're spared the cost of future replacement,” she says.

Contractor Mark Curtis, owner of MAC Sales, a Fredericksburg, Va., company that specializes in installing vinyl and aluminum fence and railing systems, points out that rails made of treated wood last about 12 years. Today's lead-free paints, he says, do a poor job protecting wood from water infiltration. So when clients balk at his price, “I say, ‘Do you want the name of a painter?'” Curtis says homeowners only discover the advantage of vinyl “when they have to redo their balusters every year to keep them from rotting.”

Block says requests for vinyl rail systems are often inspired when customers see the product installed on a friend's deck. Among the deck displays in Archadeck of Charlotte's showroom is a composite deck with a vinyl rail system.