When you’re deciding which material to use for a deck in your garden or any other outdoor space there are many different factors to consider.
How much will it cost? How long will it last? Is it environmentally-friendly?
Two of the most popular choices are composite and UPVC decking as they both have many benefits when compared to other decking materials such as timber or aluminium.
In this guide, we’re going to closely examine these two types of decking to see how they compare to each other and which one is the better choice based on value, longevity, eco-friendliness, maintenance and much more.
Composite Decking Explained
Firstly, you may be wondering what composite decking actually is. Composite decking boards are made from recycled plastic polymers and wood fibres. They are manufactured through a process of co-extrusion in which the materials are combined and then melted using an extruder.
Once the material is melted, the boards are formed by passing the material through a ‘die’, which is a metal channel used to give a specific shape to molten material.
Composite decking boards can either be capped or uncapped depending on which you choose. Capped decking comes with an extra layer of plastic capping which gives the boards more durability and longevity.
Capped and uncapped decking are quite different in appearance. Uncapped decks come in a wide variety of colours and usually have a fairly rough texture. Capped decks tend to have the appearance of traditional wood decking and have a smoother texture.
PVC Decking Explained
UPVC decking is also commonly referred to as PVC decking and vinyl decking. This can sometimes cause some confusion as people think that the three names represent three different types of materials. But, this is not the case and the three names refer to one type of material.
The full name for this material is un-plasticised polyvinyl chloride. It’s a thermoplastic polymer that is very versatile and is used as the material for many different products including decking boards.
It comes in various styles and is 100% plastic, meaning it can be made in almost any colour. It is very durable, weather-resistant, flexible and lightweight making it a good material for many different uses.
The Differences Between Composite and PVC Decking
So, now that you’re up to speed on the definition of composite and PVC decking it’s time for a side-by-side comparison to see which of the two decking materials is the best option for you.
The two types of material have similar benefits in lots of ways but there are some key differences that are important for you to know before you choose one or the other.
At the end of the day, it’s always best to have as much information about a product before you decide to purchase it. This is especially true when it’s something that will last a long time.
For wet climates, such as in the UK, one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a decking material is how slip-resistant it will be when exposed to moisture. This is also crucial if you’re planning on building a plastic or composite deck around a swimming pool.
When it comes to slip resistance, composite decking is the clear winner. This is mainly due to the wood fibres which give composite decking boards a rougher texture than plastic decking. This gives them more grip underfoot meaning you’re far less likely to slip on them when wet.
As PVC decking is 100% plastic it has a much slicker texture than composite decking making it less slip-resistant.
Although other materials such as timber decking are usually more slippery when wet than plastic decking, composite decking is definitely the best choice when it comes to slip resistance.
PVC plastic decking is notoriously difficult to shape and cut, and there aren’t as many accessories available for installation as there are for composite decking. As a material, composite is relatively easy to shape and cut, and there are many different accessories available.
You can certainly install both PVC plastic decking and composite decking yourself without the help of a professional. However, if you did want to hire someone to install it for you then you would have many more options if you choose composite decking.
This is due to the popularity of composite decking which means that it’s very easy to find contractors that specialise in its installation. Although PVC plastic decking is also fairly popular there are usually fewer contractors that specialise in its installation in the UK.
Algae and mould resistance
In terms of mould and algae resistance both composite and PVC decking score very highly, especially when compared to timber decking. PVC plastic decking contains no wood meaning it is essentially impossible for it to develop any mould or algae issues.
As composite decking is made with a mixture of plastic and wood fibres it has pours and rougher surfaces meaning it is slightly more susceptible to mould and algae. However, if composite decking is cleaned properly it is extremely unlikely that any mould or algae would ever take hold.
One of the main disadvantages of both composite and PVC decking is that they both get very hot in the sun when compared to traditional timber decking. Neither material is better than the other when it comes to this metric.
However, one way of improving the heat resistance of both types of decking is to choose a lighter colour of either composite decking or PVC decking. Darker colours such as black and grey absorb heat and get much hotter in the sun than lighter colours do.
Colour and style
When it comes to appearance, composite decking has several advantages over PVC decking. Although it has been improved in recent years, PVC decking still fades more readily than composite decking and its appearance is diminished more quickly.
Also, due to its composition, composite decking has more of a natural wood look which ages over time to give it an appealing and authentic appearance. As PVC decking is made purely from plastic it is not able to achieve the same natural wood finish.
PVC decking is extremely dense and can become brittle. Unlike Ecoscape products range, PVC decking cannot achieve beautiful textures, colour streaking and wood like finishes. This gives you access to a greater range of options if you choose composite decking.
In terms of UV resistance composite decking is still the better option despite the vast improvements that have been made to plastic decking over the last few years. PVC decking is now much more UV-resistant than it used to be but still fades more than composite decking.
The plastic polymers in composite decking make it very resistant to UV light and though it may fade slightly over time it isn’t usually very noticeable.
The quality of PVC decking that you choose will greatly affect how much and how quickly it fades. Most high-end plastic decking is now quite UV-resistant and shouldn’t fade too much. However, plastic decking of lower quality is very prone to fading when exposed to UV light. Ecoscape composite decking in the Forma and Grande range are UV stable and guaranteed to 5 Delta E on the Hunter Scale.
These days, we are all more aware of the environmental impact of the products we use and how eco-friendly material is will often determine whether we choose to use it or not.
Both PVC decking and composite decking are made using recycled plastic and composite is also made with recycled wood. This lowers the environmental impact of both materials as no trees need to be felled to produce them, unlike timber decking.
However, composite decking can’t be recycled once it has been used due to the wood that’s used to make it. On the other hand, PVC decking can be recycled multiple times after use.
This does not mean that plastic decking is more environmentally friendly than composite decking. During the UPVC manufacturing process harmful, chlorine-based chemicals are released into the environment which then builds up in the air, food and water chains.
As no plastic needs to be created to make composite decking the manufacturing process is much less harmful to the eco-system.
Expansion and shrinkage
Once installed, a composite deck is unlikely to change in shape and size during hotter weather. As the boards are made of a mixture of plastic and wood fibre they don’t tend to expand and contract much at all. If they do, it will only usually be by a few millimetres.
Plastic decking does not do well in high temperatures and will expand and contract significantly when it gets hot.
If the plastic decking boards are fitted properly then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue but if not, the boards and fittings could be damaged due to changes in size and shape.
Weight might not be one of the first things that you think of when considering which type of decking boards to choose from, but it is important for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that if you’re installing the boards yourself then having lighter boards will make it slightly easier. PVC decking boards are much lighter than composite ones meaning they’re easier to transport and carry during the installation process.
However, this does also mean that they are not as sturdy as composite decking boards and don’t feel as nice underfoot. Composite decking is also generally easier to install than plastic decking which makes up for the fact it is heavier.
Both plastic decking and composite decking have a good lifespan and should last for a long time. This is due to the fact that they are both very resistant to rot and mould, and require little maintenance to give them longevity.
If you choose uncapped composite decking then it will typically last for a similar amount of time as PVC decking, which is around 10 to 15 years. However, capped decking lasts much longer than this and usually has a lifespan of around 20 to 25 years.
Composite Decking Vs UPVC Decking Price Comparison
One of the first things you’ll be wondering when choosing a decking material is which type is the cheapest option. So, is plastic decking cheaper? Usually, yes, PVC decking tends to cost a bit less than composite decking as it’s much cheaper to make.
However, PVC decking is slightly less durable than composite decking meaning it is more likely to split and to need replacing. This means that it may end up costing you more money in the long term.
On average, composite decking costs between £35 and £80 per square metre. The average price per square metre for PVC decking is around £55.
So, although PVC decking may be a little less expensive in terms of upfront costs it is still often worth paying extra for composite decking due to its superior quality and durability.
Composite Decking Vs UPVC Decking – Capped or Uncapped?
If you decide to choose composite decking instead of PVC decking then the next thing you need to decide is if uncapped or capped decking is the best option for you.
Capped decking boards are just normal composite decking boards but with an extra layer of polymer that provides more protection. This coating of polymer means that the boards are even more UV-resistant than usual and are less likely to get scratched or marked.
Having capped decking also means that your composite deck is easier to clean as you can simply wipe dirt off them rather than having to power wash it. However, you will still need to make sure that heavy dirt, mud, and leaves are removed regularly.
This means that capped decking is more durable, longer-lasting and has lower maintenance than uncapped decking.
Uncapped decking boards don’t have the extra layer of protective polymer meaning they are not quite as durable as capped decking boards and require a bit more maintenance. They need to be power washed and scrubbed with a brush to get them clean.
The main difference between our first generation WPC (Clarity) and our capped (co-extrusion Forma decking) is the Forma will outperform the Clarity on UV stability and scratch and stain resistant. The Clarity board is still a great option and has advantages in terms of anti slip and cost price. Both ranges offer longevity and require far less maintenance than other materials such as timber decking.
Capped decking is more expensive than uncapped decking the difference between our Clarity composite decking and our Forma composite decking is approximately 60% more. However, capping does increase the lifespan of composite boards considerably so this must be factored into the higher upfront costs.
Composite Decking Pros & Cons – The Breakdown
- Composite boards are very low-maintenance as they require little cleaning and don’t need to be stained, sanded or varnished.
- Composite is UV-resistant and the colour of the boards doesn’t fade much over time.
- Composite is relatively environmentally-friendly as it’s made from recycled plastic and wood. There are far fewer toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing process when compared to other materials.
- You can choose between hollow or solid boards depending on the area in which you intend to install them. If the area will have a high level of footfall then solid boards are the best choice.
- Composite boards are slip-resistant as their rough texture gives them a good amount of grip underfoot, even when wet.
- Composite decking is available in a wide range of colours meaning it’s easy to find a look that will compliment your home and garden.
- Composite boards are insect-repellent as insects can’t burrow inside the boards due to their composition.
- As they’re resistant to mould and rot, composite boards have a long lifespan and shouldn’t need to be repaired or replaced for a very long time.
- Some people prefer the natural appearance of wood decking and dislike the slightly synthetic look of composite.
- Although composite is sturdy, the boards can’t hold very heavy items such as statues and hot tubs.
- Composite tends to be more expensive than many other materials but this is largely due to the quality of the material and the fact that it has such good longevity.
UPVC Decking Pros & Cons – The Breakdown
- UPVC decking is low-maintenance and doesn’t need to be varnished, stained or sanded. It also doesn’t need to be cleaned very regularly.
- UPVC decking has good strength and can hold the weight of very heavy items such as hot tubs and statues.
- As UPVC decking is 100% plastic it is insect-repellant as insects can’t get inside of the boards.
- Although it doesn’t last as long as capped composite, UPVC decking does still have a long lifespan and should last for a long time.
- UPVC decking is slip-resistant but tends to get more slippery when wet than composite.
- The tough exterior of UPVC decking means it’s unlikely to stain or scratch easily.
- Depending on the quality of the boards, UPVC decking can be fairly UV-resistant and shouldn’t fade a huge amount over time.
- UPVC decking boards come in a good range of colours so it isn’t too difficult to find something that will look good outside your home.
- As UPVC decking is 100% plastic it is more prone to splintering, flexing and breaking than other materials such as composite.
- Some people don’t find UPVC decking to be visually appealing as it doesn’t contain any wood and can look a little artificial.
- UPVC decking is completely man-made which means that harmful toxins are released into the environment during production.
How often should I clean my composite deck?
Generally, you should clean your composite deck just after it’s installed and then around every three to six months after that. You can do this using a power washer or by scrubbing it with a soft bristle brush, hot water and soap.
If you notice that your deck has accumulated a lot of dirt, after a storm for example, then power washing it would probably be the best option.
How easily does composite decking scratch?
Composite decking doesn’t scratch easily at all. If you have capped boards it is even less likely to scratch than uncapped boards. Composite is also very resistant to marring after heavy objects are dragged across it.
Does composite decking crack?
Composite boards don’t tend to crack and are known for being very sturdy. The only instance in which cracks may occur is when the boards are put under a lot of stress due to poor design or settling foundations.
Which deck material lasts the longest of all?
The deck material that lasts the longest of all is steel which can last for over 60 years if properly installed. However, it does have many disadvantages when compared to other materials such as being high maintenance and slippery when wet.
Both UPVC and composite decking have many benefits when compared to other materials and both can be good choices when building a deck. However, many of the most important metrics such as eco-friendliness, longevity and UV-resistance composite comes out on top.
Ultimately, it may well come down to your own personal preference when deciding between the two. But, we think that our composite decking is the clear winner in most categories. Please request a sample to see the quality for yourself, you want find a better product