Plastic Lumber vs. Wood Plastic Composite Lumber for Decking

If you want to build a new deck or replace a current one, it's important to consider all of the materials you could use to construct it. Some of the most popular options available include pressure-treated softwoods, plastic lumber and wood plastic composite lumber, which all come with different advantages and disadvantages that could help guide your decision. Here, we'll break down the differences between plastic lumber and wood plastic composite lumber for decking. While they may sound essentially the same, they actually have several important distinctions!

Plastic Lumber for Decking

Plastic lumber can be made from many different virgin or waste plastics, most commonly polyvinyl chloride (PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and Polypropylene (PP). It is 100% composed of plastic and is, therefore, 100% recyclable when the time comes to replace it. Certain kinds of plastic lumber, in particular PVC decking (also known as synthetic decking), can be "capped," or covered with a protective shell to reinforce its durability and make it look a bit more like real wood. It generally has the same density as popular softwoods like white pine and is quite lightweight, making it easier to work with than heavy planks of wood.

Plastic Lumber Advantages and Disadvantages

Like any material, plastic lumber has certain benefits and drawbacks to consider.

Colored PVC lumber is available for a wider range of style options
100% recyclable
Plastic lumber is one of the lightest decking materials
PVC decking is resistant to rot, mildew, mold, insects and stains
Never needs to be finished/refinished, sanded or sealed
Extremely durable
PVC decking offers a crisp, clean aesthetic
Very low-maintenance
Can get very hot in sunny areas
Can expand/contract, causing joints to loosen
Requires special fasteners to install
PVC decking generally looks the least like wood

Wood Plastic Composite Lumber for Decking

As the name suggests, wood plastic composite lumber is made of a mixture of wood fibers and plastic materials. Composite decking is usually heavier than PVC decking, but lighter than traditional wood. While it can be made of sawdust and recycled plastic materials, composite decking itself isn't usually recyclable. Because of its blend of wood and plastic, it often looks more like real wood than pure plastic lumber, especially from a distance. Like plastic lumber, it can be capped with an extra shell of protective coating to make it last even longer.

Wood Plastic Composite Lumber Advantages and Disadvantages

Composite decking has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, some of which are similar to PVC decking.

Wood plastic composite lumber can come in a variety of colors and finishes
Composite decking looks more like real wood
Can be made of recycled materials
Boards won't stain or fade
Excellent mold, mildew and insect resistance
Easily cleaned with soap and water — low-maintenance
No annual sanding, sealing or finishing required to keep it looking good
Clean, crisp aesthetic
Won't split or splinter
While composite decking is more resistant to rot than wood, it can still be affected
Heavier than PVC decking
More expensive than wood
Not always recyclable
Up close, it's easy to tell that composite decking is made with plastic
Requires special fasteners to install
Joists must be spaced no more than 16 inches apart

Continue Learning About Plastic Lumber & More

We've barely scratched the surface of how plastic and wood plastic composite lumber can be used in construction. To learn more about these materials and the many other ways that plastic contributes to the wood processing industry every day, check out more of the resources available here at A&C Plastics.

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