Last Updated: November 15, 2019
Wood and vinyl have been competing in the railing and fencing industry for a long time now, ever since vinyl joined the outdoor living market several decades ago. Did you know that vinyl entered the scene through horse farms? In its early days, it was valued for its flexibility or “give” (which prevented serious horse injuries) and its tastelessness and lack of moisture (both of which made horses less inclined to chew the material). These days, of course, vinyl railings and fences are used in a variety of applications, not just to corral horses. Because vinyl looks similar to wood, many people compare the two when planning the installation of a new deck railing. They both offer a classic, traditional look and are commonly available. Vinyl vs. wood deck railing: which is best? Which should you choose?
Vinyl vs. Wood Deck Railing
The maintenance requirements of wood railings differ based on the type of wood used: Less expensive woods (pine, poplar, etc.) require more maintenance than higher quality woods (mahogany, cedar, redwood, etc.). However, even durable woods require regular maintenance.
Because wood is quite vulnerable to Mother Nature, it’s important to restain/repaint and reseal wood railings periodically to maintain the color and add UV-rated weather-proofing and water-sealing protection. UV rays can easily damage bare wood through photochemical degradation, which can change the composition of wood by damaging the lignin. This can cause a loss of pigment and make the wood more prone to staining. Additionally, you’ll need to keep an eye out for wood rot, mold, fungus, termites, and splintering. Finally, wood is also difficult to clean due to its porous surface.
Vinyl, on the other hand, requires virtually no maintenance whatsoever. You can easily clean it with a hose, a pressure washer (on the lowest setting), a simple detergent and sponge/rag, or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Plus, vinyl never requires painting or staining, and it’s impervious to termites, fungus, and rot.
When it comes to style, the choice is yours. Both vinyl and wood are available in a variety of styles, sizes, and products. Vinyl is often viewed as a doppelgänger for wood. So if you love classic wood railings but you’re concerned about the maintenance responsibilities or the possibility of rot or termites, think about using vinyl instead.
Although wood has a more “natural” look, vinyl railings are often fashioned to have the look of real wood grain. However, vinyl is often limited to the colors white and tan (and painting vinyl is typically not recommended, as it may cause warping or peeling), while wood can be painted any color you like. That said, vinyl offers a clean, crisp look, however, and unlike wood, it is less likely to become unattractive over time due to weathering, rotting, mold, cracking, etc.
As you shop around, you’ll find that wood and vinyl deck railings are both available at a variety of costs. The total prices will fluctuate, of course, when you factor in the quality, the warranty, and design features. Generally, you’ll find that wood costs a bit less than vinyl at the onset. Keep in mind, however, that vinyl railings have a longer lifespan and tend to come with lengthy, protective warranties. So in the long run, wood and vinyl are quite comparable in terms of costs. Vinyl will last longer, however, and should cause less stress.
Wood is more vulnerable to the elements than vinyl. Although you can help your wood railing retain its strength and beauty with regular maintenance (a high-quality, protective sealant is a must), wood is still susceptible to pests like termites, rotting, warping, weathering, and more. It also expands and contacts as the temperature fluctuates, which decreases its stability over time. Even with regular maintenance, wood railings typically only last about 20 years.
When it comes to strength and longevity, wood simply can’t compete with vinyl, which is designed to last a lifetime. It may expand or bend in extreme temperatures, but it will stand strong for decades to come with minimal maintenance. Plus, most vinyl railings come with a fantastic warranty.
Although wood has the longer history, in many areas it struggles to compete with the modern and innovative features of vinyl. Let’s quickly summarize the vinyl vs. wood deck railing contest:
- Maintenance: Vinyl requires no maintenance. Wood requires significant maintenance, including painting/staining and sealing to stay in tip-top shape.
- Style: Vinyl is often seen as a doppelgänger for wood and it’s more likely to remain attractive for longer. That said, some people still prefer the natural look of wood.
- Cost: Wood costs less than vinyl. That said, it’s important to keep in mind the cost of maintenance and the lifespan of the product. When you consider the long-term costs, vinyl is very affordable when compared to wood.
- Durability: Wood is very susceptible to the elements and can be damaged by UV rays, extreme weather, moisture, and pests like termites. Vinyl is designed to last a lifetime.
If you’re interested in purchasing a vinyl deck railing, be sure to check out MMC Fencing & Railing. You might be interested in the PolyRail Vinyl Railing system, which is distinctive, versatile, and virtually maintenance-free. Amongst the many available styles, you’re sure to find one that fits your home’s style and your personal preferences. If PolyRail doesn’t charm you, take a look at the TRX Vinyl Railing system. The styles are classic, simple, and airy, and they’re also available in a number of different colors and design variations. For more railing options, please check out the MMC Fencing & Railing online store or give us a call at 1-866-931-5002.