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read this before you

redo yourdeck deck

a guide to composite and cellular pVc decking products


shown: reliaboard in cedar with radiancerail and lighting in Kona

a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products

Almost every exposed part of this deck—rails, posts, decking, and trim—is made of composite material. Shown: Earthwood Evolutions Terrain capped composite;

Deck time

Would you rather spend your leisure time working on your deck or enjoying it? As anyone who owns a wood deck knows, it has to have regular ongoing attention

to protect it from the elements and keep it looking its best. At minimum, that means a thorough bleaching and a fresh coat of stain every other year or so. And even with the best of care, all that exposed wood is still vulnerable to splitting and splintering, termites and rot. Now, with the advent of nonwood decking in the past 20 years, maintenance doesn’t have to be such a chore. These new materials don’t need to be stained. They don’t splinter or crack. There are no worries about termites or rot. You just scrub them clean with soapy water. The first wood-decking alternative, a blend of polyethylene plastic and wood sawdust, launched the category known as composite decking. Since then, companies have come up with a host of useful innovations: capped boards to make cleaning easier, grooved edges to simplify installation, post-and-railing systems to match the decking, and a wider palette of colors and coloring techniques to create the look of wood. And they’ve adapted an entirely new material to the nonwood lineup, cellular PVC, which shrugs off stains and UV rays far better than the original composites. So if you’re planning to redo your deck or build one from scratch, consult the following pages. In them you’ll find the information you need to make an informed decking decision.


a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products

FAQs Cost Prices range from $2.20 to $4.25 per square foot. That’s more than pressure-treated pine decking and less than you’ll pay for top-grade western red cedar or most tropical hardwoods. Care Not much needed. Regular cleaning with soapy water and a scrub brush will keep it looking like new for a long time. Be careful not to scratch it when moving furniture. Warranty Composites carry a 25-year warranty against termites, decay, and splintering. Some cellular PVC manufacturers offer lifetime warranties covering material defects. Safety Look for decking listed by the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES). A listing means that the decking complies with current building codes and standards.

compared with wood

Composite and cellular PVC decking products do not… > Rot The fungi that cause wood

decay won’t affect these materials. > Attract insects There’s nothing to sustain termites or carpenter ants. > Warp or splinter You won’t find any knots, splits, or other defects. > Gray Nonwood decking may lighten somewhat in the first 12 months it’s exposed to the sun, but it won’t turn gray, as wood does. (If it started out gray, it will stay gray.) > Need regular recoating

A subtle wood-grain embossing improves the slip resistance of this cellular PVC decking. Shown: XLM Tropical Collection in Harvest Bronze;

Composite and cellular PVC don’t require stains to protect them from water and UV rays. > Deplete forests Composites consist of reclaimed sawdust blended with high-density polyethylene. Cellular PVC uses no wood at all. 3

a guide to Composite & Cellular pvC deCking produCts

What’s the difference?

Use this comparison chart to pinpoint the decking that’s best for you

Key good better best

Wood-PlAstic comPosite

cAPPed comPosite

made of high-density polyethylene and sawdust that’s reclaimed from sawmills

A thin veneer of virgin, high-density polymer covers a wood-plastic composite core.

formed from vinyl using a foaming process, it’s lighter and easier to work with than composites and virtually impervious to stains.

$2.20—$3.05 per lineal foot

$2.45—$4 per lineal foot

$3.25—$4.25 per lineal foot




25 years against material defects

25 years against fading, staining, material defects, termites, rot

limited lifetime against material defects, termites, rot


cellulAr PVc


picK YoUr coLor


Before you choose for beauty, consider the practical implications in the eARLy dAys of composite decking,


the color palette was limited to light tans and grays. Now you can choose from a much wider spectrum of hues—even deep browns with streaks that mimic high-end tropical hardwoods—in either composite or cellular PVC. While darker-colored decking generally looks more like wood, lighter colors stay cooler underfoot when the sun is shining on them and are less susceptible to fading.

1 > sandy Birch from the terrain collection* 2 > tigerwood from the legacy collection* 3 > mocha from the legacy collection* more colors available than shown.


*earthwood evolutions series of capped composites;


a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products

Posts and railings


These code-compliant components have a woodcomposite core capped with PVC , which minimizes maintenance and allows you to match your deck color 1 > Old schooL These elegant rails look like freshly painted wood, but they can span up to 10 feet thanks to stiff aluminum bars buried inside. Shown: Reserve Rail; 2 > Wired Cables made of stainless steel don’t obstruct the view when you’re seated. Shown: CableRail; 3 > Cover story All nonwood posts are actually sleeves that fit over wood posts fastened to the deck framing. These balusters are powder-coated metal tubes. Shown: Evolutions Rail Builder in Classic Black;

tip Check with your local building

department before installing a railing system that doesn’t have balusters.




a guide to Composite & Cellular pvC deCking produCts

turn off the dark

Enjoy a safe deck after twilight Although deck lighting used to be considered a luxury, building codes now require that steps and landings be lighted at night to prevent tripping hazards. While the codes do not specify the method of illumination, low-profile led fixtures built into a deck do the job with tasteful style.

1 > liGhts GAlore this deck has fixtures mounted in the treads, under the post caps, and even in the deck boards, where they define a walkway edge without a railing. All these lights connect to a transformer, which feeds them low-voltage power, and to a timer that automatically turns them on at sundown and off at sunrise.


2 > WiriNG coNuNdrum how do you hide the wires for a fixture mounted on a post? if it’s solid wood, you’re in for some routing and patching. But a PVc-capped post sleeve has an internal gap that provides a convenient chase for fishing those wires through the decking at the post base, out of sight. 3 > PoWer siPPers the bronze led ovals mounted in the risers consume just 2 watts apiece, while the brighter leds in the post caps draw 4 watts.


3 Playing with curves nonwood decking materials can be heated and bent in ways that are next to impossible with real wood. the bending technique requires a contractor who has experience working with curves and knows how much heat and clamping pressure to apply to a board without breaking it. the technique isn’t covered by warranty, but when done properly, the results can be dramatic. the sweeping curves along the edges of this deck are echoed in the steps, the bench, and in the decking itself. shown: AzeK deck cellular PVc in sedona with Kona accents;


a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products

Inspiring spaces

The addition of colors, changes in elevation, and eye-catching decorative elements can make a boring deck beguiling, as these examples demonstrate

privacy platform

In the zone

A raised deck, one step above the ground-level decking, defines the dining area. The drapes, supported by tall composite posts, can be drawn to shield diners from the late-afternoon summer sun. At the platform’s perimeter, boards of a different color offer a helpful reminder to step up or down. Shown: Earthwood Evolutions capped composite in Sandy Birch with Brown Oak accents;

This expansive deck boasts three separate levels. There’s one at ground level for relaxed conversation. One step up is the octagonal zone for grilling. Another step up lands you on the dining deck. To emphasize the distinct areas, the boards also run in different directions on each level. Shown: Earthwood Evolutions Natural capped composite in Brick with Brownstone accents;

Creative colors

classic touches

Even when a deck has a single level, the use of contrasting decking colors and borders can add liveliness to an otherwise monotonous run. Here, the decking is also used to frame the top of the planter, providing another spot to sit. Shown: Earthwood Evolutions capped composite in Pacific Walnut and Pacific Teak;

Although it’s too narrow to be used for seating, this stately outdoor walkway shows off many of the ways that cellular PVC decking and trim can be used outdoors: from the custom balusters and caps to the curved railing and beadboard infill. Shown: Arbor Collection cellular PVC decking in Redland Rose;


a guide to Composite & Cellular pvC deCking produCts

decK-BUiLdiNG BaSicS Whichever decking you choose, it requires a sturdy framework— typically constructed of pressure-treated wood—that’s built to meet the requirements laid down by code and the decking manufacturer. Here are some key dimensions to keep in mind Bottom rAil no more than 4 inches above decking

BAluster no more than 4 inches apart

Post the maximum on-center spacing is 8 or 10 feet, depending on the composite railing used.

stAirs minimum of 36 inches wide

ledGer Flashed, separated from house with spacers, and anchored with ½-by-5-inch lag screws

rAiliNG minimum of 36 inches above deck. (no railing needed for decks 30 inches or less above grade.)

joists maximum of 16 inches on center for decking laid at 90 degrees coNcrete Pier 12-inch diameter, resting on footing below frost line

stAir striNGers maximum of 12 inches on center

stAir riser maximum of 7¾ inches high

Post BAse Bolted to top of pier, 6 inches above grade

Note leave a 1⁄8-inch gap between deck boards to allow water and debris to pass through.

stAir treAd minimum of 10 inches deep

edge treatment a board’s profile determines how it is fastened—either through its face or along its edge.

1 > GrooVed edGes these boards are held in place with special stainlesssteel clips that fit in the grooves and are fastened to the joists (see “Hidden Clip,” below). this hidden fastening system leaves the board faces unblemished by screw holes.

2 > sQuAre edGes With square-edged boards, you have two fastening options: through the board face with composite deck screws or into the edge with clips screwed to the joists (see below). You may also be able to rout edge grooves, but check with the decking manufacturer first. hiddeN cliP coNceAloc clips, for use on boards with grooved edges, automatically set the correct 1⁄8-inch gap between the boards.

CALCULATOR use the calculator to figure out how many 16-foot boards you’ll need. For 12-foot boards, divide the square footage by 5.5. and if you can use 20-foot lengths, divide by 9.1.






(scrap factor)



(round up)


a guide to Composite & Cellular pvC deCking produCts

Facefastener options driving screws through a deckboard’s face is the fastest way to install decking. But if the wrong screws are driven into composites or cellular pvC, excess material will mushroom around the head of each screw and detract from your deck’s appearance (see inset, above). For face-fastening, the best option is to use composite deck screws (see “no Craters,” below). as the screw turns, the left-hand threads near the head pull excess material back into the board and prevent unsightly eruptions. You can get them in colors to match your decking or hide them completely under color-matched Cortex plugs (see “Hidden Head,” below).

No crAters

Porch floors made of cellular PVc are for relaxing, not repairing. shown: AzeK Porch cellular PVc in Brownstone;

toPloc deck screws have two opposing threads, one to fasten and the other to stop craters from forming around the head.

Nonwood porch floors Say good-bye to the rot and the repainting down like an interior wood floor—with narrow tongue-and-groove boards and no gaps—and then painted to protect it from the weather and foot traffic. And repainted. And repainted again. But neither decay nor a worn finish is a concern when the decking is cellular PVC. This tongue-and-groove product comes in 3 1⁄2-inch widths, just like vintage wood decking. It’s installed by driving trim-head stainless-steel screws through the tongues.

tiP to prevent porch boards from collecting debris and water, install them

perpendicular to the house and pitched ¼ inch per foot away from it.

Photo: (toP RiGht) Don PennY/time inC. DiGitAl StUDio

tRAditionALLy, the floor for a porch is put

hiddeN heAd With the cortex system, a special bit recesses the composite screws, which are then covered with plugs that match the decking.


a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products

Care and maintenance 1 > Light clean To keep a new deck looking new, clean it twice a year with a garden sprayer, a scrub brush, and a nonabrasive household cleaner—no bleach-based products. Always rinse thoroughly.

2 > Heavy clean For uncapped composites that are grimy and mold-stained, substitute a deck cleaner, such as Corte Clean (, for the household cleaner. On capped and cellular PVC decking, pressure washing works best. Use the manufacturer’s recommended psi setting and a 25-degree fan tip; move the wand in line with the joints, then rinse. 3 > food and Oil stains


Wipe up spills immediately with hot, soapy water, then rinse. If a stain has set on an uncapped composite, apply a cleaner like Krud Kutter ( On capped composites or cellular PVC, soak the stain in a warm, soap solution, then rinse.

Aha! uses

The nonwood decking’s decay-resistant properties make it an attractive material for other projects Just about anything you might clad

in wood—planters, benches, storage boxes, even outdoor showers—can also be covered in low-maintenance nonwood decking.

2 3

4 > Rejuvenate color Penetrating deck stains add color and reduce porosity on weathered uncapped composites. On beat-up cellular PVC, try the E2 PVC Deck Revitilizer (

1 > Green accents The planters and bench seats that dress up this simple deck are made with a stiff aluminum frame that comes in a kit. The frame is then clad in cellular PVC decking. Shown: Terra Collection cellular PVC decking in Tahoe (benches and decking), and Arbor Collection cellular PVC decking in Redland Rose (planters);

5 > Remove scratches On uncapped composites only, wire-brush nicks, cuts, or scratches in line with the board’s “grain.” The scrubbed area will blend into the surrounding deck in about 10 weeks.

bench utilize the beefy sleeves meant to cover the posts. Shown: Earthwood Evolutions Terrain capped composite in Silver Maple;

3 > Walkway edging A composite deck board, bent into a curve and staked in place every few feet, provides firm support for the edges of a brick walk.

Photo: (bottom left) Kolin Smith

2 > Built-in bench The legs of this composite

Note The recommended

products and techniques for maintaining nonwood decking vary, depending on its type and make. For best results, refer to the individual manufacturer’s care and cleaning instructions. 10

a guide to Composite & cellular pvc decking products



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This Old House Deck Lesson  

Read this before you redo your deck: A Guide to composite and cellular PVC decking products.

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