PVC Deck Boards or Capped Composite?
January 9, 2011 253 Comments
Here’s a very common question I saw on a construction forum I frequent. This was asked by an electrical contractor with no experience with decking, so he’s probably a lot like you.
I am having a deck built in January (Design, deposit, etc is already done). Right now I am slated to have Timbertech XLM Sandridge (color chosen due to some performance issues with the darker colors) decking and White Radiance Rail. From what I have read here, I went with a Timbertech Premier contractor. I just got a call from the deck contractor today about the new Timbertech Earthwood products. He wanted to let me know about it in case I wanted to change from Timbertech XLM Sandridge decking. It sounded like he thought the new Earthwood Evolutions was a better product. He mentioned that it withstood the manufacturer’s tests of scratching, fading, and spills better than all of the other lines. What are your thoughts?
As of this writing, there are three major manufacturers producing “mainstream” capped composite deck boards:
- Fiberon Horizons (Fiberon was the first to market with this technology)
- Trex Transcends
- TimberTech Earthwood Evolutions
A capped composite board is a two-part deckboard with a traditional composite (wood flour and plastic mixed together) core and a very thin veneer (usually about 1/16″ thick) of PVC-like material wrapped over the core that is the surface you see when you look at the deck. Manufacturers are using this technology to produce less expensive, better performing deck boards, however their methods are all slightly different. Prior to the capped composite boards coming to market, you were either going to get a true composite board or a 100% PVC board. Traditionally, composite was less expensive but always has performance issues, while PVC was more expensive, but had some color limitations due to PVC blending technologies. Here’s a video where I explain the different types of synthetic deck boards.
Fiberon was the first company to get capped composite off the ground and into the market with any gusto. Horizons has been proving itself as a solid, reliable board for a few years now and it has been embraced by many top deck contractors I know around the country. Fiberon fully encapsulates or wraps the board with capstock which is important. The less water that gets into the wood particles under the capstock, the better for long term performance. Unfortunately, the cap is compromised when Fiberon cuts the groove into the board. It’s not a deal breaker, but it would be nice to see the capstock seal as much of the board as possible.
Trex saw the success of Fiberon’s Horizon line and introduced Transcends to the marketplace as their capstock product. While Transcends has a very nice deep grain in the cap, there are some things about Transcends that worries me as a deck builder. The cap does not encapsulate the entire board leaving the entire underside exposed to moisture. Also, the cap does not seem to be laminated as well as other manufacturers are doing it. In fact, I have seen boards come right off the truck with the capstock delaminating and peeling off. Trex has been successful marketing Transcends, but as we’ve seen before with Trex’s products, they have had major quality control issues that have spawned serious warranty issues for thousands of homeowners. While I know one or two reputable deck builders that swear by Transcends, I know 20 or more that won’t touch the stuff.
TimberTech, as usual, waited in the wings to see if the capstock concept was going to take off before investing in it. In 2011, TimberTech replaced their hugely successful Earthwoods line of composite decking with a capped composite called Earthwoods Evolutions. Evolutions is a fully encapsulated board whether it’s a square-edged board or a grooved board which I like. They also nailed the aesthetic producing boards that are pleasing to the eye. The board is too new to make a judgement of performance on, but based on TimberTech’s history with rolling out new products and the testing they do, I feel good about Earthwood Evolutions.
So, which is better? PVC deck products like TimberTech XLM, Azek Deck, Fiberon Professional or the capstock brethren I detailed above?
The answer is: It depends.
I’ve installed miles and miles of PVC decking over the last few years because if I had to choose between a true composite (watch my video) and PVC, PVC wins every time because it out performed composite in every category even though it was more expensive. Now that capped composites are proving themselves, it really boils down to aesthetics and cost. PVC still has the edge in terms of aesthetics over capped composites, but capped composites are slightly less expensive and may have even better cap technology than some of the original PVC capped products.
What? Capped composites “may have even better cap technology”? Did he just say that? Yes…I did.
All deck products evolve just like computer technology so new product lines are usually always better (at least historically) than the ones they replaced. For instance, the cap technology in some of TimberTech’s earlier XLM lines has remained unchanged for at least three years now. I’m pretty sure the chemical technology in the cap of Earthwoods Evolutions is more advanced because it’s newer. Every manufacturer learns from each generation of decking they produce and build on it. They learn what works and what doesn’t.
This is not to say PVC is obsolete, because it’s not. Capstock technology has virtually assured the disappearance of plain old composite decking by providing a nice aesthetic with much, much, much better long term performance.