Treated lumber is tops in the railing category, but vinyl is giving wood and composite systems some serious competition these days because homeowners are recognizing that it's attractive, low maintenance, and cost effective. And for contractors, vinyl is a profitable upgrade that's easy to install.
According to Nola Pyle, co-owner of Vinyl By Design, a deck installation firm in New Paris, Ind., vinyl railing systems are an upgrade from wood and composite posts that allow installers to create unique looks for clients. "Ninety percent of what we do is custom—lots of curved railings," she notes.
Vinyl trim and accent pieces also are available to coordinate with railing systems, and standard lineals can be customized, says Ben Kaczmarek, product manager for composites for Kroy Building Products, a manufacturer of composite and vinyl decking products.
In terms of hues, white is most popular because it looks good with deck boards of all shades and materials. Nevertheless, Pyle says she installs an array of color combinations.
Vinyl railings outperform wood ones because they're easy to clean; don't warp, shrink, rot, or decay; maintain their color; and are more likely to start out straight and consistent because they're man-made, manufacturers claim.
Although wood still reigns supreme, vinyl railings hold a slim advantage over composite systems, Kaczmarek says. Vinyl prices run the gamut and can be close in price to wood systems. Nonetheless, high-end vinyl can cost about the same as low-end composite railing products, which is about 30 percent more than wood, manufacturers say.
"We use [vinyl railings] on some of the front elevations of our homes to give the wood fence look without the headache of painting. In this application we have found the vinyl railings to be cost effective, but there is only a small amount used on the front porch," says Stuart Steiger of Flair Corp., a builder in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. The builder also offers composite decking and railing products.
The biggest complaint about vinyl railing seems to be that it's prone to glare. But, counters Pyle: "People expect perfection from vinyl because it's a man-made product. It is reflective, so it will be brighter (than wood or composites), but that's why it's not absorbing heat."
For the time being, wood railings are the market leader. "The trades are familiar with working with lumber. Wood needs to be used for structural [deck] members anyway, so the carpenter is already working with it," says Steiger.
Nevertheless, manufacturers predict vinyl railing systems will become increasingly popular as homeowners gain awareness of their benefits compared to wood. Also, new treated woods are more expensive than the now-phased-out CCA lumber, so vinyl railing prices may be even more cost-competitive in the future.
Outdoor Technologies. Many vinyl railing systems are available to coordinate with the firm's existing decking products, including the Liberty line. Liberty vinyl decking planks have built-in channels where the fasteners are inserted; a cover snaps into this channel to cover the fasteners and provide a continuous surface. The wood-grain-look products come in white, tan, and gray and are 40 percent more skid-proof than wood, claims the maker. 800-736-5143. www.otivinyl.com.
HB&G.The latest addition to the PermaPorch railing line, the driftwood-shade deck rail is made from expanded PVC and comes in pre-assembled sections that are easy to install, claims the maker. Four styles of balusters are available to coordinate with the textured top rail. The company also manufactures a white deck rail. 800-264-4424. www.hbgcolumns.com.
Westech Fence.Many vinyl railing and fencing styles are available to complement the firm's wood-grain vinyl decking. Part of the Presidio line, the decking has a self-spacing design that easily installs with a power screwdriver, says the maker. The planks measure 2 inches by 12 inches. They're available in white, pebble-stone, and almond. 800-464-8614. www.westechfence.com.
Deck Covers. Retro Deck vinyl deck covers can be installed on top of old or new wood and concrete solid surfaces. The product requires a saw, measuring tape, screw gun, mallet, and stainless steel screws for installation. Rails and post covers also are available. The firm's products come in white, beige, and gray. 800-727-0223. www.retrodeck.com.
Kroy Building Products. Fusion Fence is made from sonically welding—rather than gluing—the vinyl components together for super strength, the firm says. The vinyl fencing comes in a wide range of designs for new and remodeling applications. Many additional vinyl and composite fencing, decking, and railing products, as well as accessories, are available. 800-933-5769. www.kroybp.com.
L.B. Plastics. Made from rigid PVC, Sheerline 3250 railing components now come in clay in addition to white, beige, and gray hues. Sheerline vinyl decking planks also are available. Sheerline systems add style and elegance to any porch, balcony, or deck, claims the maker. Coordinating smooth and fluted columns are optional. 800-752-7739. www.lbplastics.com.
Genova Products. Available in white and tan, the firm's vinyl railings come in 6- and 8-foot sections. They can be used on wood and concrete surfaces or with Genova's vinyl decking in new-home and remodeling applications. The railings are reinforced with 12-gauge aluminum P-channels and come in prepackaged kits. 800-521-7488. www.genovaproducts.com.
CertainTeed. Adaptable to wall and post mountings, the vinyl EverNew handrail measures 1½ inches in diameter to meet ADA requirements. It's ideal for use with the EverNew railing system, says the maker. Many vinyl decking and railing products are available to create unique designs. 800-233-8990. www.certainteed.com.