Plastic Deck Lumber: An Alternative to Wood

Unusual blue watering can on timber decking
David Burton / Getty Images

Think of Lincoln Logs, the popular children's toy. They are made of plastic, but they look like wood (sort of). This is the same concept behind plastic lumber, a material that is growing in popularity as a choice for a sustainable decking material.
 

What is Plastic Deck Lumber?

Plastic lumber is made from either recycled plastic or virgin material, typically single resin polyethylene (HDPE and LPDE), polystyrene or polyvinyl chloride.

It appeared on the building material market in the late 1980s and is available in rectangular cross-sections with dimensions similar to traditional lumber.

Don't confuse plastic lumber with composite decking materials, which also contain wood fiber. Other uses for plastic lumber beside decking include railings, benches and other indoor or outdoor furniture, siding, fences, and trim pieces such as those for window and door frames.

 

Benefits of Plastic Lumber

Plastic lumber offers many advantages over wood as a decking material:

  • Can be molded into many different shapes and sizes, including curves
  • Waterproof and resists rot and mold without sealant
  • Stain-proof against many chemicals and substances
  • Manufactured in a range of colors and doesn't require paint
  • Fade-proof against the elements
  • Skid-resistant
  • Higher density than wood
  • Does not contain chemical treatments
  • Does not splinter, crack or warp
  • Resists insects
  • Fireproof
  • 100% recyclable

Installation

Just like wood, plastic lumber can be cut and drilled--no special tools required. This allows for do-it-yourself installation. Keep in mind that plastic isn't able to span as far as wood, so you should provide adequate support. Also, leave room for the plastic boards to expand.

Consult the manufacturer's recommendations.

Cost

Plastic lumber costs quite a bit more than wood decking. It's impossible to provide an average cost as each project varies in scale, geographic location and level of detail. Keep in mind that you will recoup a large portion of these upfront costs since plastic deck lumber is so low-maintenance compared to wood and will have a longer lifetime. As plastic lumber products become more popular, the cost will likely drop.

The Question of Aesthetics

While I love how durable this material is plus the fact that it's 100% recyclable, I don't exactly love the way it looks. In some cases, it can be downright hideous, but in others, it looks pretty decent from a distance. The problem with plastic deck lumber is that the molded wood grain pattern is too perfect and consistent to look real. Why pretend to be something you are not? Fortunately, plastic lumber is available in a variety of textures, and it's possible to avoid the fake-wood wood effect. 

Manufacturers and Brands

MAXiTUF by Resco Plastics
Evolve by Renew Plastics
MacLumber