Vinyl fencing, decking and railing have come a long way since the days on horse farms. Architects, general contractors, remodelers and landscape architects can now offer their clients products that have exceptional weatherability and durability along with minimal maintenance.
Quality vinyl outdoor living products are designed to remain consistent in shape and tend not to warp or swell. There are no fibres in the product, so there are no burrs, splinters, chips or slivers. Because of added stabilizers and UV inhibitors, the products are weather-resistant and waterproof.
Fading and Weathering
All outdoor products will fade over time. Vinyl outdoor living products are no exception. The advantage that vinyl has over other materials is that it fades uniformly.
Vinyl won't blister, rot, rust or peel and it weathers uniformly. Because colour is extruded throughout the product, it doesn't need paint or other surface treatments such as water sealants and stains. The way it is designed and engineered to be put together, no surface screws, nails or sharp edges show. It is also resistant to stains. Testing for chemical resistivity reveals that vinyl is not affected by rock salt or other chemicals used for snow removal.
Vinyl decks offer slip-resistant surfaces and since vinyl does not splinter or have rough edges, it is a safe material ideally suited for decks. That is also why it is so heavily used in the equestrian sector; direct impact into a rail doesn't cause splintering and minimizes injury to a horse. Vinyl horse fencing systems can be designed to bend back into place. In the case of a concentrated load impact, vinyl horse fencing can simply pop out of a post and quickly be refastened.
Under normal use, vinyl fencing will not break when installed properly. If subjected to a direct substantial impact (e.g., an automobile running into a fence line) vinyl fencing can break. Planks, pickets and rails are easily replaced if damaged.
Vinyl outdoor living products stand up to temperature extremes; although vinyl will become less flexible in colder weather conditions. Nevertheless vinyl will not break or crack unless subjected to an unusually strong impact. Also, it is normal for vinyl materials to expand and contract during temperature changes. Proper design and installation can accommodate this process.
Another product characteristic of vinyl is that minor scratches don't show or lead to bigger problems. With metal, scratches can expose a product to the elements, allowing rust to set in. Likewise, scratches on wood can expose it to accelerated degradation, more swelling and harmful insect infestations.
Typical colour choices for vinyl fencing and decking are white, tan or grey. However, new colour choices will soon expand the selection. For example, two of the newest colours for vinyl decking are wood tones similar to redwood and pressure-treated wood. Vinyl railing comes in a variety of colours and can be matched to a designer's choice.
Dark colours are not recommended for vinyl planking because they have high heat buildup that could cause unreinforced planks to distort, sag or bend.
Some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties that are transferable with the sale of property. Extended warranties typically last more than 25 years.
The performance of vinyl outdoor living products is measured by a variety of physical characteristics. Following is a brief description of each product's standards and testing criteria.
Vinyl decking is subjected to tests for low temperature, high temperature, puncture loads, blunt impact, uniform loads defined by uplift and live loads, fire resistance, weatherability and stair tread structural integrity.
The specifications for fencing differ depending on the type or use of the fence - whether it is for commercial, residential or agricultural use - but all fence profiles conform to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard ASTM F964: Standard Specification for Rigid Poly(Vinyl Chloride) (PVC) Exterior Profiles Used for Fencing.
It is best to check with individual manufacturers on the specific standards that apply to a particular type of vinyl fence. Standard testing for vinyl fencing includes tests that measure its ability to withstand cracking, temperature extremes, direct impact, warping and discoloration.
The standard also dictates that the fence be free from visible cracks, holes, foreign inclusions, or other defects. The fencing profiles should be as uniform as commercially practicable in colour, opacity, density and other physical properties.
While the provisions of codes and standards differ slightly, most handrails must be designed and constructed to withstand a concentrated load of 200 pounds (91kg) applied at any point and any direction. Intermediate rails, balusters and panel fillers are designed to withstand a horizontally applied load of 50 pounds (23kg) on a one-square-foot area. The top of a guardrail must be at least 36" (914mm) from the floor. The spacing in the guardrail ornamental pattern, balustrade or pickets must not allow the passage of a 4" (10cm) diameter sphere. Railing systems, regardless of material composition are identified in three categories: Decorative Grade (for installation less than 30" (762mm) off the ground); Residential Grade (for installation more than 30" (762mm) off the ground); and Commercial Grade (a railing height equal to or greater than 42" (1067mm) high).
For all vinyl outdoor living products, weatherability testing is also conducted to measure resistance to the elements including sun, wind, rain and pollution. In addition to accelerated tests conducted in a laboratory, outdoor exposure tests are done in "real time."
Test results reveal that outdoor vinyl products retain a high degree of their original physical properties and colour during exposure to these various weathering conditions. Test results are available through individual manufacturers.
Vinyl has a relatively high ignition temperature as compared to other materials. This means that even when exposed to an open flame source, vinyl will resist ignition much longer than most materials, which could serve to slow or even stop the spread of fire.
Techniques for installing a vinyl fence are similar to those of a wood fence. The same tools and principles apply with the notable exception that vinyl fencing does not require job-site welding and gluing. As with wood, vinyl posts are set in the ground with gravel and concrete. The posthole depth should be below the frost line to avoid the effects of ground shifting and swelling. Two types of fastener systems are commonly used to fasten rails to posts:
- Fence rails attached to posts by galvanized screws hidden in the post so that no screws show, or
- A vinyl or nylon snap-in type system that uses clips to secure rails to posts.
Vinyl deck systems are installed by a number of different methods based on specific designs of the manufacturer. Vinyl deck planks can be cut just like wood deck planks using a power saw. A blade made for vinyl will deliver the smoothest, cleanest cuts. If that type of blade cannot be found, a fine-toothed tungsten carbide blade may be used.
The same tools that are used for wood materials are also used for vinyl fencing, decking and railing.
Vinyl railing is installed in a similar way to vinyl fencing, with the main difference being the post mount. The first thing that is done when installing a vinyl rail is the attachment of a post mount. Vinyl posts are then installed by simply sliding over the post mount. Most railing styles feature a bottom horizontal rail; if so, then this is installed next, followed by the pickets and then the top horizontal rail. Next, vertical pickets are placed into pre-cut holes in the bottom railing. Then the top railing fits over the pickets and is secured into place the same way as the bottom railing. There are several options for post caps to add a finishing touch such as a dome-type cap, gothic style or a New England style cap.
According to Today's Homeowner, vinyl decking is 30 to 50 percent more than a standard pressure-treated wood deck. In addition, the magazine Workbench reported that vinyl decking could cost twice as much as pressure-treated southern pine, which is the least expensive wood on the market. However, the difference in cost goes down when compared to more expensive woods such as tropical hardwood, redwood and cedar.
Typical costs of vinyl fencing range widely because of its versatility, which allows it to be configured in various styles of functional and decorative fences.
Vinyl railing systems are cost competitive with painted wood railing systems. While the very lightweight metal railing systems can be less expensive than vinyl railings, specialty vinyl railings are extremely competitive with welded commercial aluminium railing systems.
Despite these higher initial costs, vinyl's lifetime of low maintenance and long-term durability makes it extremely competitive, especially when compared to the lifecycle maintenance costs of other products. When purchasing products made with other materials, there is the initial cost of the product itself and, in cases where painting is desired, the added cost of labour and materials. After that are the costs of repairing and replacing worn boards, adding chemical preservatives, repainting or re-staining and the labour cost associated with maintenance. This can dramatically increase the lifecycle costs of wood and/or metal fencing, decking and railing.
A standard southern yellow pine deck will need to be completely replaced every 7 to 10 years, depending on how well the deck has been maintained. Vinyl decks, on the other hand, require virtually no maintenance and will last more than 20 years.
To illustrate the impact of lifecycle cost in fencing materials, the owners of two horse farms in Kentucky kept stringent documentation on maintenance and labour costs on their standard wood horse fences for a period of three years. Periodically the fencing was painted according to installer's recommendations and worn boards were replaced as needed. The records revealed an annual maintenance cost of 50 cents to 70 cents per linear foot. Therefore, maintenance on a 5000-foot horse fence could cost between $2,500 and $3,500 annually. Using this example, the savings on maintenance alone can pay for the difference in original cost of a vinyl fence in seven years or less.
Ease of maintenance is vinyl's most significant advantage over other materials. As with all exterior products, vinyl outdoor living products will become dirty when exposed to the elements. A mild detergent and water should be sufficient to keep the products looking new. For tough stains, a soft abrasive scrub or baking soda works well. Light chalking may appear on the surface of some outdoor vinyl products. This would also be normal on any coated or painted surface. Washed away by rainfall and normal changes in weather, this process helps to keep the product looking like new. There is no need to paint any outdoor vinyl product because the colour pigments are added at the beginning of the manufacturing process and are compounded into the raw material prior to production. Although not classified as graffiti proof, most paint can be removed from vinyl outdoor living products with just a little effort. It may require the use of a pressure washer or in an extreme case the use of paint thinner. Four-hundred-grit sandpaper can be used when some spots will not come off using the above methods.
Vinyl outdoor living products will, when subjected to extended damp weather, collect mould and mildew. They are, however, easily cleaned with a solution of mild household detergent and water.
The phenomenon of tribo-charging - the buildup of static electricity on a flat surface - can affect vinyl walking surfaces. This phenomenon occurs most frequently in dry climates, where hot, dry winds and dust-born particles can create static electricity on the surface of vinyl decks. This static electricity is the same as when people drag their feet across a rug on a dry day or rub a balloon on fur or wool. Some manufacturers are now incorporating anti-static additives to their products to prevent this problem; a quick hosing-down of the deck with water will also dissipate the static electricity.