Many deck builders use composite deck planks. But when it comes to railing systems, some prefer to provide customers with an array of options. The ability to offer a choice can be key to closing the sale, especially when clients have collected multiple bids. Railing materials include wood, glass, steel, aluminum, and vinyl. Each has its own advantages.

Not all deck builders are enthusiastic about the cost and availability of vinyl railings, but many see the need to at least have them available.

Take Stacy Shamblin, owner of Archadeck of Austin, Texas. About 60% of the decks he builds are constructed of composite materials. But though Shamblin carries samples of vinyl railing in his truck, he's reluctant to suggest the product due to availability and price issues. The small suppliers Shamblin uses don't stock vinyl railing systems, and it would be impossible for him to install it at less than $35 a running foot and still make his margin.

But other contractors cite similar figures and view vinyl far more favorably. Scott Pray, owner of Bozeman Deck Co., in Bozeman, Mont., says $35 a lineal foot is in line with his own pricing, "and that compares with $17 or $18 a foot, installed, for redwood." That makes for a bigger margin.

Andy Merz, owner of Frontier Deck Builders, in Eldersburg, Md., estimates her costs for vinyl, installed, at $40 to $50 a running foot. "That's 200% more than wood, if I'm doing my math right," she says.

Courtesy of Kroy Building Products

Merz often installs vinyl rail systems, usually on composite decks, but sometimes on wood. "It's a little bit more of a hassle, but I'm fine with it," she says. Putting together a vinyl rail system usually makes for lots of little adjustments for her crews, she says. The installation is not as clean and clear cut" as it is for wood railings, she adds.

Nice and easy

Low maintenance drives the desire for both composite and vinyl products. In the case of vinyl, color -- a clean white -- is also an attractive characteristic.

Rick Crossman, owner of Archadeck of Southern Fairfield, in Connecticut, says that while a vinyl rail "may get dirty from acid rain, it's not going to be chipping or peeling. So you have more consistent attractiveness. And from the street, you don't see the difference" between the vinyl rail and a wooden one.

Pray recommends composite boards with vinyl railings for those seeking a low-maintenance deck. That's a suggestion that Keith Neumann, owner of KN Construction, San Diego, entirely agrees with. "I like small applications [of vinyl components]," Neumann says. What Neumann appreciates about vinyl is that it adds one more design option.

Who chooses that option? Often older people, Pray says. "If somebody can afford a composite deck and a vinyl railing, it's 100% maintenance free," he says. "Older, retired people will go that way if they have the budget for it."