When Is Plastic Lumber A DIY Solution?

Posted: December 12, 2017 in Building & Design, Construction
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Many members of the “DIY” community are attracted to the concept of plastic lumber. Usually made from recycled materials it carries both benefits to the environment by using less new material. In addition, plastic lumber can be manufactured in grades that are much stronger than regular wood. Most grades of plastic lumber are UV stable and involve much less maintenance than wood. They will not require repainting, will hold their color, will not rot or splinter, and will not come under insect attack.

However, with everything there is a “catch”. In the case of plastic lumber it’s the price and delivery. The problem comes down to two factors 1.) customers assume that plastic lumber is widely stocked in the available colors, sizes, and profiles they see on the internet. 2.) Customers assume that plastic lumber is, well, “it’s just plastic”. What people do not often understand is that many plastics, including plastic lumber, are not considered the “commodity” grade of plastics that the public usually encounters in everyday life. Commodity plastics make up consumer items, what’s in your car, your toys, your kitchen. Plastics are actually available in not one but three higher quality grades above “commodity” (yes, the actual grade of plastics used in consumer items is called ‘commodity’). The other three grades are, from lower to top, engineering, high-performance, and imidized.

The DIY crowd will usually only encounter high-performance plastics in PTFE, which is used in items like telescope mounts. They will never encounter the ultra-expensive and hard to obtain imidized plastics. What you need to understand is plastic lumber falls into the engineering grade of plastic and the most commonly quoted grade, fiberglass reinforced, is at the upper end of engineering grade plastic cost.

What are we getting at here?

You need to understand that the cost of plastic lumber vs. equivalent wood will be approximately 8-10x the cost of wood! We’re just stating the facts here, folks. Plastic lumber is not “just plastic” in the way a milk jug is. These plastics are considered a premium, specialty building material, which is why you see them in so many cool applications! It needs to be a great application to be worth the cost! The reason we provided a range on cost is that the color of the lumber actually plays significantly into the cost. Black is the least expensive, followed by wood tones, and finally really off-wood colors such as yellow or white. the difference is about 30% across the spread.

So when do you go for plastic lumber?

First of all, you need to be realistic about the cost. In addition to the lumber’s cost it likely will need to be shipped in from the manufacturing plant and this can easily cost several hundred dollars. You need to be realistic that the lumber will not get to you within a day or two (getting it on site in a month is typical). Finally you need to be realistic about your project. Hey, we love plastic here, but it has it’s time and place. If you want a premium, low-maintenance building material for your project, great, splurge and make your dream project come true! The issue is you need to have the facts on hand and analyze whether or not plastic lumber actually fits your needs.

 

 

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