Home finishing is a step that not all homeowners are aware of. It's something custom home builders do with style and flair, and manufactured home builders almost never bother with. The finishes, sometimes called architectural finishes, refer to decorative semi-functional pieces that add style and personality to a home but don't necessarily contribute structurally.
Molding along the top corner of a ceiling, giving the room shape and hiding the seam, is a type of architectural finish. As are those styled decorative brackets at the top of supportive porch posts. Most types of artistic molded detail can be included, and many visions of a dream home include a surprising number of these finishes to transform a house from a 'structure you live in' into a 'beautiful home to raise a family'.
Once you decide to add a few architectural finishes, the next step is to choose your material. Finishes and molding generally come in one of two materials; Polyurethane (PU) and vinyl (PVC). Let's dive into those differences to make the best decision for your home.
Vinyl PVC Finishes
An architectural finish like molding or brackets that is made out of "PVC" or "vinyl" are the same, as PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. This is a very light and internally porous type of plastic often used for window frames and decorative pieces. It is easy to extrude, easy to install, and you can get custom shapes and sizes if you know the right brand provider to ask.
PVC finishes are incredibly lightweight, lighter than most woods and therefore very safe to install both for DIY homeowners and your wall.
Vinyl finishes come with a natural glossy appearance with a few 'baked in' color options. It is possible to paint vinyl but you may need to repaint more frequently than drywall which is papery and rough-textured.
Vinyl is less expensive than wood molding while simultaneously being more resistant to humidity and water resistance over time. It is also 2-4 times less expensive than PU.
Best for Indoor Walls and Ceilings
PVC architectural finishes are most commonly used inside a home for wall and ceiling moldings. It is great for chair rails, baseboard molding, and is often used as a lightweight option for ceiling moldings. This is because it is so light that it is unlikely to pull out of drywall or weight down your ceiling. However, it is not as detailed as polyurethane.
Polyurethane is cast as a resin into molds and forms a plastic foam finished product. Like PVC, it is a lightweight plastic molding option, but it can be 2-4 times more expensive due to the specific mold pouring process. For each new size or design, a new mold is needed. However, Polyurethane is ideal for high-detail and high-end options and can be textured and painted to closely resemble wood in the home.
Polyurethane's greatest claim to fame with finishes is that it can be incredibly detailed. Because it is poured into a mold, the surface texture and detail can be far more nuanced than injection-molded or carved PVC. This is one of the reasons it is popular in higher-end projects.
Polyurethane is more durable than vinyl. It has greater flexibility and is therefore less likely to snap. This is because it is a 'foam plastic', giving it greater insulation and durability qualities. And like PVC, it is highly resistant to damp environments, making both a better choice for humid areas.
Unlike vinyl, which does have a distinct plastic texture, polyurethane can be textured with a roughness that helps it resemble wood. For this reason, PU is easier to paint and it blends well with a home's existing wood structure and design.
Best for High Detail Finishes
Polyurethane is notably more expensive than PVC, as it offers higher detail and a more natural, paintable, texture. These qualities combined make PU a better choice for your highly detailed molding like ceiling medallions and decorative corners or brackets that require a high level of detail and may be replacing heavy plaster.
Polyurethane or PVC Finishes, Which is Best for You?
Whether you should choose polyurethane finishes or vinyl depends entirely on your project. For most architectural finishes and strips of molding, PVC is the more affordable option and works wonderfully. But if you want a high level of detail or a greater ability to paint your finishes, polyurethane can be worth the investment. Especially to create a refined effect in high-end homes.