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Decked Out

Last year, the big story was composites versus wood. Now the big names in decking have introduced a new contender, PVC, yet they are harkening back to their roots by emulating tropical hardwoods and variegated colors.

April 30, 2008
New Directions for the Original Decking Material

More natural wood tones are gaining in popularity.  Photo courtesy of Trex

Last year, the big story was composites versus wood. Now the big names in decking have introduced a new contender, PVC, yet they are harkening back to their roots by emulating tropical hardwoods and variegated colors. Read on for all the trends.

1: Purely Plastic

“It used to be all composites,” recalls Trex marketing manager for the trade Lance Bunch. “But not anymore. Now the market is segmented: subtle wood grain, smooth board, wood grain, exotic hardwood look and now ultra-low-maintenance PVC.”

Trex partnered with Veka Innovations, a company specializing in PVC blending and extrusion technology, to introduce the Trex Escapes line in January. Besides enhanced stain-, mold- and scratch-resistance, this new generation of PVC decking can be mitered and routed just like wood, and also has the ability to reflect and not absorb the heat on hot days.

Kevin Brennan, TimberTech’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, agrees that composites and wood still dominate the marketplace, yet his company is also diving into the PVC niche. XLM (“Extreme Low Maintenance”) is TimberTech’s 100 percent plastic offering. Brennan says it doesn't look like wood and tends not to stain or scratch. As an added bonus, the new board is 40 percent lighter than TimberTech's wood-plastic composite planks.

Decking manufacturers are expanding into railing as well.  Photo courtesy of Trex

“Sales are growing in the Midwest and East Coast,” he says. “West goes toward natural and wood composite; XLM is just starting out there but sales volume will start to pick up.”

Azek Building Products also entered the fray by acquiring Procell Decking Systems in 2006. Its new offering, called Azek Deck with Procell Technology, is a cellular PVC product that does not contain wood fillers or fibers. “This allows our boards to cover the 3 S’s: stain-resistant, scratch-resistant, split-resistant — yet be workable like wood,” says President Ralph Bruno.

Another mover and shaker is Fiber Composites, which recently acquired the Meridian, Idaho, manufacturing assets and WeatherBest brand name from Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and now produces the PVC-based WeatherBest High Performance Decking. Marketing director Craig Sherrett notes, “Time- and maintenance-free fuel these consumer trends.”

2: A Taste of the Tropics

Emulating the feel of dark, exotic hardwoods, Brennan says, has “taken off in the last five years and is truly a nationwide trend.” Sherrett agrees and sees this as being spurred on from more homeowners wanting living space outdoors. “People are moving big-screen TVs, couches and expensive grills onto the deck to create sophisticated outdoor living spaces, so the deck needed to be equally as sophisticated,” he says. “We took the interior hardwood floor concept right outside. There’s a real niche for the tropical hardwood product because it's easy on the environment and low-maintenance.” (For more on this, see related Wood vs. Composites article.)

Manufacturers are building a full line of products around the deck.  Photo courtesy of Azek

The whole industry is moving toward more realistic looking products that use multi-hued variations. For example, TimberTech’s Earthwood composite plank “uses a new color streaking process that looks like tropical hardwood,” says Brennan. Its XLM line comes in three rich colors (Mountain Cedar, RiverRock and SandRidge) with a different grain pattern on opposite faces for added versatility. WeatherBest’s Sherrett says no two of its Tropicals boards are alike. “Consumers are really responding to all this.”

In addition to Burnished Amber and Cayenne, Trex’s Brazilia composite line also has a new color, Espresso. “It has a dark exotic look that weathers great,” says Bunch. “Trex has also taken the colors consumers wanted in composite and put them into PVC — darker colors, not shiny, with looks like weathered wood,” he says. Trex Escapes features a natural wood-grain pattern in three long-lasting, rich colors: Pewter, Sahara (beige) and Acorn (brown).

Railings that replicate wood are replacing the usual white railing in many applications.  
Photo courtesy of Trex

3: Beyond the Deck

Several deck manufacturers are expanding their lines to encompass all that used to be wood, including railings, fencing, exterior trim and porch planks.

“Originally the industry kind of ignored railings,” says TimberTech’s Brennan. “But in the last four years it’s really taken off. People who spend a lot of money on a deck want cool railings too.” To prove this theory, the company has three different styles of railings now, when five years ago it had none.

WeatherBest’s just-launched White Composite Railing product comes in 6- and 8-foot sections that can be snapped together in as little as five minutes without hardware and have two rail-top options.

“Trex is turning into an outdoor living products company,” says Bunch. “The inside is expanding with outdoor great rooms on the deck, kitchens, hot tubs, sitting rooms.” Now, he says, people can create their own outdoor living look by mixing and matching the entire Trex line.

Natural wood, like this cedar deck, is still popular.  
Photo courtesy of Sun Forest Construction

Contrarily, Azek built its brand name on trim and expanded to offer decking, porches, railing and molding. It recently acquired Toronto railing manufacturer Composatron which sold its products under the Trademark and Premier brands. The railings are co-extruded with a wood composite core and vinyl capstock and come in white and five other colors to match Azek Deck.

Next up for the company is a porch product. Maureen Murray, Azek Building Products representative says, “Our Procell Technology reduces expansion/contraction, making it possible for Azek Deck to spin off the new Azek Porch. These planks are thinner, like indoor flooring, and tongue-and-groove for easy installation,” adding that the front porch is making a big comeback in traditionally planned communities.

The last frontier seems to be fencing. TimberTech’s new FenceScape is made from reclaimed wood fibers and pure plastic resins, so it’s consistent in color, shape and size. WeatherBest promises a line of fencing out later this year.

4: Fasten Your Fasteners

Hidden fasteners are the hot new trend for installation.  Photo courtesy of Trex

“The last thing people want after they’ve spent a lot of money on a deck is screws showing,” says TimberTech’s Brennan. “2007 was our first year with our own hidden fasteners system, and we’ve been blown away with the results.” XLM’s grooved planks are designed to work with ConceaLoc, TimberTech’s new stainless steel hidden fastener that provides quick and consistent gapping while keeping a fastener-free surface.

Trex has partnered with Tiger Claw, a pioneer in the deck fastener industry, to manufacture its Hideaway Hidden Fastener System, which is designed to be used exclusively with its new grooved boards. Tiger Claw also manufacturers Fiber Composites’ private labeled Phantom II hidden fastener system.

5: Working With Mother Nature

“Especially in the West, the concept of being green is important,” Sherrett of WeatherBest, says. “We use recycled materials, reuse plastics and don’t cut down new timbers. And since our composite and PVC decking has a longer life cycle, they don’t need to be stained or painted yearly.”

As public awareness of deck safety and compliance grows, decking manufacturers meet expectations by building stronger products. In addition to being able to withstand greater wind loads and hurricanes in the East and South, decking is being built to combat wildfires on the other coast. TimberTech’s PVC boards have received a Class A Fire Rating, the most stringent rating available for exterior fire resistance, and WeatherBest is in the process of producing a PVC line to meet the standards. Trex Accents exceeds the strict fire regulations set by the State of California and San Diego County.


New Directions for the Original Decking Material

PVC decking offers lower maintenance and more stain resistance than composites.  
Photo courtesy of Fiberon

Rarely does anyone ask, what’s new in wood decking? On the contrary, there are several noteworthy additions this year. Brand new on the market is PureWood, thermally modified Southern Pine wood decking created in a process patented by Finnish R&D company Stellac Oy. PureWood is chemical- and metal-free, noncorrosive and nontoxic. Richard Kleiner, director of treated markets for Southern Pine, says the end product is a “toasted brown color, making a beautiful wood even prettier.” The high kiln heat converts the wood sugars into a natural substance that cannot be digested by insects or eaten by fungus and mold, dramatically reducing rot and decay, according to the company.

In addition, Kleiner is excited about the evolution of wood preservatives, which won’t slow down anytime soon and are taking many concerns off the table, especially when it comes to corrosion. For above-ground outdoor use, Viance’s Ecolife is protected with a nonmetallic preservative and a wood stabilizing polymer, and Arch Chemicals’ Wolmanized L3 Outdoor wood is protected by a nonmetallic, carbon-based solution that degrades in soil.

Micronized copper azole preservative is replacing the traditional alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) in the marketplace, with less copper, less bioaccumulation and less corrosive on fasteners. Plus, it’s OK for contact with aluminum.

Kleiner also notes that, as home building, remodeling and the overall economy slows, wood decking also offers cost advantages over alternative materials.

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