The sagging economy has presented savvy contractors with an innovative opportunity. Homeowners are well aware of their budgetary limits, but opening the wallet to renovate a deck can enrich their living experience and make that necessary “staycation” much more appealing. With offerings such as the richness of exotic hardwoods, artistic accents and low maintenance options, staying home isn’t just a financial necessity; it’s a preference.

Through leaps in research and development, manufacturers have created high-performance products that offer all the aesthetic and practical benefits customers require.

Adam Zambanini, senior product manager of decking for Trex, said his company’s research shows that “consumer’s top considerations include low-maintenance attributes; fade and stain resistance; and eco-friendly properties of the product.

“Rather than tackling a complete rebuild, it’s possible to retain the sub-structure of a current deck and simply replace the existing planks and railings at a fraction of the time and cost,” said Zambanini. “This concept of deck “re-facing” is rapidly catching on among homeowners as a budget-friendly, value-increasing home improvement project.”

Trex Transcend decking and railing system is engineered with a finish that resists stains, scratches and mold, and features a high-definition wood grain pattern in deep colors. Trex Transcend is designed with an integrated shell. The boards are protected on three sides, and the underside breathes to avoid surface separation. The product features a proprietary nine-element surface formulation that produces a natural, wood-like grain pattern with a satin finish. The collection is available in four colors — vintage lantern, tree house, gravel path and fire pit. 

“Cleaning stains and mold off first and second generation composite decking is not easy,” said Edie Kello, director of marketing for Fiberon. “I see more demand for higher performance products that are easy to clean and are resistant to stains, fading, mold and scratches.

“New technologies that offer coatings to alternative decking can produce products that are ultra-low maintenance to meet customer demand for products that not only look great, but perform beyond products introduced in the past 10 to 15 years,” added Kello. “Innovative technologies are producing beautiful decking that not only resists weathering, fading, scratching, mold and staining, but are easier to clean.”

Fiberon now offers the multi-chromatic rosewood and ipe colors for its Horizon decking to emulate the graining of tropical hardwoods such as tigerwood and mahogany. Horizon is mold-resistant and has PermaTech surface technology for resistance to staining and fading. The product features a 10-year limited stain and fade resistance warranty, as well as a 20-year limited lifetime warranty. Horizon is also available in four solid colors including sand, brick, bronze and slate.

CorrectDeck CX has anti-microbial protection for resistance to mold and mildew to deliver ultra-low maintenance. Its co-extruded top layer encases the exposed wood fibers on the top and sides of each board providing added resistance to color fade and staining. The company’s RapidRail features a low-luster finish for the look of wood and includes 4×4 newel posts, extruded handrails and balusters.

CertainTeed’s EverNew line of vinyl decking and railing products now includes EverNew LT cellular PVC decking. EverNew LT decking emulates the look and feel of wood but never requires painting or staining, will not splinter, warp or rot, and is highly resistant to wood-boring insects. The product features Lumenite surface technology, which offers protection from mold, stains and the fading of color. The Lumenite surface is also solar-reflecting, making it cool to the touch on hot days. The product is backed by a 10-year stain and fade resistance warranty — as well as CertainTeed’s lifetime, limited performance warranty.

“The trends we’re seeing in composite decking — and ones we’ve developed products for — include the introduction of fire-rated composite decking products; deck board options that are competitive with wood decking; a growing number of color selections and accessories; a solid, reversible profile board; and grooved boards for hidden fastening systems,” said Brent Gwatney, vice president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield.

“These trends are being driven by the growing use of composite decking as an alternative to wood, customer interest and feedback, and the economy,” added Gwatney. “Essentially, we’re working to make it fast and simple for builders to create beautiful, durable decks.”

Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies (A.E.R.T.) now offers MoistureShield FR, a fire-rated decking which is the latest addition to the environmentally friendly MoistureShield line. The product features an embossed wood grain texture on both sides so the boards can be installed either side up. The 1 1/4-inch thick MoistureShield FR is available in three colors — Cape Cod gray, earthtone and seasoned mahogany — and three lengths: 12, 16 and 20 feet.

“The biggest trends right now are versatile wood-alternative materials that are green in a grand sense, i.e., taking into account the cradle to grave carbon footprint,” said Jim Mahler, president of Lifetime Lumber. “Other trends are fire and weather resistance and even good looks. And with the topic on everyone’s mind being the economy, wood alternative lumber can cost an arm and a leg; it needs to be affordable.”

LifeTime Lumber is an alternative lumber product created with thermoset polymers combined with recycled mineral filler. LifeTime is made from a patented mixture of fly ash, a nonhazardous inert material recovered from the electric power generation industry, and polyurethane. The product will not rot, be affected by termites, support mold and mildew, absorb water or significantly expand or contract. Lifetime is low-maintenance, eco-friendly and fire-resistant.

The product is available through building material supplier BlueLinx.

“There is high demand for green products in general and a strong pull for affordable fire-rated materials in our market,” said James Snakard, general manager for BlueLinx’ Northern California region. “Homeowners in the hills, coastal regions, and even urban areas are extremely concerned about the recent wildfires and how to protect against them.”

Some states have modified their building codes to make sure exterior products help limit the possible damage caused by fires. In 2008, California enacted the most comprehensive set of regulations called the Wildland-Urban Interface Fire (WUI) Area Building Standards.

TimberTech offers four composite deck boards that meet the WUI standards: DockSider, EarthWood, TwinFinish and XLM. The company’s DockSider, Earthwood and TwinFinish composite planks meet the Class B designation for flame spread. XLM, TimberTech’s all-PVC plank, passed the stringent ASTM-E84 requirements to achieve a Class A Flame Spread Rating. Additionally, XLM is offered in four colors — mountain cedar, river rock, sandridge and desert bronze — and is available in 12-, 16- and 20-ft. lengths with matching 12-in. fascia and 7 1/4-in. stair riser in 12-ft. lengths. All are backed with an industry-leading 25-year limited residential warranty.

Outside living luxury

Instead of creating more space by adding a room, homeowners are opting for decks that serve as an outdoor living area with all the comforts of home. Whether the choice is real wood or a wood alternative, decks give homeowners the dual benefits of expanding their living area and amazing their guests.

The main goal on customers’ minds is “creating that safe haven or get-away atmosphere,” said Ron Long, president of PureWood. “The bigger the home, the more detailed the decks get,” said Long. “Outdoor living is an ever increasing category for many lumberyards, and with people staying in their current homes longer, remodeling or replacing the deck seems to be on more To Do lists for these homeowners.”

PureWood’s Pro-Grade line of thermally modified wood decking includes linea, Sahara and simplicity styles, which are 1 1/4 in. thick by 5 in. wide. Purewood is natural lumber that undergoes a heat-based, chemical-free process that changes compounds in the wood, followed by application of a sealant specifically designed for thermally modified wood.

“The trends continue to be centered on the outdoor room concept with the same comforts and amenities you’d find indoors,” said Michael Gori, AZEK product manager-decking. “Homeowners worship the outdoors no matter the climate and wish to make the most of their time there — as well as entertain. And, the down economy continues to fuel the idea of the “staycation,” which creates more of a need for a backyard oasis at home. Multi levels and task-centered deck areas are popular as well.”

AZEK’s Arbor collection of cellular PVC decking is available in three new colors. The wood grain and pattern resembles tropical woods in colors of acacia, morado and redland rose. AZEK Rail’s Premier Series offers the colors of kona and black and includes a line of accessories to match each color with hardware, posts, post caps and skirts.

“We are feeling the comeback of the traditional porch, with our AZEK porch product [1×4 tongue and groove porch planks] gaining popularity,” adds Gori. “We had heard the porch was making a comeback, but we’re seeing it as reality. Stain resistance seems to be a huge issue, just like decking.”

L.B. Plastics has introduced Sheerline Screen Clad System for wood-screened porches. Screen Clad covers all sides of a screen porch’s structural components, protecting the underlying wood from UV damage and shielding it from water. This system installs on existing and new construction. Sheerline includes pieces to cover all sides of the structural components and fits 4″ x 4″, 6″ x 6″, 2″ x 4″ and 2″ x 6″ frame construction. Color availability is white.
“Planning is the most important part of building a deck because, chances are, you’ll be living with your design for a long time,” explained Chris Fox, marketing manager for Universal Forest Products. “Your deck is a focal point for enjoying the outdoors. You’ll want to carefully consider the design elements that go into your deck — it should include the features that match your lifestyle and complement the design of your house.”

Responding to the demand for tropical hardwood, Latitudes offers its Capricorn line of composite decking. Capricorn is available in two tropical colors, adobe and koa, which mimic the wood grain and colors of mahogany and ipe. Capricorn decking is co-extruded with a protective cap stock/top layer for maintenance and resistance to stains and fading. Capricorn composite decking comes with a reversible wood grain finish and is available in solid and slotted (grooved) deck boards, in 12-, 16- and 20-ft. lengths. Lattitudes also offers color coordinated Luster railings as well as Equator hidden fasteners.

“It’s important that the deck fits the home and doesn’t look out of place,” said Fox. Today’s larger homes can have “expansive decks with functional features for entertaining: grilling or kitchen areas, dining areas, lounge/relaxation areas and spa/hot tub areas. All have their place in the new outdoor living area.”

For smaller homes, “unique designs that flow with the home’s architecture are popular. With smaller decks, doing more with less is one of the primary goals. Adding complementary components like a grill kick out adds space, and accessories like glass balusters near pools will make a smaller deck appear more spacious.”

UFP has also found popularity with decorative accessories, which can be an inexpensive way to individualize a deck. Deck accessory products include deck lights, ornamental post caps and decorative balusters, low voltage and solar lighting.

Abaco tropical hardwood decking, from Aljoma Lumber, features a contemporary design with a smooth finish on one face and a moulded surface on the other. The moulded surface makes the boards slip-resistant and cooler in hot weather. Abaco’s grooved deck board has slotted sides for quick and easy installation. Hidden fasteners help gap each board with the proper spacing and allow for natural expansion and contraction. Abaco is available in both 3/4- and 1-in.-thick boards in widths of 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 in., in random lengths. Matching post and railing components are available.

“Contractors have told us they want the natural color that occurs with our thermal modification process, so we now have UV blockers in our sealant that will give good color retention for the first couple of years,” said Purewood’s Ron Long. “Our quality is also second to none for a natural all wood product. The dimensional stability that we offer allows very easy installation and nice, tight and secure construction is maintained.”

Tiger Claw hidden deck fasteners promise faster and easier installation. The fasteners are constructed from heavy-gauge stainless steel and can be used on woods, synthetic and composite decking materials. To ease installation, the company has introduced the Tiger Jaw tool, which uses compression to install all types of deck boards when using any Tiger Claw fastener. The Tiger Jaw works from the second row to, and including, the last row (the first row of boards is screwed down).

Simpson Strong-Tie’s Strong-Drive SD screw (for use with the company’s structural connectors) is designed to replace nails in certain products. The SD screw features an optimized shank, which is designed to match the fastener holes in Simpson Strong-Tie connectors. The hex head helps eliminate cam-out and avoids stripping of the head. The sharp point of the screw enables fast starts, and the serrated threads reduce torque for improved drivability.

“Thorough planning will help keep the construction schedule on target, cost of materials in check and can ensure the homeowner’s continued enjoyment and use of the deck,” said A.E.R.T.’s Brent Gwatney.

Thanks to strides made by manufacturers, decks can run the gamut from a major redesign to a simple upgrade. Either way they’ll be attractive, functional and long lasting.

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