Building a deck is not what it used to be. Nor is, for that matter, the entire category of outdoor living—a home improvement trend that has captured the imagination of Americans in all regions, even in the Midwest and Northeast, despite their long winters.
Homeowners today want outdoor spaces to serve many functions: entertainment, dining and family gathering. And with each passing year, homeowners are willing to spend more on elaborate outdoor rooms, including kitchens and living rooms with fireplaces, benches and accent lighting as well as high-quality audio and video systems. But underneath all of it is the once humble deck.
The commonplace rectangular 20- by 30-foot deck is now a much larger and curvilinear space with many design patterns and colors. Decks today both support and accent intricately planned outdoor rooms. Deck board colors, deck patterns, their relationship with indoor flooring, and their fit with natural surroundings all are reasons why the market for decking material has grown rapidly over the last decade. In January 2019, dozens of composite decking manufacturers offer myriad types and styles of deck boards.
Yet for all of the advancement in materials, colors and performance characteristics, 83 percent of deck boards sold today are wood products. No. 1 is pressure-treated softwood lumber followed by redwood and cedar, but many luxury projects include exotic hardwoods like Brazilian ipe. The remaining 17 percent is a growing category of alternative decking products offering many choices for remodelers, deck builders and their clients.
As remodeling clients invest more in outdoor living spaces, industry data shows they are increasingly opting for higher-performance characteristics of composite decking along with the higher price tag. New composite deck boards have become more beautiful and natural looking. The trade-up calculation comes down to opting for longevity, low maintenance and greater consistency of color, over the unmistakable beauty and appeal of natural wood.
In 2018, something unexpected happened. Due to changes in international trade, the price of softwood lumber spiked. And while lumber prices have come back down to earth, new entry-level composite deck boards are now comparable in price to pressure-treated wood decking material. Will the spring of 2019 be the milestone where alternative decking products break out and begin taking a greater share of market from pressure-treated lumber? Adam Zambanini, Trex president of residential products, certainly thinks so.
“Our No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 competitors are all wood,” Zambanini says. “Pressure-treated, redwood, cedar and ipe—those are our focus. That has been our focus for the last couple of years. And what we have done is gone after a new and incremental market segment to win over those people who are building wood decks. With only 17 percent of the market being alternative decking, there is a tremendous opportunity for us to grow and take additional share from the low to the high end of the wood segment.”
With that in mind, Trex in December began shipping two new products to be competitive with the wood deck market. Trex Enhance Basics is a monochromatic deck board with three different colors and is priced at $1.75 per lineal foot. And Trex Enhance Naturals is a streaked product that comes in five colors at $2.50 per lineal foot. These prices compare favorably to a $2.27 price per lineal foot of pressure-treated lumber posted online last month at The Home Depot’s website.
“What these new products do for us is open up a segment for us now to compete directly with wood. So when you look at Trex from the low end to the high end, Trex really has the market covered for every single price point that a consumer needs,” Zambanini explains.
Trex is not alone in its bullishness about the growth in alternative decking sales in 2019. Many manufacturers are offering new alternative and composite wood deck products this spring. Others have expanded their distribution of existing product lines to all areas of the country. Qualified Remodeler sought input from more than a dozen manufacturers for this article and interviewed AZEK, Deckorators, DuraLife, Fortress Deck, MoistureShield by Oldcastle APG, TAMKO Envision and TimberTech. In addition to Trex’s expansion of its product line to all prices points in order to better take share from the wood market, there are many new products offering new colors, styles and performance characteristics on a number of important fronts.
Color Trends, Variegated Patterns
New colors and patterns are emerging across the market this year. For years, the goal in many new color offerings from alternative deck manufacturers was to mimic the look of exotic and expensive hardwoods with equally exotic names like ipe, cumaru, massaranduba, tiger wood, garapa, cambara, along with newcomers like heat-treated white ash. And that remains the goal today. These products have the richest colors and the most authentic and luxurious looks, but they are limited in supply and are thus expensive.
According to Chris Camfferman, category marketing director for Deckorators, the company’s new launches for 2019 are driven partly to match the look of exotic products, but more precisely the goal is to better pair up colors and patterns in the transition from indoor hardwood floors to outdoor spaces. This is particularly important now that many outdoor living projects feature large moveable window walls that create huge openings, where an indoor floor is directly adjacent to outdoor flooring.
“We have been looking at the interior of the home and how that translates to the outside as more and more people plan between spaces,” Camfferman says. “There is more coordination between that room that comes off the back of the house, which then ultimately leads onto the deck and on to the patio. It is really something that we try to stay in tune to.”
That is why the company is more closely tracking a broader spectrum of color trends, including those that cue designers of interior spaces. A prominent arbiter of those trends is a company called Pantone. “The Pantone View Home and Interiors Guide for 2019 has the colors ranging from rich cappuccino, spicy chili pepper and cayenne as the colors that will be most influencing the colors of the interiors of homes in different ways,” Camfferman adds. “That could be an accent wall, that could be a countertop, or it could be some part of the flooring. So with our decking we try to take that consideration as well.”
To that end, last fall the company launched its Deckorators Voyage line, which will be newly available this spring. The line comes with two colors that match those Pantone trends, Mesa and Costa. They hit the cappuccino and chili pepper spectrum of colors. Mesa is a red-brown that is more widely seen in the western U.S. Costa is a more cappuccino or latte kind of a color also popular out west. Camfferman says these regional color trends are traveling faster in today’s hyperconnected world of Instagram and Pinterest and expects them to be popular everywhere.
Mike Descoteaux, DuraLife’s director of marketing, agrees. The Maine-based producer of composite decking material is traditionally a strong regional player east of the Mississippi, but with its acquisition by Barrette Outdoor Living last July, the company’s distribution channels have vastly increased. Descoteaux says his firm’s top selling boards are in the gray color ranges, a dock color trend that began out east and is now popular everywhere. That being said, the company is expanding its palette of darker colors for some of the same reasons stated by Camfferman. The company offers eight colors and three profiles and encourages its customer to mix and match boards, allowing deck designers the latitude to be more creative in the patterns.
“There are a lot of people installing gray colors. It is the meat of the market,” Descoteaux says. “But the new color introductions tend to match ipe and other hardwoods with red streaks and colors.”
AZEK and its sister brand TimberTech have also recently launched darker and richer colors. Jason Davoll, AZEK’s director of product management, says the company is planning a very big splash at this year’s International Builders’ Show (IBS), which he was not able to divuldge for this article, but he pointed to the July launch of four colors within its Porch Vintage line: Mahogony, Dark Hickory, Coastline and Weathered Teak. AZEK Building Products, is the parent company of both AZEK and TimberTech brands. AZEK is a cellular PVC product line, while TimberTech is a capped composite line of decking products.
“In 2018, we launched six new colors in our Vintage and Legacy lines,” Davoll says. “Vintage is the premium collection under AZEK Deck. Legacy is our premium collection under TimberTech. And we had three and four colors in those collections previously. So with six new colors, we’ve nearly doubled our portfolio in the premium space. All those color additions were really just looking at the kind of styles, designs [and] trends in both the interior world and exterior world. One of the biggest wins with that product line was a new product called Coastline, which looks almost like a piece of weathered ipe. If you look at interior color trends, everything is every possible shade of gray, [so] that kind of fit the bill.”
Joey Peters, marketing manager for Oldcastle, which recently acquired the MoistureShield line of decks, is bullish on a number of new color and finish offerings in its line. It too is holding back on some news for IBS next month in Las Vegas, but he echoed similar directions in color trends. “Deck builders today are picking up and almost matching the interior hardwoods and bringing it to the outside into a deck setting,” Peters says. “A big differentiator for us is an unique look and feel—kind of moving away from the traditional look and feel of a composite board. It is closer in appearance to a hardwood than we have been able to get to date.”
From the perspective of Shara Gamble, marketing manager for TAMKO’s Envision line of decking products, today’s palette of colors is more than broad enough to help solve some of the indoor- outdoor transition needs of clients seeking to visually merge indoor and outdoor living spaces. After spending months listening closely to their customers—both deck builders and remodelers— the real need is how best to meet the homeowners’ desired personalized touches for their deck design.
“Their needs are being met with the current color palette. But many of them expressed that they are running into some needs and demands from homeowners for personalization, and to meet the requests for some of the new ways that people are using these outdoor spaces,” Gamble says. “How can I install differently? How can I make things unique? How can I personalize them to this particular client?”
Following this response from its customers, the TAMKO Envision decking division wanted to make sure that all its newly expanded lines were interoperable for the deck builder. They recently came out with its Distinction line, which was extended to the Inspiration line and the Expression line. “It was important to us that a contractor could take an attribute from one of those lines and marry it to another to give an unique look. Those unique looks might be achieved by installing an accent or an inlay, as well as some different methods for installation to make curves. Homeowners want their decks to be new and modern and fresh.”
If the main area of a deck is one color, the homeowner may want a different color on a different level. “It’s the same as we are seeing with designers of indoor spaces. You want to have an accent to pull in a color and match your personal style,” Gamble explains.
Many companies spoke of the trend toward picture framing of decks, outlining them with a darker accent color. To that end, Deckorators has come out with a 21-foot board expressly for that purpose. The extra foot of length in the board is to account for 45-degree corner cuts that are necessary within the process of picture framing.
The surface temperature and texture of boards is also an important point of reference in today’s expanding offering of deck boards. Deckorators’ Camfferman extolled the no-slip virtues of some its more deeply embossed products, which have been intentionally designed to alleviate homeowner concerns about slips on wet plastic surfaces.</p
Matte finishes were cited by many as being another point of differentiation within certain deck designs that might also include glossier finishes.
Two years ago, MoistureShield put a stake in the ground on the issue of hot deck board temperatures—perhaps too hot to step on with bare feet. The company introduced its CoolDeck technology, a formulation that absorbs less heat from the sun.
New applications for decked spaces is also part of the mix. In response to the growth in the number of new decks being built on top of residential buildings in urban areas, Deckorators has introduced a new line of boards—2-inch by 2-inch boards—made of composite decking material that are laid upon roofing material to serve as a base for a deck to be built on top. “It is a floating deck,” Camfferman says. “And that is what that application requires in many cases.”
In 2019, new decks will be one of the highest demanded types of remodeling projects. They will be built on rooftops, on hillsides stepping down to patios, and they will be merged and integrated onto the rear interior living rooms of homes more seamlessly than ever before. This will be the result of new darker and richer colors, including dark grays, to better match interior flooring and accents.
But perhaps most importantly, alternative decking material is taking on all categories of wood decking products, hoping to eat away at the massive 83 percent share wood currently enjoys. QR