The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our lives in more ways than can be counted. Over the last two years, we’ve seen homeowners look around their homes and decide to invest in their spaces, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms that might have fallen by the wayside over the years or converting unused space into home offices. One popular remodeling choice has been to expand living spaces into the outdoors, building decks and outdoor spaces to create a cohesive indoor-outdoor realm.
“We are 100 percent seeing people investing in their outdoor space,” says Carey Hicks, marketing manager for Atlantis Rail. “It’s taken people a while to realize that the outdoor space can act as a functional part of their house; but after the pandemic, it has become very apparent that it can act as an extension of their square-foot living space.”
Decking accessories, including railings, post-caps and lighting, all work in tandem to complete the look of a deck and outdoor patio.
“We’re definitely seeing the backyard still be a focus out there,” says Michelle Hendricks, category marketing manager at UFP Industries. “I think one thing we’re seeing trends-wise is thinking through how to combine mixed materials and different colors to create texture or dimension and give the outdoor space a unique personal touch.”
Hendricks explains that homeowners are doing this through a variety of means, especially mixing and matching aluminum railing with their wood or composite wood decking and having a cable rail with wood posts or top rail. “I think some people are willing to take the risk and do some mixed materials in some ways. We’re seeing a lot of people lean towards aluminum railing to give that modern industrial look and add that dimension between the softer natural tones in the decking, and then adding that industrial feel of aluminum railing.”
Matt Hungerford, vice president of sales and business development for Feeney, reports color is also one of the changing trends he’s seeing. “Homeowners are not just looking for black or white anymore, but instead they want dove gray, or they want the railing to match their home.”
Not only do they want the rail to match their home, but they also want the rail to blend in with its environment. “They’re going with some darker or more neutral colors rather than a bright white,” explains Chase Moritz, director of marketing and communications with Envision Outdoor Living Products. “As far as materials go, it’s pretty regional. The Northeast favors vinyl railing, but as you move west, we’ve noticed aluminum and steel and then kind of composite rails are the three main more popular technologies.”
“We’ve seen aluminum railing increase in sales versus wood or composites because it’s going to last forever, and adding on to that a power-coating, which comes with 10- to 20-year warranties depending on the manufacturer,” Hungerford adds. “I think folks are tending to lean towards those options because they’re just much more durable.”
After working through different styles and design situations, Atlantis Rail came up with a rectangular top rail and small assortment of adaptive fittings to handle most layouts. The Spectrum System incorporates an aluminum top rail, stainless steel powder-coated posts that can be fascia or surface mounted.
“Vinyl railing continues to be the market leader, though recently railing has been trending towards aluminum, steel and cable,” says Kevin Brennan, vice president of sales for Barrette Outdoor Living. Railings that utilize different infill options in place of traditional square balusters—like decorative screen panels (DSPs), decorative patterns, cable or glass slat infills—are also gaining in popularity.”
Durability and low maintenance have long been factors driving homeowner decision-making. Hungerford explains that while glass offers views of the backyard, the upkeep of maintaining a fingerprint-free surface is one in which homeowners aren’t as willing to invest their time.
Instead, homeowners are choosing a different option, one that combines low maintenance as well as low visibility and a sleek, modern look.
“Cable’s definitely something popular, and it does have a lot to do with the view that people really like,” Hendricks says. “When you step back from cable, it almost disappears; and you really just get to see the view, and you don’t have to see the railing at all. It’s allowing the view to shine and be that highlight.”
Previously a much more expensive option, cable rail has taken off with homeowners across the financial spectrum. “When I first started at Atlantis Rail, the only people who were putting cable railing systems in were those who had million-dollar views,” Hicks says. “It’s become much more attainable for the median income, and people are realizing that.”
Cable rail has been around for a couple of years, but it has really taken off in recent years as the surge in minimalism has come back around. “We’re seeing a turn toward more modern, sleek styles,” Hendricks says. This is true even for homes with exteriors that maybe wouldn’t normally lend themselves to “sleek” and “modern,” such as log cabin vacation homes or more traditional housing.
“Where you might have traditionally seen a cabin have the kind of the branch style railing or the old-school wood baluster style, people are starting to work in some more modern amenities there to finish it out,” Moritz says. “There are some where cable rail really comes into play because it ties that modern look without the obstruction. There’s been some really cool combinations, I think. My favorites play off the aesthetic of the home and tie it all together.”
In addition to horizontal cable railing, both Moritz and Hicks mention an emerging interest in vertical cable rail options. “We’re starting to see vertical railing trends, and we’ve been working to offer that as well. So, that’s something that’s down the pipeline for us,” Hicks says.
Brennan points out the cable rail and expanded views aren’t for everyone. “Trends vary depending upon region—with rural areas looking for materials that provide them with unobstructed views to urban areas looking for materials that offer greater privacy and expanded functionality for smaller outdoor spaces.”
Lighting the Way
While railing is an obvious accessory for those wanting to create a unique experience for their deck, lighting is something that some homeowners have treated as an afterthought historically and something that is now changing, according to Hendricks. In particular, under-rail lighting that is integrated into the railing has taken off, and it requires homeowners to plan ahead.
“I feel like lighting used to be more of an addition,” she says. “You build the deck and all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Oh! I need to add lighting. Let’s find a way to add that in.’ And now it’s really being thought of in the beginning process and thinking through what the lighting will do to the space at night, and how it kind of defines the deck a little more. So under-rail lighting is allowing for that kind of definition, to see at night and to give your deck almost a different look when you’re planning out ahead of time and thinking strategically about where those lights are placed.”
“As they’re creating these awesome outdoor spaces, homeowners want to use it as much as possible,” Moritz says. “So, extending that into evenings and nighttime, lighting is a huge factor there.” Envision has a number of lighting options, from index lighting on steps to solar spot caps, which are a consistent favorite, he says.
Just as with railing, many homeowners are choosing lighting options that blend in with their surroundings as opposed to standing out. “It’s been a trend for a while, but particularly under-rail lighting. We sell a lot of post-accent lights as well. But under the top rail is probably the most popular,” Hungerford explains. Under-rail lighting is essentially invisible during the day and provides light without bulky accessories during the evening and night. LED Wet Location Strip Light Rail lighting and components from Feeney work with the DesignRail aluminum system to help homeowners create ambiance and a soothing environment.
“We’ve seen an influx of solar light caps; a lot of people use those to accent corners or turns in the rails. But then, most of them time, I think people are looking for something a little more subtle,” Moritz says.
Another aspect of lighting that homeowners are focusing on is smart technology. Homeowners want the ease of being able to use their phone to turn on or off their lights, no matter where they are or what time it is. Deckorator’s Low-Voltage Recessed Lighting is an easy-to-install program and includes recessed deck lights, stair lights, transformers and a variety of features including Bluetooth connectivity.
As the building and designing of the deck and railings come to an end, it is time for homeowners to choose the finishing touches. As has been the trend for railing and lighting, post-caps and details have trended toward blending in.
“We’re really seeing people finding post caps that blend in with the railing more. We’re not seeing people doing anything too, you know, flashy these days,” Hendricks says.
“The other thing we’re seeing is a lot of people wanting to tie the space together from a design perspective as much as possible,” Moritz adds. “So, tying in that design in addition to creating usable space is one of the biggest things we’re seeing on an uptick recently. Most of our railing technologies have an option for a deck board drink rail now, and not only does that tie the decking into the railing and pull the whole design together, it also creates an additional service or surface that people can use while they’re entertaining or just hanging out on the deck.” The drink rail is made from the same composite wood as the decking boards sold by Envision Outdoor Living Products.
“We’ve also noticed a trend for increased privacy,” Brennan says. “Our aluminum Pergola and Decorative Screen Panel Frame Kits are good examples of this. These accessories are especially beneficial for townhomes or for houses that are built close together with decks or patios that may be right up against a neighbor’s property line.”
One thing many companies are investing in is their educational programs, especially as they navigate the worker shortage and education gap rampant in the industry. These resources range from video libraries to full consulting systems.
“We’ve got outside sales teams all across the country that can go and support our customers with the installation and help offer our customers what we call the customer experience package, where we offer them a guide,” explains Hungerford, referring to Feeney’s CableRail Kits. “Because we do custom railing, we offer them a custom package with the layout of their jobs, all of their parts and pieces that they’re getting, where each part and piece goes on the job and stuff like that. So, we try to make it as simple as possible for the contractor to just be able to open up the case, look at their paperwork, lay out the job and install it.”
Moritz says educational services are definitely something Envision will be working on in the last half of this year and going into next year. “We’ve got a majority of our projects on the railing side on YouTube, so contractors can watch the progression of an installation and get an idea of what they’re needing to do.”
For Atlantis Rail, the company primarily works with lumber yards, so much of their educational services are training programs that are set up with the lumber yards themselves. Something they do offer to contractors, however, is a free quoting system. “Send us your layout, and we’ll tell you exactly what you need for your project, so there’s no second guessing,” Hicks explains. “We’ll provide [the contractor] with a list of products that they need, and then we go as far as to give them a layout of where to put the posts, how far they should space the posts and more. If it’s a custom system, we actually make CAD drawings for the contractor to go with the railing system.”
Deckorators, a unit within UFP Industries, Inc, has recently partnered with JobTread Software to provide the company’s certified professionals with an array of business management support. “Our goal is to develop a world-class program to help our Deckorators Certified Pros grow their business,” says Nick Larr, Deckorators national contractor development manager. “JobTread’s product is an end-to-end business management software complete with estimating, job costing, invoicing, scheduling and a CRM that fits perfectly with our goals for the contractor program.” QR