Decking Trends: Outside Ambition

Homeowners request decking products that imitate natural wood and enrich new living space outdoors without the continual upkeep.

by Kyle Clapham
decking trends

Homeowners began adopting composite decking in the 1990s as an alternative to wood, which requires frequent maintenance. Since then, manufacturers have introduced products with better colors, patterns and textures to emulate the look of wood. As consumers gain more exposure to composite decking, their expectation for the numerous materials available continues to increase.

Television shows, blogs and other online content have only piqued the curiosity of homeowners and raised their standards for decking. Consumers planning to make a sizable investment in their outdoor project want to consider all the products on the market. The options for interior flooring have advanced at the same time, prompting homeowners to seek more design freedom outdoors.

Many consumers desire the ability to mix and match colors with accent boards in a pattern, such as picture framing. Others exhibit interest in bending composite materials to fabricate multilevel decking and separate areas based on intended use. Manufacturers have even given homeowners the potential to create functional living space underneath decks with a waterproof ceiling system.

Proper aesthetic

The longevity of composite decking has driven its growth, but the design elements of individual products have become increasingly important. Consumers demand composite boards that reflect the subtlety and nuance of wood decking; they no longer accept the exaggerated, unnatural grain patterns and stark contrast of artificial colors found in many of the previous materials to reach the market.

“As people [become] more comfortable with the design possibility and aesthetics inside, it [has] given them the confidence, inspiration and vision to bring those design ideas outside,” explains Patrick Barnds, senior vice president for AZEK Building Products. “Having a range of colors, tones and textures allows homeowners to stretch their imagination and enables them to create a deck [that] is not only beautiful, but [also] an unique, individual expression of their own tastes.”

AZEK recently launched three new colors for the AZEK Vintage Collection (Coastline, English Walnut and Weathered Teak) and for the TimberTech Legacy Collection (Sequoia, Espresso and Whitewash Cedar). Brown tones and neutral hues remain the most popular choices, Barnds notes, although company research shows a rising demand for colors further out on the design spectrum.

“We started to see these stronger colors used in the last couple of years as an accent board or in a smaller central design feature on the deck, such as a medallion or central checkerboard,” he adds. “But the designers we [consult] are more and more excited about using these colors as a general design theme for the entire deck … people are looking for [bolder] colors that make a statement.”

TAMKO offers composite decking in three different segments of its Envision Collection to meet customer preferences. Envision Expression creates an ideal backdrop with simple hues available in four solid colors: Caribou Brown, Woodland Bark, Harbor Grey and Canyon Ridge. Envision Inspiration captures the look of reclaimed wood with muted variation and soft tones: Barnwood Plank, Tangled Twine and Weathered Wicker. And Envision Distinction provides a multifaceted, dramatic color palette available in Spiced Teak, Rustic Walnut, Shaded Auburn and Grey Wood.

“The bland textures and tones of yesteryear’s composite decking are no longer of interest; today’s homeowner has a keen interest in personalization and demands character in their home to reflect their style,” says Shara Gamble, director of decking marketing for TAMKO. “The unique range of colors encompassed in the Envision Distinction and Inspiration lines are the perfect solution.”

New technology

Imitating actual wood species calls for an advanced manufacturing process that variegates colors to produce a more natural and irregular appearance. The practice takes on even more importance when trying to copy exotic hardwoods, such as ipe and teak. Over the years, manufacturers have developed better methods to fabricate composite decking boards that closely resemble real wood.

MoistureShield employs innovative techniques to create a modern, variegated look for its Vision decking and trim boards, so homeowners can extend their interior design styles to their outdoor living spaces. “We anticipate that the new patterning technology developed for Vision decking will eventually enable homeowners, builders [and] designers to customize the surface appearance of their decking boards,” says Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of sales for MoistureShield.

Vision also incorporates the company’s CoolDeck technology, which optimizes heat reflection to construct deck boards that absorb up to 35 percent less heat than conventional capped composites in similar colors, resulting in a cooler surface. “While [people] think uncomfortably hot decks would primarily be a problem in places like Arizona, our market research found that people in northern climates find hot decks to be [even] more problematic,” Gwatney explains. “If you have limited time in the year to be outdoors, you don’t want to lose any of that to an overly hot deck.”

Consumers also expect smooth, walkable surfaces without any exposed screws or nails that could compromise the seamless element. DuraLife engineered a revolutionary hidden fastening system, Step-Clip, to help protect the decking joists and space the boards evenly and automatically. Step-Clip ensures a sleek design and aesthetic, and it works with all DuraLife grooved decking products.

The system features 1-5/8-inch-wide and 23-inch-long polypropylene interlocking strips installed on the decking joists with a roofing nail gun or hammer. Once contractors place the boards down correctly, they can simply step on the boards to snap the decking into place. The company also offers color-matched decking-board end caps that fit over the side of deck profiles.

“When properly installed, the Step-Clip Hidden Fastening System provides a seamless, solid and secure connection between DuraLife decking and the framing system,” says Mike Descoteaux, marketing manager for DuraLife. “It also allows contractors to spend less time crouched down on the deck and provides automatic board spacing and joist protection, [with] no need for tape.”

Installation focus

The ongoing labor shortage imparts even more significance to a quick and easy installation of the decking materials selected. Products that enable contractors to avoid common pitfalls and build a deck faster can free up time to close additional jobs. A number of manufacturers have introduced components to streamline their installation process and save contractors time—as well as money.

Royal Building Products, manufacturer of Zuri Premium Decking, released Zuri Hidden Fastener Decking to address easier installations. The company guarantees the prethreaded fasteners in its hidden fastener system will fit into all grooves and necessitate just one fastener per each framing member. The products come in two spacing sizes, so contractors can meet any job requirements.

“In addition to our installation videos and written installation instructions, we also have a field install team spread throughout North America [that] can be on-site at that first job to get pros started off on the right foot,” says Steve Booz, vice president of new product development and product management for Royal Building Products.

Trex offers product installation guides that show each step in the installation process clearly and succinctly, helping contractors to complete jobs swiftly and confidently. The manufacturer also assembles its Trex Signature Railing panels in-house to facilitate quick and easy installation on the jobsite. In fact, field testing has shown the panels reduce assembly time by 50 percent—or about 12 minutes per installed rail section, says Adam Zambanini, vice president of marketing.

“Railing is a key element to any deck design and, often, one of the most labor-intensive aspects to install,” he adds. “When it comes to deck building, time is money, which is why Trex makes it easy for contractors and decking professionals to quickly install our products.” The company has rolled out several new options, including Trex Signature Rod Rail and Trex LatticeWorks panels.

Trex CustomCurve, an on-site board- bending system made exclusively for contractors, creates a bendable product in an hour or less. The Trex Inspiration Gallery online allows both contractors and consumers to peruse myriad curved and patterned options that can be fashioned using Trex decking. “CustomCurve operates at a fraction of the time and cost of other bending methods,” Zambanini says. “In addition, it consistently heats the materials from end to end, minimizing costs and unusable materials.”

The next level

Outdoor living space expands square footage and adds real value; as a result, many homeowners now view decking as another room of their house. They want to construct multifunctional decks that can accommodate separate areas for cooking, eating, socializing and relaxing. Products such as Trex RainEscape enable them to form usable, comfortable space underneath elevated decking.

“The above-joist system features a trough and downspout construction that drains water away from a deck and protects the living area below from the elements,” Zambanini says. “Unlike competitive products, which make use of under-joist technology, Trex RainEscape shields the floor joists, protecting them from water damage and deterioration that [could] occur over time.”

Deckorators Fastendry combines weatherproofing and board-fastening in one solution, allowing contractors to build under-deck living space or storage in a cost-effective approach. The product fits into the slotted edges of Deckorators composite decking, which forms a water-tight seal that prevents rain, melting snow and debris from passing through the spaces between boards.

“The polymer insert has a rigid base plate that fastens decking to joists with a nail gun, resulting in a fastener-free look without the use of hidden fasteners,” says Chris Camfferman, director of category marketing for Deckorators. “With the labor and cost savings … contractors have the opportunity to upsell dry zones and help more clients make the most of their outdoor space.”

The UnderShield Water Diversion System from CertainTeed gives contractors a unique, easy-to-install vinyl ceiling product that turns unsightly undersides into dry, aesthetically pleasing areas for entertaining or storage. The offering features 6-inch by 16-foot vinyl panels and a concealed clip-and-grid system installed to the deck joists to divert precipitation to the edge of the decking.

“It’s the perfect solution for creating bright, functional outdoor [spaces] that are safe from water damage,” says Doug Mucher, marketing manager for CertainTeed Outdoor Living. “We call it the ‘party saver’ because when the forecast calls for rain to threaten a get-together, homeowners can still stay dry—there’s no need to reschedule those special events.” | QR

Real wood, modified

Thermory USA employs a thermal modification process that uses only heat and steam to enhance natural wood and create a durable product with refined aesthetics. The technology yields a highly rot-resistant, straight board without sacrificing strength or pliability. Drift, the first product in the company’s Rebel Series, gives homeowners a rustic, silver finish to meet the demand for barn wood.

“Genuine barn wood can look amazing, but its performance can be unpredictable, and the finish can vary wildly from project to project,” explains Kevin DeMars, principal of Thermory USA. “Drift matches the aesthetic of reclaimed/barn wood, but with the unrivaled rot resistance and stability [of a] Class 1 durability rating, which equates to 25 years or more of rot resistance.

“We spent two years developing the right combination of colors and textures,” he adds. “Architects are starving for a product that is real wood, has a rustic/weathered look right out of the box, and yet [provides] dependable, consistent performance.” | QR

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