Regardless of the material a decking product is made from —
wood, composite, PVC, masonry, steel — the issues are
similar. Homeowners want a custom look, preferably without a lot of
maintenance, and builders are looking for high-quality products
they can install quickly and profitably. Increasingly, consumers
also consider a material’s environmental impact. In response
to preferences of homeowners and builders alike — and to
address past problems and capitalize on current trends —
manufacturers of decking and railing have introduced a number of
products recently. Here are some of the latest innovations.
Recycled Ingredients Have Green
Green building has been getting a lot of publicity, and it’s
not hard to find decking manufacturers that use recycled materials
in their products. Some composite-decking makers, for example,
combine recycled plastics with wood flour culled from a variety of
waste sources. But don’t assume that because a product is a
composite, it contains recycled plastic. Some manufacturers use
some or all virgin plastic resin instead, to ensure consistency in
Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies (A.E.R.T.) is one of
several companies that do use recycled plastic in their composite
decking; it says it diverts more than 271 million pounds of waste
from landfills each year — 30 percent of it post-consumer
— and that its MoistureShield decking (866/729-2378, moistureshield.com) exceeds LEED requirements for
New offerings from A.E.R.T. include solid, reversible boards, which
allow contractors to flip a scratched board over rather than
replace it, and a nonplank option called EcoShield Deck Tiles
(Figure 1). These tiles, which combine recycled wood and recycled
polyethylene plastic into 1-foot and 2-foot squares, are snapped
together to form a deck surface over a gravel or concrete base or
on top of an existing deck. If homeowners want to change the
pattern or take the tiles with them when they move, the surface can
be taken apart.
Figure 1. EcoShield tiles by A.E.R.T. may be installed over gravel
or used to spruce up an existing deck.
Wood and plastic aren’t the only recycled ingredients found
in decking products. LifeTime Lumber (877/285-4338, ltlumber.com) markets
deck boards made with polyurethane and fly ash, a by-product of
coal-burning power plants (Figure 2). As much as 65 percent of the
ingredients of the decking are recycled. The boards are inert,
nonhazardous, and impervious to rot and insects, according to the
manufacturer; plus, they meet California fire codes. The company
recently announced an agreement with building products distributor
BlueLinx Corp., which should make the decking more widely available
in Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California.
Figure 2. Made from polyurethane resin and a power-plant by-product
called fly ash, LifeTime Lumber’s decking is said to meet
California’s strict fire codes.
Another recycled option is steel. Evolution Deck, an Ontario firm,
uses 100 percent recycled galvanized steel to make structural
members that can be used as the substrate for natural stone,
concrete pavers, or tile (800/725-5228, evolution-deck.com). The system comes with a 30-year
warranty, and at the end of the deck’s life, the steel can be
recycled — again (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Evolution Deck’s 100 percent recycled
galvanized-steel framing can support a variety of masonry deck
surfaces for a fireproof assembly.
Improvements in Composite-Decking
The cellulose in conventional wood-plastic composites can absorb
water or become stained, and under the right conditions, is
susceptible to mold. Several manufacturers have tweaked their
formulations to reduce the likelihood of those problems.
Earlier this year, for example, McFarland Cascade introduced
Terratec Naturals (800/426-8430, mcfarlandcascade
.com), a plastic composite made with rice hulls instead of wood
(Figure 4). Rice hulls are more water resistant than wood fiber,
making the decking less likely to stain or grow mold, according to
the company. In addition, fungi and insects find the hulls
essentially inedible, which eliminates the need for biocides or
chemical preservatives. That and the fact that rice hulls are a
recycled food by-product give the decking a good green-building
Figure 4. McFarland Cascade’s Terratec Naturals decking
contains rice hulls, which the company claims reduces the chances
of the decking supporting mold or mildew growth.
Fiberon attacked the problems associated with conventional
wood-plastic composites differently, with its Horizon decking
(800/573-8841, fiberondecking.com). Around a core of traditional
wood-flour-and-plastic composite is a top coating called PermaTech,
which the company describes as a proprietary, nonplastic material
with very high stain, fade, and scratch resistance (Figure 5).
PermaTech comes with a 10-year guarantee.
Figure 5. Fiberon’s PermaTech composite-decking finish comes
with a 10-year guarantee against scratches and
A third company with a new approach is Universal Forest Products.
Like many other composites, its Latitudes Capricorn line of decking
(877/463-8379, latitudesdeck .com) is made with wood fiber and
high-density polyethylene. The difference, the company says, is
that a co-extrusion process, developed by the Strandex Corp.,
encases each fiber of wood in plastic, making the decking
“virtually impervious” to stains (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Universal Forest Products’ Latitudes Capricorn
decking is made with a co-extrusion process that’s said to
completely encase the wood fibers in plastic, making for a high
resistance to stains.
More Cellular PVC
Cellular PVC is more expensive than composite decking. On the plus
side, it’s lighter — about the same weight as softwood
— and it can be cut and molded in much the same way as wood,
so it feels familiar to contractors. Also, it has low water
absorption, for good stain resistance. Several companies (including
Trex) have added cellular PVC products to their offerings.
Manufacturers of cellular PVC say it holds color better than
composites. Because of PVC’s high coefficient of expansion,
manufacturers have tended to avoid darker hues, but new
formulations are said to address this concern. Azek (877/275-2935,
example, introduced two dark colors this year in its Azek Deck
Terra Collection (Figure 7). TimberTech also added a new color,
desert bronze, to its XLM line (800/307-7780, timbertech.com).
Figure 7. Thanks to advances in formulations, cellular PVC decking
such as Azek can now be had in dark colors.
The following decking brands are new to the cellular PVC
• EverNew LT (CertainTeed; 800/233-8990, certainteed
• Novation (Royal Outdoor Products; 800/488-5245, novationdeck.com)
• Sensibuilt (Fiberon; 800/573-8841,fiberondecking.com)
• WeatherReady Passport (Gossen Corp.; 800/558-8984, gossencorp.com)
As the market has gotten more crowded, some cellular PVC decking
makers have introduced new features to distinguish their products.
Fiberon’s decking, for example, has a top coating
that’s designed to resist chalking and fading, according to
Chris Beyer, the company’s vice president of marketing, and
carries a 10-year warranty against staining and fading. Royal
Outdoor Products uses a co-extrusion process in which a cellular
core is encapsulated with solid PVC (Figure 8).
Figure 8. In a hybrid process, Royal Outdoor Products coats its
traditional wood-plastic composite decking with PVC to seal out the
Similarly, TimberTech promotes a solid PVC cap on its XLM planks
that enhances scratch, stain, and mildew resistance. The decking
also has a Class A fire rating that makes it suitable for use in
fire-prone areas of California (Figure 9). Gossen has added heat
and UV inhibitors in a reflective cap on its decking, using a
dual-extrusion process, and plans to debut a new color this fall
(Figure 10). Other companies have added hidden fastener systems,
matching trim and fascia boards, and rail systems.
Figure 9. A PVC-coated hybrid, XLM decking comes with a Class A
fire rating that should allow its use in wildland-urban interface
Figure 10. To minimize the effects of sunlight, Gossen is using a
dual-extrusion process that allows darker-colored PVC-coated
While manufacturers of composites, cellular PVC, and the like have
found a variety of ways to improve and expand their offerings, the
wood industry hasn’t been standing around waiting to have
more of its market share gobbled up. Instead, it has been coming up
with chemical treatments that are more varied and more
Compatibility with flashing and fasteners is key. Both ACQ and CA
treatments, the most common replacements for CCA, contain a good
deal of copper, which can be brutal on fasteners, joist hangers,
and other metal connectors.
A variety of alternatives have entered the marketplace. For
example, Viance’s Ecolife decking (800/421-8661, treatedwood.com)
is treated with a nonmetallic chemical that can be used in direct
contact with aluminum flashing (Figure 11). Chris Kollwitz, the
company’s director of marketing, says Ecolife performs as
well as or better than conventional wood-plastic composites.
Ecolife recently won certification from the National Association of
Home Builders Research Center as a green building product, allowing
it to earn points under the National Green Building Standard rating
Figure 11. Wood treated with Ecolife, by Viance, can be used in
contact with aluminum flashing.
Arch Chemicals (678/627-2000, archchemicals.com) also has a nonmetallic treatment
for wood, marketed as Wolmanized L3 Outdoor Wood. L3 is a
carbon-based formulation the company says is no more corrosive to
metal fasteners and flashing than untreated wood (Figure 12). One
downside to L3 is that it’s not rated for ground contact, so
Arch makes a version containing copper for members such as
Figure 12. L3 is a nonmetallic wood preservative made by
Arch Chemicals. The manufacturer touts its ability to be stained or
Osmose (770/233-4200, osmosewood.com) followed a different route in
overcoming the corrosion problem, with a treatment it calls
MicroPro (Figure 13). Marketed under several brand names, the wood
is treated with very small particles of ground copper that are
dispersed in a carrier. The company claims that in addition to
being less corrosive to flashing and fasteners, MicroPro-treated
wood is lighter in color than some of the alternatives, opening up
more options for painting and staining. The company says the wood
can be placed in direct contact with aluminum and is no more
corrosive than the old CCA-treated wood. (Osmose and Viance are
currently embroiled in a court case that originated with
Viance’s suggestions that micronized-copper treatments are
ineffective. Osmose disputed the claims and filed suit, and Viance
counter sued. For more information about the lawsuit, see
News on page 12 or deckmagazine.com/article/243.html.)
Figure 13. Osmose claims that although its MicroPro wood treatment
contains copper, the formulation is no more corrosive than
Another entry into the market is thermally modified wood (Figure
14). Although distribution is still limited, several manufacturers
are in play. The idea is that heating wood above 400°F
alters its chemistry so there’s nothing that microbes like to
eat. From a green perspective, it’s a chemical-free way of
preserving wood, but it does entail some cost in embodied energy.
Other benefits touted by manufacturers include rot-resistance
throughout — as opposed to pressure-treated wood, which often
has untreated areas in the middle — and greater stability.
Current product lines focus on decking and railing components.
Major players include Bay Tree Technologies (816/581-6190, purewoodproducts.com), Cambia Wood (866/960-9663,
cambiawood.com), and Radiance Wood Products
Figure 14. Thermally modified wood, such as this by Cambia Wood,
takes on a rich brown color from the manufacturing
In railing news, manufacturers have introduced additional styles
and mix-and-match options for homeowners, and much composite and
cellular PVC decking is now available with color-matched rails,
post sleeves, and a variety of baluster types. Plus, several
manufacturers have created design details that make railing simpler
and faster to install.
Gossen’s Passport railings feature a clip system for
balusters that works on both rake and straight runs to make
installation less complicated (Figure 15).
Figure 15. Gossen’s railing-system balusters are held in
place with proprietary clips to speed installation.
GAF (866/322-7452, gaf.com) has added metal balusters to its RailWays
Railing Collection that use the UniBall QuickSnap mounting system.
Components are universal, so customers can mix and match pieces of
different styles or colors. “Everything fits on the same
platform,” says marketing director Todd Christiansen. A
compatible lighting system, launched in late 2008, conceals wires
in hollow rails.
CertainTeed introduced Edgewood vinyl railing (Figure 16), which
has a surface texture designed to look more like painted wood than
standard vinyl. Also, CertainTeed added to its Panorama railing
line a colonial baluster designed to look like a turned
Figure 16. A vinyl railing by CertainTeed, Edgewood is claimed to
have a surface that mimics painted wood.
Trex completed an overhaul of its Artisan composite railing line in
2009, increasing the number of baluster styles and allowing
consumers to mix and match components (800/289-8739, trex.com). To make
installation faster and easier, balusters are attached to rails not
by conventional fasteners but by means of spacers with pre-punched
holes. The system is “tried and true and repeatable,”
says senior product manager Paul Recko.
Royal Outdoor Products also uses a fastener-free connection between
balusters and rails in its railing line (Figure 17). The all-vinyl
rail sections are color matched to Novation decking.
Figure 17. With the goal of fast installation, Royal Outdoor
Products’ railing uses a fastener-free connection between the
balusters and the railing.
TimberTech’s railing options now include an ADA-compliant
handrail that can be mounted to an existing railing or directly to
a wall (Figure 18). The company also introduced a surface-mounted
post connection that can be used on wood, composite, vinyl, and
Figure 18. For commercial jobs, TimberTech offers an ADA-compliant
handrail system for decks.
Azek’s railing line now includes three styles, one of which,
Reserve, is designed so that rail sections can be run over the top
of the post without the use of a cap, for a cleaner look (Figure
Figure 19. Reserve, a railing line by Azek, includes an
over-the-top railing as well as more traditional
A proliferation of new products adds complications as well as
choices for deck builders. It’s a good idea to participate in
trade shows, online forums, and local business association meetings
and ask other deck builders what they’ve tried and what they
Mick Feduniec, whose Charlotte, N.C.–area company builds up
to 200 decks per year, points out that the wide availability of
information about building products can create problems. Some
decking is available only regionally, for example, so a product a
customer hears about on the West Coast might not be found in North
Carolina. And sometimes, he says, customers overrule his
suggestions and insist he use products that they’ve come
across but he hasn’t tried before. If the manufacturer goes
out of business or the product doesn’t live up to its
billing, Feduniec is stuck. “It’s not the greatest
situation,” he says.
Feduniec prefers to use products from larger manufacturers that
have a better chance of staying in business over the long term. He
also likes to work with companies that show an interest in what he
has to say, offer tours of their plants, and otherwise stay
connected with what’s going on in the field.
Scott Gibson is a writer from East Waterboro,