Performance vs. Aesthetics
The key balancing act for homeowners, regardless of price point, is blending performance and aesthetics, manufacturers agree. Upper-end boards try mightily to match the look of wood, while wood options need to add durability to match what composite and PVC boards can offer.
“Low maintenance is critical,” Tapco’s Wierengo says. “It has to be there on almost every exterior product today.”
“Decking customers are more demanding than ever before,” adds Craig Jacks, vice president of sales and marketing for Nyloboard. “Even though they have more options and continue to expect low maintenance, they also want to see improved aesthetics in compositedecking materials.” Adds Royal’s Booz, “When customers look at non-wood decks, they are looking foremost at low maintenance as a key and then a wood appearance. Our product gives us that ‘and’ statement they want—great looks and low maintenance.”
Wahoo’s Bailey agrees that performance is as high on the list as aesthetics.
“The desire for low-maintenance products keeps getting stronger,” he says. “It’s now at the point of wanting as close to zero- maintenance as possible, and it’s starting to move from deck boards to outdoor structures in general. That includes the substructure, gazebo, benches and anything out there.” DuraLife offers a goodbetter- best lineup of offerings, notes Descoteaux, but “performance is the key at the end of the day at every price point.”
The focus on low maintenance has put more emphasis on that aspect for wood decking too. “There’s a greater interest in understanding deck maintenance, how to stain wood and maintain it,” says MFP & Humboldt Redwood’s Welch. “A lot of products talk about low maintenance, which has raised interest in what really is needed to maintain a deck.”
Adds Paul Mackie, western area manager for the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, “There’s a trend toward not finishing a cedar deck and letting it go gray. With that approach, no maintenance is needed, and it provides a nice, natural look.” Another popular product is clear wood with no knots. “That provides a high-end aesthetic look.”
Kiln-dried wood also is gaining popularity, he notes. “Dry products plane better, they’re lighter and they’re easier to handle.” TigerDeck’s Gerstenberger agrees. “Careful kiln-drying changes the wood structure to allow little shrinkage and expansion. It’s much stronger than composites, and it’s almost sliver-free and gets smoother over time.”