When it comes to constructing decks, it’s easy to take screws and other metal fasteners for granted. For some cultures, however, metal fasteners like nails and screws were once completely unheard of. For instance, Japanese carpenters have been using a technique of building structures without using metal parts for several centuries. These carpenters, known as miyadaiku, were able to build ornate structures such as shrines and temples without the use of a single nail or screw—a method of joinery known as kanawa tsugi—and the buildings they created have lasted for centuries.
Luckily for today’s builders, they have the choice of a myriad of fasteners, and while the past few years have seen their shares of ups and downs in regard to fastener availability, the segment seems to be stabilizing, spelling good news for LBM dealers despite worries of a sluggish economy. While economists are predicting a slower rise in interest rates in 2023 compared to the previous year, rates are nevertheless still expected to increase. Those rising interest rates generally point to two things: fewer people purchasing homes; and more people investing in the homes they are currently in, particularly with outdoor projects such as decking.
Robert Shirley, product marketing manager for Simpson Strong-Tie, takes this as a good sign for the deck fastener segment. “Contraction in the for-sale home market often triggers a corresponding increase in home improvement spending as owners stay in place but look to improve properties,” he says. “And there are promising signs with Consumer Price Index improvement and other forward-looking indicators that we might actually avoid a recession.”
Brett Katsma, product management leader for SPAX, agrees. “Every year has some level of uncertainty, and while the housing market has shifted due to material costs and rising interest rates, the outlook for outdoor living (i.e. decks) continues to be positive,” he predicts. “SPAX continues to see wood and composite deck fastening solutions as a key market and will continue to invest in this space beyond the recently launched composite deck screw line.”
Anthony DiSanto, product manager for deck and trim fasteners for FastenMaster, sees a combination of a continuing robust repair/remodel market, strong deck fastener inventory in the distribution channel, and the growth of composites as nothing but positive indicators of growth for the fastener market.
“FastenMaster is closely aligned with the repair and remodel market, which is forecasted to be more robust than the new housing segment,” he explains. “Decking represents a portion of the repair/replace segment and is not necessarily closely tied to new housing construction. Furthermore, being in the repair/ remodel channel, we believe that deck fastener inventory levels are now more in line with demand throughout the distribution channel, so fastener supply should not be an issue.”
“From the mid-1990s to early 2000s, there were some 30-40 million decks installed in the U.S., all made with pressure treated lumber or first-generation composite boards,” he continues. “Many of those decks are now being updated, repaired, or replaced. In addition, we are seeing more ‘entry level’ or lower priced composite products in the market, which are all focused on converting pressure treated decks, a sweet spot for FastenMaster products.”
Says Tony Kovac, director of product management, hardware solutions division, for Hillman Group, “A slowing housing market means more people staying put which favors repair and remodel. Similarly, in light recessions people tend to cut back on experiences and services but durable home improvements have typically held up well. We’re excited about the prospects of this season’s deck volume—especially with lumber [prices] coming back down to earth.”
And while 2023 is likely to be down compared to 2022, there are numerous factors that experts say give reason for optimism. “It’s possible that mortgage rates have already peaked and will edge lower in 2023,” says Lee Tedesco, marketing director for Grabber Construction Products. “Many homeowners have accrued a great amount of home equity, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan limits are increasing substantially next year. The higher Fannie/Freddie loan limits will help builders target additional buyers and combat affordability concerns. These economic factors bode well for growth of the deck fastener segment.”
Productivity and performance lead product trends
With labor shortages continuing to be problematic across the building industry, it should come as no surprise that fasteners and fastening tools that speed installation and allow a diminished workforce to do more with fewer people are in high demand.
“Product design trends continue to focus on worker productivity and comfort and tool durability and longevity,” says Simpson Strong-Tie’s Shirley, pointing out the brand’s Quik Drive systems as examples of products that promise labor-saving functionality.
FastenMaster’s Anthony DiSanto also sees increased efficiency as a growing product trend. “FastenMaster’s focus is on providing tools that help pros do more with less and be more productive on the job,” he explains. “Cordless delivery systems such as our PAMFast AutoFeed System can be used for framing, decking, and remodeling, and is preferable for the pro from both an ergonomic and productivity perspective.”
Phil Lail, president of Pan American Screw Fastener Group, agrees that efficiency is a major determining factor when it comes to product choice. “We are also seeing more end users interested in products like our pneumatic Mantis clip installation tool. As the labor market shrinks, tools like this help the deck builder finish products faster and more efficiently using less labor hours.”
Fasteners that deliver increased speed and ease of installation are also at the forefront of Hillman Group’s product development, says Kovac. “Our new line of Power Pro Structural Wood Screws have all the strength, install 50% faster, and drive more screws per battery charge than the competition,” says Kovac.
The need for increased efficiency is only one side of the coin; increased product performance and overall longevity is equally important, with builders and contractors seeking fastener options that hold up better over time, say industry experts, especially with the emergence of new building materials and practices. “Alternative framing with metal, aluminum and composites are entering the market,” says FastenMaster’s Anthony DiSanto. “LBM dealers need to be educated about these products and carry the proper fasteners for these materials as they become more popular in the market.”
Pan American Screw Fastener Group’s Phil Lail echoes DiSanto’s observations. “We continue to see growth in the mass timber and cross laminated timber applications. Once it was prominent in only a select few geographical areas of the country, but we are seeing that market expand quickly across the US and Canada. Sales of our Big Timber BTX and STX construction lags screws were up over 35% last year and we are seeing growth from North Carolina to California and all points in between.”
Codes continue to spur innovation
Efficiency and performance aren’t the only issues driving product development, deck fastener manufacturers point out. Changes in building codes are bringing about product innovation and information as new products are released to match those code changes or updates.
For example, Simpson Strong-Tie has recently published several new technical bulletins regarding the American Wood Council Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide (DCA6 2018). “Both are available on our website and illustrate various installation methods, connector hardware, and fasteners for key deck connections and assemblies,” says Shirley. “Plus, the Simpson Strong-Tie F-DECKCODE22 Deck Connection and Fastening Guide is a valuable resource providing deck building recommendations and code compliant installation guides for a variety of deck connections.”
In the 2021 IRC, deck requirements had substantial revisions to make builders’ life easier, explains Loren Ross, structural engineer for Altenloh, Brinck & Co. US, Inc. “Most notably is a change to the loading requirement for guard rails,” he points out. “Previously, guards had to resist force in any direction, but in the 2018 IRC, it was clarified to specify outward from the deck. For the 2024 IRC, several proposals focused on the durability of the deck surface through requirements of pressure treatment. There were no significant changes, but more proposals are expected next cycle.”
These code changes are not arbitrary; as Pan American’s Phil Lail explains, the North American Deck and Railing Association works diligently at keeping deck fastener manufacturers updated on code changes, and they lobby to have certain codes amended or changed to make a safer deck project. “One code they worked to amend last year was regarding specifying the predrilling steps when using lag screws for deck framing,” Lail says. “All of our primary fasteners in our Big Timber branded product is independently tested by accredited labs and we post our certifications on our website and have added QR codes to our packaging where they can be viewed on the job site if necessary.”
Labor shortages may continue to cause disruptions
Compared to the past two years, one area that has manufacturers breathing a sigh of relief is supply chain issues, a situation that many report as improving. “During COVID-19, manufacturers learned how to adapt to logistics issues and price fluctuations,” says Uli Walther, president of U2 Fasteners. “We were able to triple our inventory and not have any back orders.”
Others, however, still see the possibilities of disruption as a concern, and point to domestic manufacturing as being their saving grace. “Our supply chain issues in regard to container delays are subsiding, but we operate our own factories, so we are not experiencing some of the continued delays some suppliers are experiencing out of Taiwan,” reports Lail. “Product availability just has not been an issue for us, and we have a very healthy stock of both imported and domestically produced products on hand.”
It’s a “Made in the USA” advantage that can be a true benefit to LBM dealers, say industry experts. “While supply chain issues have eased slightly, the reality of the disruption has not, causing many LBM customers to seek domestic manufacturers,” says SPAX’s Katsma. “Being one of the few ‘Made in America’ fastener options remaining and the continued capital investments in process optimization and production, SPAX is well positioned to deliver quality products on time which is vitally important for our LBM partners.”
Roelif Loveland, president of Maze Nails, shares Katsma’s thoughts regarding domestic production. “While we hear that nail importers are regularly running into all those issues, Maze Nails are 100% made in the USA, with an extraordinarily strong supply chain to our assorted domestic sources,” he explains. “Rather that JIT (Just in Time) inventory, Maze practices JIC (Just in Case) contingency planning to make sure we have plenty of raw materials always on hand. Pride in Maze products is evident in every department throughout the Maze manufacturing plant, making Maze Nails a preferred employer in rural LaSalle-Peru, Illinois.”
If there’s one area that does have manufacturers concerned, however, it’s the shortage of skilled labor. According to a recent study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, (the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers), the manufacturing skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, with a cost of those missing jobs potentially totaling $1 trillion in 2030 alone. It’s a statistic that has a lot of people paying very close attention.
“I’m most worried about skilled labor shortages,” says Pan American’s Lail. “Not as many of the Gen Z kids seem that interested in the physical labor required in the construction market. In our area of the country here in the Carolinas, a good number of the schools have trade programs where you can learn carpentry and woodworking skills to help form a career.”
Grabber’s Tedesco echoes those concerns. “Labor continues to be a challenge across the construction industry,” he says. “That’s why we remain focused on providing solutions that address installer productivity, from product consistency to features that enable fast installation.”
That lack of labor is having impacts beyond manufacturing, says FastenMaster’s DiSanto. “The labor shortage has resulted in having more inexperienced people in the industry and potentially at LBM dealers,” he reports. “Therefore, training is critical, so employees understand product details and can better serve the professional community. FastenMaster offers robust training programs through our national field sales team, who conducts on-site demonstrations and provides detailed training materials not only for LBM dealers, but also for their customers.”
Selling solutions can bring wins for the dealer
Despite these challenges, and keeping in mind the growing need for high-performing fasteners, manufacturers see multiple methodologies LBM dealers can put into practice to best succeed. The first, they recommend, is to offer products that deliver efficiency and performance solutions.
“Fasteners don’t drive the cost of the project but can drive call backs and failures if the right parts aren’t used,” Hillman’s Kovac points out. “LBM dealers should offer building product from suppliers that have a stable supply chain as well as recognizable brands and innovation to help speed up projects to completion.”
Grabber’s Tedesco agrees. “LBM dealers should offer products and solutions that deliver on installer productivity. Also, it is important to align with producers who invest in—and advance—innovative solutions,” he recommends.
Part of that alignment Tedesco mentions involves building partnerships with responsive suppliers, and other manufacturers agree with that assessment. “Maze Nails recommends that dealers develop strong partnerships with domestic fastener producers to ensure that they always have top-quality nails and screws on their shelves in times of shortage,” Loveland encourages.
“The importance of partnering with manufacturers for accurate estimated annual usages has never been more important,” SPAX’s Martin stresses. “When partnering with SPAX, a dealer has the unique opportunity of being an important part of manufacturing stability for their customer needs. Having the accuracy of specific items and quantities of product to meet the customer’s needs on time and in full has and will always be a priority for this market.”
Through these partnerships, LBM dealers will be able to better manage inventories and plan for the unforeseen, experts say. “It is very important to have your shelves full of inventory,” U2 Fasteners’ Uli Walther points out. “Do not rely on your wholesaler or supplier to get inventory at the last minute, as we found the disruptions can create lost opportunities and large scale jobs.”
With supply chain issues improving, a backlog of existing jobs from last year that still need to be completed, and an influx of new decking projects expected for 2023, this year holds great promise for LBM dealers who are prepared for the opportunities. By working closely with manufacturers, they can position themselves ideally, providing fasteners that enable crews to work smarter, faster, and easier. And while Japanese miyadaiku craftsmen may eschew fasteners, today’s builders will have more than their fair share of options, provided LBM dealers plan on delivering them.