Price jumps in cedar and redwood make composite materials an attractive option
The composite decking material industry has truly evolved over the last decade. While the original products held up and didn’t degrade, they were still susceptible to mold, mildew, and fading. The industry responded with a technology that wrapped the deck boards with an acrylic polymer cap that prevents mold growth, staining, and fading.
Today, composite decking material comes in two types of resin technologies — a wood resin composite of recycled wood content mixed with resins and binders, and an inorganic PVC material.
As all builders have seen, home owners today are much more educated, so it’s important builders know as least as much about the category as their customers, says Patrick Barnds, general manager of decking, railing and accessories for Azek and TimberTech.
Each product has its pros and cons, Barnds says. The PVC boards has no wood content to expand or contract when directly exposed to water or high moisture over long periods of time and is a more high-tech, stable product. Plus, it’s lighter, which is good for installers. The capped wood composite product — which is the majority of the product available on the market today — feels heavier underfoot, which is a quality many people prefer.
Both products offer a clear advantage over wood deck.
“Wood will degrade over time and you have to maintain it,” Barnds says. “For a builder, those aren’t great selling points.”
Composite decking materials also offer an “enormous range of colors and visuals you don’t find in wood unless you do hand-staining,” Barnds says.
In terms of installation, composite decking takes no more time to install than a wood deck if the boards are screwed down or installed with concealed fasteners.
“The cheapest and fastest way to put down a deck is to use a pneumatic nailer, but most people don’t do that because the nails show,” Barnds says. “If you want concealed fasteners, composite is faster to install because you can get the boards grooved in advance.”
Good news on cost
Builders might be surprised to learn that the price point between composites and better wood products has narrowed significantly. The vast majority of decks are built with pressure-treated pine, which is inexpensive, but requires an enormous amount of maintenance and is not particularly attractive, Barndts says.
The next most popular decking woods are cedar and redwood. Until last year, there was still a significant difference between cedar and redwood and composites, but prices have risen dramatically this year. Due to the Canadian tariff and price inflation on lumber, cedar and redwood now are more expensive than base composites.
“We believe about 10 percent of composite decking has gone into new home construction because the upfront cost was so much higher than for wood,” Barnds says. “We think you’ll see that change now that builders have to look for options beyond cedar and redwood. If you haven’t shopped for it in the last three to four months, there’s a little bit of sticker shock. It’s really a sea change in the industry position. For higher-end products, builders now have a better-performing product at a better price.”
For builders who are concerned that the cost of composite decking could go up just as much as redwood and cedar, Barnds offers reassurance. The resins and petroleum derivatives that are central to composite decking may see modest price increases of 3 to 7 percent, but nothing like the 15 to 40 percent increases in cedar and redwood.
“You can tell a very compelling story about the lifetime ownership cost difference to make an economic argument,” he says. “When you remove the major stumbling block of the upfront cost as compared to cedar or redwood, you’re just talking about aesthetics and low maintenance.”
When those are the selling points, educated consumers will recognize the long-term value for their homes. Builders who offer composite decking demonstrate that they’re using quality products that will stand the test of time.
For technical data and bulletins and product guides, visit Azek.com.