At first glance, the introduction of composite decking materials during the past several years seems to have overshadowed wood, the traditional decking material. Decks and outdoor living as a concept and a market have grown significantly along with new materials and related accessories. A consumer preference for low-maintenance products has no doubt cultivated interest in composites.
So, is wood passé? One might think so from the lack of response from major lumber producer associations asked to comment for this article. A closer look suggests that natural cellulose fiber is still of interest to some homeowners.
Wood decking will continue to account for the majority of decking demand in volume and value terms through 2014, according to the most recent forecast by Cleveland-based Freedonia Group. However, demand for wood decking is forecast to rise only one-half of one percent annually to 2.7 billion lineal feet in 2014. Although gains will be restrained by competition from composite and plastic decking materials, interest in tropical hardwoods, such as ipe, will provide growth opportunities in the residential building and nonbuilding construction markets.
Although wood currently maintains a solid share of the market, composites are gaining ground. “Wood-plastic composite and plastic lumber decking materials are expected to experience double-digit demand gains through 2014,” the Freedonia report says. “Composite decking will account for nearly 70 percent of demand growth in lineal foot terms through 2014.”
Composites Come On Strong
“Composites have come on very strong in the last few years, and they are making some headway,” says Lisa Ayala, North American sales manager for Accoya, an acetylated wood modification process that its maker says adds durability and stability to lumber products, “but what I’m really seeing is a trend back toward wood because of its organic properties and the fact that it’s a natural resource; people are looking for that,” she says.
“Wood still has a stake in the ground,” agrees Kelly Lusa of The California Redwood Co., Arcata, Calif., who notes that she sees three primary categories in the wood market: cedar, redwood and Southern Pine. She sees demand for the different species somewhat dependent on geographical proximity. “If you’re closer to the redwood growing area, that’s the primary market for redwood; if you’re closer to the cedar zone, that’s your market.”
Lusa also notes that homeowners, instead of expanding the footprint of their homes, are expanding the footprints of their decks, thus expanding the total living space and increasing the value of their homes. “It gets people out there engaging with their families, their yards and their neighbors and communities,” she says.
Ayala says she has seen the same thing and feels the trend is growing. “People are done remodeling the inside of their homes and are now moving outdoors and want to spend more time around the house,” she says. The question now is, “How can we make our outdoor living space more desirable and more entertainment-ready? You see outdoor kitchens popping up, and people are really doing different things to their decks. I think that trend is here to stay, and I think it’s going to evolve even more,” she adds.
Composites have gained market share because of their promise of low maintenance, Ayala acknowledges. She contends, however, that a process such as Accoya offers a wood deck product homeowners also won’t have to spend as much time maintaining. “I think we’re a strong competitor to the composites,” she says.
Ayala emphasizes acetylated wood is not the same as pressure-treated lumber. “It’s not really a treatment; it literally is modifying the wood by stabilizing the hydroxyl group of molecules,” she says.
“It is a more expensive process than typical pressure-treated wood,” she acknowledges, “but the process offers lower maintenance, and it’s going to last a lot longer without rotting and decaying.” The price point is about the same as a tropical hardwood such as mahogany, she says.