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Recapture the deck market

by Leon A. Frechette

Perhaps the construction season has already arrived in your area and you are busy digging out your tools, answering the phone, bidding jobs, and seeking out new materials. Many customers are eager to spend those tax returns.

Adding a deck is just one of many projects these customers will want to accomplish this year, so are you prepared for the calls? Have you done your homework and checked out the new products available on today?s market?

ALTERNATIVE PRODUCTS

It is important that you be abreast of all products currently on—or just coming to—the market. Check track records and written company warranties. Verify that these products have undergone safety testing, structural integrity evaluations, long-term field performance tests, and that quality assurance standards are established. Today's customers are open to new ideas and approaches to suit their particular needs or lifestyles. As a professional, expect to educate them—so do your homework and request information and samples of the products mentioned here. It could help you close that sale!

TREX

TREX is an innovative product and one that is interesting to work with. It is fairly new, but it has a good track record. Roger Wittenberg (the developer) first introduced this product to the market in the 1980s, and it was produced under the name Rivenite until 1991. When Mobil Chemical Company (Composite Products Division) purchased the technology, its name was changed to Timbrex. Since then, the product has been refined and the name simplified to TREX. In 1996, TREX management, including the developer, purchased the division from Mobil Chemical Co. so TREX is now a product of TREX Company, LLC.

A wood composite lumber, TREX is made from recycled and/or reclaimed plastic (grocery bags and industrial stretch film) and waste wood (wood fiber from sawdust and used pallets) and contains no virgin wood or preservatives. It resists moisture (including saltwater) as well as UV rays, insects, and solvents so it will not rot or deteriorate. Already it has made an impact on the commercial market: boardwalks (Spring Lake, NJ), playgrounds, marina docks, landscaping decks, an outside dance floor (The Neptune Beach Club in Southampton, Long Island) and amphitheater seating (Mohican State Park). The list continues to grow.

Soak a sample for ten minutes in hot water. It appears to absorb the water—but it really isn?t. Within minutes, the material will be completely dry and will return to its original color. TREX is produced with a slight crown so it sheds water. This product is not structurally designed so it is not intended for use as columns, beams, joists, stringers, or other primary load-bearing members. Improvements have been made in the die design to produce a much improved decking board, both in overall dimension and appearance. Also, TREX has been evaluated and listed with National Evaluation Service, Inc. (NES), and Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA) Evaluation Services, Inc.

TREX comes in two colors: natural, a light brown that fades to gray, and a colorfast dark brown. You can purchase TREX in 8', 12', and 16' lengths and in dimensions of 2" x 4", 2" x 6", 2" x 8", and 5/4 x 6" (1 1/4" x 5 1/2"). Several other less commonly used profiles are also available. The product has no grain or knots, is very dense, and features bull-nosed edges. It will not check, crack, or splinter and it is not necessary to predrill, even when deck screws are placed close to the edge (but I recommend you predrill anyway). If you countersink a screw, the material lifts up around the head, and tapping this area with a hammer will flatten the raised portion. If you barely cut the surface with the countersink bit, the screw will pull itself and the decking material down flush to the surface, leaving a clean, countersunk look.

TREX sands, routs, and cuts like natural wood, but because it is very dense, don't expect to cut through it with the same ease of cutting redwood or cedar. A 40-tooth carbide saw blade gives a clean cut, but the manufacturer recommends an 18- or 24-tooth carbide blade to keep both the blade and the material cooler.

TREX appears to be maintenance-free. Sealants are not required. It readily accepts paint and stain and is splinter- and knot-free. At this time, the company offers a ten-year fully transferable limited warranty.

There are a few points to consider when working with this product. TREX expands and contracts due to temperature changes. For use in colder temperatures, the manufacturer recommends a 3/16" gap (based on two 16' boards) between ends. I recommend having the material delivered to the job site at least a week before installation so you can sticker the pile (every two feet and as level as possible). In temperatures of 70° and above, the product will expand to 80 or 90 percent capacity. This way, when you install the boards, you can butt the joints semi-tight.

When working with 5/4 materials, the manufacturer recommends at 125 psf (pounds per square foot) live load to place the joists at 16" OC. I found placing the joists on 12" centers (especially on the hottest side of a house) and bridging each joist with blocks stabilized the decking material between joists and prevented deflection. The extra joist helps keep the decking boards in place, keeping the board ends tight (providing you use screws, not nails).

I recommend using two people to handle TREX, especially the 16' pieces. After you gain experience with the product and feel you understand its characteristics, you should be able to cut your labor time down by half.

If you can start from the house in full width, then this doesn't apply, but if you trim the board to fit (less than 3"), then string a line so this first piece will be installed straight. Otherwise, it will conform to irregularities on the house and every board will follow suit. This is a practice that should be done with any product less than 3" wide.

Balusters, caps, and bottom rails are available, but TREX combined with natural wood (cedar or redwood) railings also produces a great-looking deck.

Re-Source Lumber

Re-Source Lumber is another product made from 100 percent recycled waste, such as plastic milk containers. A synthetic ridged plastic consisting of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) resins, UV-inhibited pigment systems, foaming compounds, and selected process additives, it carries a 20-year limited warranty not to rot, split, crack, or splinter. With no painting or sealing required, this truly is a maintenance-free product.

Manufactured in many dimensional lumber sizes, shapes, and colors, Re-Source Lumber can be installed with standard woodworking tools. A 72-tooth carbide blade cuts through it with ease and routing is a snap. In fact, a newly routed edge blends in with the rest of the material. When using a router bit with a roller bearing, be sure to check the bearing regularly and clean off the plastic film that will wrap around it. The plastic film removes easily but be sure to check.

I recommend using a countersink bit before installing screws. Decking clips are available, so it is not necessary to fasten through the surface if you use the grooved planks. This attachment system also allows for improved expansion and contraction tolerance of the decking surface, because an 8' piece may expand or contract 1/4" over a 50° temperature change. For example, if the deck material is installed at 50°F and the temperature increases to 100°F, the material will expand 1/4". Also available are tongue-and-groove boards for even easier installation. Because of the minimal shrinkage, it is now possible to have outdoor structures without gaps between the boards. The tongue-and-groove boards are not 100 percent watertight so water will either run through or run off. Any water left on the surface is really beneficial since the product actually provides better traction when it's wet than when it is coated with dry dust.

Re-Source products are too flexible for use as joists or supporting members. When used in a railing system, place blocks under the bottom rail and between the posts, which should not be more than 3' apart. Proper precautions during installation will prevent sagging during hot weather since Re-Source reacts to temperature changes. The 3/4" x 5 1/2" planks should be installed on a joist system that is 12" OC. The manufacturer recommends that joists be bridged with blocking material to tightly secure the entire framing system. However, they have also introduced a galvanized joist system. The galvanized joists along with the material used in both the decking and railing systems will be virtually maintenance-free

When fastening through the surface, use Re-Source color-coordinated screws. The manufacturer recommends white screws for the railing system but not for the decking surface because white will show dirt very quickly and will need regular washing with soap and water.

This product may attractively coordinate with a mobile home or a home with vinyl siding. It comes in weathered redwood, light oak, cedar, gray, and white, allowing your customers some options to create color accents to blend with their home. This is one product that is worth checking out.

Dreamdeck

When Dreamdeck was first introduced to the market, it was intended for use in dock construction, but it has slowly made its way into decks. Both Dreamdeck and Dreamdock are manufactured by Thermal Industries, Inc., primarily from recycled waste products from their 100 percent PVC (polyvinyl chloride) window division.

The substrate is covered with a textured (virgin) weatherable PVC, and the bottom is lined in four areas ("feet") with flexible materials the length of the plank. This adds cushioning and prevents "squeaking" sounds. Dreamdeck is durable and maintenance-free, mildew- and UV-resistant, splinter-free, has a slip-resistant surface, and is aesthetically appealing.

The surface material is available in two colors: earth tone and white. Stock sizes are 12', 16', and 20' lengths (the manufacturer can accommodate special lengths) and 1 3/8" x 5 1/2" widths. After the joists are in place (12" or 16" OC) and level, simply screw down the snap-on connector to the joist. Snap the Dreamdeck PVC lumber down over the connector, and the walking surface will be free of visible nails or other fastening devices. The exposed ends can be cosmetically finished with a "U" channel fastened from the underside with pan head screws.

Because you will be cutting the PVC lumber to specific lengths, consider leaving the joists long until you know exactly where the piece will land. You could finish the perimeter with natural wood in 1x or 2x instead of using a "U" channel. In any case, this material, when used for a deck or a dock, will not require maintenance or finishing, nor will your customers face the cleaning problems that can occur with a wooden surface.

Now available is a deck railing system in either 6- and 8-foot sections in both 36- or 42-inch heights. The balusters are placed 4 inches apart to meet building code requirements and the bottom and top rails have an internal aluminum reinforcement for added strength. A post sleeve and cap have been designed to cover a 4x4 wooden post, something that is worth checking out.

Other Products

Phoenix Recycled Plastics manufactures plastic lumber for all your outdoor needs from 100 percent recycled plastics. They offer four grades of plastic to meet a wide range of customer needs. Each grade, of course, features special characteristics that suit it for particular applications. Write to them for samples and assistance with a particular project you may have in mind.

The color is the same all the way through these recycled products, and they are manufactured with a built-in "wood grain" texture. Standard colors such as white, black, gray, teak, weathered teak, and redwood are available as well as custom colors. Most nominal sizes are available (about the same as dimension wood products) for decking boards, tongue and groove, round and square posts, and structural fiberglass-reinforced lumber in lengths up to 40'. If you are considering this product for structural applications, be sure to consult a customer service representative before you begin.

With all these colors and sizes to choose from, you may want to consider the product for the following uses:

• Benches • Decks • Fencing • Handrails • Tables
• Boardwalks • Docks • Furniture • Landscaping • Trim

Lattice

Many of us have used standard or architectural grade wood lattice for camouflaging the area underneath a deck or for other decorative purposes. But how many of you ever considered using vinyl lattice?

Cross Industries, Inc., produces a durable PVC product—CROSS VINYLattice. With matching vinyl accessories, it has the appearance of a fine wood product with a flat enamel finish when installed.

Some of the advantages this product has over traditional wood include:

  • Sturdy construction; it stays together as you work with it.
  • No splintering or splitting.
  • It cleans easily.
  • The joints are sealed.
  • There is no need to paint.
  • It comes in standard colors or can be ordered in a custom color.
  • It is durable and resistant to both mildew and termites.
  • It is available in different panel lengths, widths, and thicknesses.
  • It is also available in many patterns or you can custom order a pattern to fit your design.

This is certainly an idea worth considering for any deck, porch, or utility enclosure.

Dekmate Bench Bracket

A quick and simple way to build a seat into a railing system is to use the Dekmate Bench Bracket by Canadian Dekbrands. Made from polyethylene, a structural foam-injected plastic, it is maintenance-free: there is no worry about rust or rot. This unique design makes it great for use on docks, concrete, and existing decks as well. It also provides an angle back that adds comfort to your bench.

Write for a sample of this product, as well as of any others discussed in this article. It will really increase your understanding of these products and how you can use them!

Have an open mind toward the new alternative products entering the market. Your customers may already be aware of these products and eager to put them to use on their projects. Don't lose a sale because you are not abreast of the latest in alternative products or are unwilling to work with them. Being adaptable and flexible will keep you on top of the competition!

The information in this article is taken in part from my book, Builders Guide to Decks. This book can help you conquer the lucrative deck market and "build a better mousetrap." The deck market is very competitive, so take advantage of the latest tools, materials, and design ideas that are offered throughout—stay on top by reading this most powerful tool on the market today!

To order Builder's Guide to Decks, click the purchase button below!


Copyright © 1996 & 1998 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the May 1996 issue of Building & Remodeling News.


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