It's a typical Saturday morning in suburbia and already you're smelling sawdust and hearing the whine of the circular saw. A weekend warrior is building his deck. Simplest project in the world, right? Just ask any number of homeowners, or the guys in pickup trucks with tape rules on their belts and Labrador retrievers on the seat next to them.

But as many do-it-yourselfers learn upon encountering insurmountable obstacles mid-project, and as many Peter Pickup-type contractors discover in the process of going out of business by the thousands each year, making money designing and building decks isn't all that simple.

Nor, anymore, is the deck-building industry. The manufacturers, distributors, and small construction companies specializing in decks all find themselves adapting to new consumer tastes and preferences. The materials used to build decks are changing, as are the fasteners used to assemble them. Consumers want more sophisticated decks — ones that last longer and require zero maintenance.

Expanding Market The deck and railing market is huge and healthy. Various manufacturers and industry sources pegged it at some $4 billion in 2003. And that's the wholesale value of materials used in residential decks and railings in the continental United States and Canada, excluding the substructure, according to Lou Rossi, senior partner, Principia Partners, Exton, Pa., a consulting firm that focuses on the building products industry.

The material in the substructures, almost 100% pressure-treated lumber, “is a big number not to include,” Rossi adds, “but that isn't where the activity is.” To that $4 billion add the markup on materials and the remodeling contractor's labor and you've got a retail deck market in the range of $8 to $10 billion.

And it's growing. “We think the deck market is expanding at around 4% to 5% a year,” Rossi says. “That's better than the gross domestic product or the overall building products market.”

With home building and remodeling at or near all-time highs, there's solid demand now and in the future for new decks as well as replacement decks, a part of the market often overlooked. “You have a lot of bad decks out there,” says Dan Betts, president and CEO of USA Deck. “In the Boston area, 30% of our business is replacement decks.” At the macro level, interest rates are low, home values are high, and “housing construction over the next 10 years is likely to exceed that of the last 10 years,” says Rossi, citing studies done by Harvard University and others. All will propel the deck industry's continued growth.

Out Door Living Consumer trends fuel that growth. Americans are focused on their homes in general — and on outdoor living in particular — like never before. The U.S. Census Bureau says consumers now spend more than $40 billion a year on outdoor living areas and garden amenities. They're creating “outdoor rooms” and spending billions to equip them: more than $3 billion on outdoor furnishings; a similar amount on barbecue grills and accessories; another $20 billion on pools and spas.

“It's the most fantastic thing. We see people taking their back yards and making them more like living-room environments,” says Betts. “That includes the deck, but involves a lot more, too. I'd call it a revolution in the back yard.”

Additionally, homeowners want the time to enjoy their creations. With affluence rising and the American workweek getting longer, consumers seek low-maintenance products, even when they cost more.

“Consumers like the low-maintenance aspect [of composites] — that there's less warping and splitting than you get with wood—but also the slip resistance of the materials and the fact that you have color in the product right off the bat without having to stain or paint,” says Paul Bizzarri, marketing director for Timbertech, out of Wilmington, Ohio, which offers alternative deck materials.