Paul Mantoni, owner of Exteriors Plus, in Terryville, Conn., had a re-deck job not long ago. The deck was complex and the cost of tearing off the pressure-treated pine and then planking over it with a popular composite product exceeded $10,000. Mantoni says that he told the homeowner: “If you're going to spend this kind of money, hidden fasteners are something to look into. I can give you a price both ways.” A photograph was persuasive.
LOVE THE LOOK Hidden fasteners, around for two decades, have grown in popularity in the last five years. Aesthetics remains the top reason why contractors suggest them and homeowners go along with the suggestion. Mike French, a Virginia deck designer and Internet supplier of deck packages, says that the extra investment in time and money is well worth it for both contractors and homeowners. With tropical hardwoods such as ipe, he recommends a system that consists of a flange attached by screws to joists. That will up the deck cost by $2 to $3 per square foot and “you have to stand on your head to install it,” but tropical hardwoods aren't cheap and “you don't want to see nails or screws.” (Visit his website, www.ipe-deck.com, for more on installing ipe with hidden fastener systems.)
WIDER ACCEPTANCE Hidden fastener systems have gained credibility in spite of complaints about the extra time their use might add. Don Martel, a builder who co-founded hidden fastener manufacturer Tiger Claw in 2001, says that his company's best estimate (“using [market researcher] Principia's numbers”) is that 30% to 35% of deck projects now involve hidden fasteners, compared with about 10% to 15% in 2005.
This increase is due to several factors. Many composite manufacturers now engineer products to accommodate hidden fasteners or they market their own branded fastener systems. George Drummond, owner of Casa Decking, in Virginia Beach, Va., guesses that about 60% of his decks use hidden fasteners and says that time is less of an issue as pneumatic guns become more common for installing.
Still, not everyone is sold. “We prefer to screw our deck boards down,” says Ron Spillers, owner of West Coast Decks, in Seattle. He guesses that fewer than 10% of his company's jobs in the last five years involved a hidden fastener system. Why not more? Spillers says that screws, now smaller, allow for a tighter hold, a better board-to-board fit, and cut installation time by 10%.