John Hyatt, owner of DeckMasters, in Oklahoma City, Okla., builds few decks of pressure-treated lumber these days. “I don't put pressure-treated down at all for new or replacement decks,” he says. “If we go to an upgrade, we use ipe. I bring samples of ipe and composites, and they sell themselves.” Pressure-treated lumber has fallen so far out of favor that if the customer requests it, Hyatt says he puts a disclaimer on it, which he doesn't do with other materials. “If it warps, twists, cracks, or splinters, DeckMasters will put it down one time and one time only. It's in the contract,” he says.

STRUCTURE EXCEPTED Except for structural members required by building codes, deck contractors and their customers are turning away from pressure-treated lumber in what appears to be fast-growing numbers. Whether homeowners favor composites or hardwoods such as ipe depends on the particular market.

Hardwoods aren't much of a factor for Prince William Home Improvement in Woodbridge, Va., says general manager Greg Sliger. On the other hand, “We're surprised by how much composites business we do.” Just a few years ago, composites accounted for around 20% of the decks the company built. Today, they are at least a third of its overall deck business, more for the replacement decks that make up perhaps 10% of the volume, Sliger says.

In Connecticut, “few people are doing pressure-treated decks,” says Phil Brown, owner of Archadeck of Central Connecticut, in Berlin. Brown builds virtually all replacement decks of composite materials. Overall, they account for 60% of his decks, ipe another 30%, and pressure-treated lumber the remaining 10%.

MARKET DRIVERS Two things are driving the shift away from pressure-treated: First, “most people want to get away from maintenance,” Brown says. “They start by asking, ‘Do you have that Trex stuff?'” “Trex,” many contractors report, has become a generic term for composite decking materials among consumers. Second, during the last two years, composites have been improved, “in function and in appearance,” Brown says. Adds Sliger, “the products are better, with denser grain.”

Wood hasn't lost its appeal, but at least some of the distinctions between wood and composites are becoming increasingly difficult to make.