Composite decking's popularity continues to expand. “We're still in that hockey stick part of the growth curve,” says John Pruett, marketing manager, composite decks and railings, for CertainTeed Products.
The composite railing systems that many manufacturers have introduced to complement their decking materials or as stand-alone products are also in demand, but the market is more fragmented, with different materials, styles, colors, and textures.
Rail Options John Long, vice president, sales and marketing, Kadant Composites, manufacturer of the GeoDeck railing system, says contractors have three options. “There's hollow PVC — which probably captures the lion's share of the market — and co-extruded systems with a wood fiber or wood flour core with either PVC or high-density polyethylene as an outer cap.” The third group consists of lumber profiles using the same material content as the deck planks, Long explains.
No product or system predominates. Donnie Miller, owner of Archadeck of South Atlanta, says each has its “quirks.” Mixing and matching rail systems, even components, is one way to deal with that.
“I do some composites, some composite frames with aluminum pickets, some vinyl, and a few full aluminum frame rails,” Miller says. By mixing, he can give consumers the look they want and sometimes save them money. Other contractors report consumers choosing wood railings with composite decks for the sake of lower cost.
Sensitivity, Selection Whether deck builders choose to use composite railings has to do with their product and their market. In a typical year Jim Craig, owner of Craig Sundecks and Porches, in Manassas, Va., builds 125 projects. He estimates 2% of these are constructed with composite rail systems, 15% with vinyl rails, and the remainder pressure-treated wood painted or stained to match existing trim colors. The verticality of railings makes them a prominent feature in the look of a home, Craig points out, as opposed to deck planks, which are nowhere near as visible. “Every neighbor is going to see it.” Neighborhood associations specify their preference for stained natural wood rails, or rails of a solid color, to match trim. “The architectural impact is a much more sensitive issue in this area,” he says.
Another issue for contractors is availability.
“I have a strong preference for using composites that my supplier stocks, whoever that might be,” Miller says. “So many composites are still special order. If you're a few boards short you can be stuck waiting a week for them.”