Rising consumer awareness of alternative decking materials is translating into manufacturing expansions.
The halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center were decked out with boards made of 100 percent plastic or composites during the International Builders' Show, held Jan. 19-22.
Product acceptance is being pushed along by factors including the Environmental Protection Agency's phaseout of arsenic-treated lumber, and the desire of consumers to make the most of outdoor living space.
``We saw more and more of our wood products being attacked by nonwood products in the marketplace,'' said Dick McBride, vice president of operations for the Great Lakes region with Universal Forest Products Inc.
``It all started with vinyl fencing, taking business away from our wood fencing, and then we started seeing it with decking.''
Publicly held UFP, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., bought its way into the alternative wood market in 2002 with the acquisition of Quality Wood Treating Co. Inc.'s composite decking facility in Prairie du Chien, Wis. UFP produces EverX composite decking, and introduced coextruded railing systems at the show.
Its Wisconsin facility now is up to 15 lines extruding the wood/composite deck boards, from the original six, McBride said, after expanding in the second quarter of 2003. UFP added about 60 employees, and is operating the plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with sights on potential expansion to other areas of the country.
``It depends on where we see the demand and where we see the growth opportunities,'' McBride said.
Epoch Composite Products Inc. uses the slogan ``Maintain your lifestyle, not your deck,'' to persuade consumers to buy its compression molded EverGrain deck product.
The Lamar, Mo., firm again is expanding its headquarters manufacturing site, just months after boosting its space to more than 200,000 square feet. Officials would not disclose details about new machinery.
Officials said compression molding allows for a deep-molded grain and a much more dense board. The density also helps the product resist moisture absorption and improves weatherability.
``We've grown in excess of 50 percent over the last three years, and we see that continuing,'' said Mick Whelan, vice president of sales, marketing and product development. ``We're constantly evaluating our capacity.''
Still, increasing competition means processors need to differentiate their products.
``You can't just put it on the shelf and expect that, `You build it, they will come,' '' said Ron Mitchell, president of CPI Plastics Group Ltd. in Mississauga, Ontario, which markets its polystyrene-based deck, fence and spa cladding products under the eon brand name.
``It's our job to differentiate ourselves via our branding,'' Mitchell said.
``We're spending millions of dollars this year in terms of product knowledge, on a whole range of programs,'' he added.
CPI will begin operating a 100,000-square-foot extrusion facility this month, its sixth in Mississauga.
``With the growth in decking and spa cladding, it necessitated this plant,'' Mitchell said in a Feb. 11 telephone interview.
``Alternative wood products are going to boom, even more than they have in the past.
``People are becoming more comfortable, and contractors are becoming more comfortable. People are tending to spend more time at home, for a whole variety of reasons. They're spending money on their homes and their back yards.''
One new issue for manufacturers is dealing with retailers unwilling to accept price increases.
``Our deck profile was a two-by-six and we've gone to a five-quarter board, and we did that because of the increase in price in raw materials.
``In the last 27 months, the cost of polystyrene has risen 69 percent. We decided in August ... to redefine our whole position in terms of pricing,'' Mitchell said.