(Oct. 19, 2007) — There are few certainties in life. Death, taxes and the Chicago Cubs not winning the World Series make the short list.
Wood-plastic composite deck makers following their competitors onto the latest bandwagon appears to be another.
From embossed wood grains, to the development of hidden fastener systems and white composite railing, to the introduction of tropical hardwood look-a-likes, the composite deck makers have proven themselves to be of the copycat mindset.
It is happening again with the emergence of cellular PVC. This has the potential to be good and bad, depending on what happens moving forward.
It is good because, by all accounts, cellular PVC works. The boards are lightweight, resist color change better than their polyethylene counterparts, and are more durable in matters of staining and scratching.
Essentially, they are said to perform the way wood composites were supposed to — nearly maintenance-free.
The potential bad is twofold and carries public relations ramifications of the egg-on-face variety:
c The composite decking industry was created on the premise of pulling plastic and wood out of the waste stream, and making them into something of value — a functional, sustainable, environmentally friendly deck board. These products were to provide all of the benefits of wood, but few, if any, of the negatives. Several marketing teams were guilty of carelessly using the term “maintenance-free,” a move they later regretted and remedied.
What do these companies tell customers now? That they were just kidding? That recycled PE and wood flour really was not the best material solution after all? And what about the environmental message? It was a popular and legitimate one. Creative marketing will be required moving forward to answer these questions.
c Investment in cellular PVC (or the ultra-low maintenance category, as many are calling it) has the potential to take away from research-and-development work with composites.
I hope this does not happen. There is a place in this world for wood composite decking. It is a great recycling solution. The boards, aesthetically, replicate wood better than any other technology. The products fall in a price point in which most consumers will be shopping. And despite performance issues, they have still done their initial job of eliminating cracks, splinters and the need for stain.
This industry owes it to consumers, and to itself, to not let this cellular PVC craze distract it from the goal of making wood composites perform as advertised. Every new industry has its growing pains. Wood composite decking has earned both the praise and the criticism it has received.
I am totally smitten with these products. Whatever is lacking, I see as opportunity.
I hope the manufacturers look at it that way too, because the R&D work in wood composites must continue.
Joe Consumer deserves it.
Matt Griswold is an Akron-based
Matt Griswold is an Akron-basedPlastics News staff reporter who covers building and construction.