American homeowners are continuing their love affair with decks, but gone are the days when decks served as a simple lounging space or a place to park a grill. Today’s market demands that contractors be able to create integrated outdoor living spaces that are not only fully functional but complement the home’s interior sense of design. While this trend has been emerging for the past few years, it now seems poised to dominate deck design themes in 2017. In its 2016 survey, the American Institute of Architects reported that 69% of firms surveyed have seen an increase in demand for functional outdoor living spaces, and with the outdoor living market expected to top $7.1 billion by 2020, the environment seems fertile for growth in deck materials and construction.
The Changing Role of the Deck
At the heart of this shift in how homeowners see their decks is the philosophy of true outdoor living, creating living spaces outside of the home’s shell that reflects the home’s interior and forms a harmonious blend of living space. Picture-framing—using different colored boards to form borders around a deck’s perimeter—along with multi-level deck design allows for the creation of outdoor vignettes, with each defined area serving a specific purpose such as cooking, lounging or as a bar area.
Even the urban dweller is getting in on the outdoor living movement; a surprising growth area for decking contractors is in urban settings. While they do have specific challenges related to overall weight, UV resistance and flame spread ratings, rooftop decks allow city dwellers to indulge in outdoor living just like their suburban counterparts (albeit on a smaller scale).
Wood is being treated by advanced methods to ensure an even longer-lasting product. For example, Lonza recently introduced its new BARamine®, a patented technology that the company says works in combination with the copper azole preservative system to enhance the performance of treated wood and helps the preservative system reach deeper into the wood for better product protection.
It’s all about creating an ambiance that mimics the experience of indoor living and creates a backyard retreat. As Juliana Rumbaugh, marketing communications manager for Lonza (formerly Arch Wood Protection) explains, “The deck has become an extension of the living room where homeowners can dine, entertain and even watch TV…. There’s an influx of decks being constructed with fully functional kitchens that include sinks, cabinets and refrigerators to complement the built-in grill.”
As Jessica Hewitt, director of marketing for Humboldt Redwood, points out, “Ancillary outdoor living structures, particularly shade structures, are increasingly in demand by homeowners. The 2016 Houzz Landscaping & Garden Trends Study found that 24% of homeowners have completed, are currently working on, or are planning to build an arbor, gazebo, pergola, or trellis. That compares with 21% of homeowners that have completed, are currently working on, or are planning to build a deck.”
Choose the look of a painted deck— without the painting. The Tapco Group’s Clubhouse composite decking in Cobblestone (EarthTone Collection) blends with a wide range of exterior color schemes and home styles, assuring exceptional beauty and performance for years to come. Plus, dual-color, dualembossed planks make it easy to mix and match shades for a custom effect.
To accommodate the growing needs of outdoor living, the overall square footage of decks is growing. According to Jocelyn Durant, product marketing manager for Westech Building products, “Decks are getting larger as more and more consumers are seeing the benefit of expanding their living space outdoors. They are realizing that a well-designed deck area is an inexpensive way to expand their useful living area.” Durant goes on to explain, “There has been an increase in the last couple of years in outdoor living areas. This has included additional seating, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, and in some cases ancillary structures such as cabanas, pool houses, sun screens, arbors, trellis, and pergolas.” Julia Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer for AZEK and TimberTech, agrees with Durant and points out, “We see features such as lap pools, hot tubs, fire pits, and outdoor kitchens expanding.”
Durant is not alone in her opinion that deck sizes are expanding. Mike Morris, business unit manager for Palram Americas Building Products, mirrors Durant’s sentiment. “Even though we’re seeing signs of recovery,” he says, “with more new homes being sold, and people starting to ‘move’ rather than ‘improve,’ many people are still opting for improvement. People have equity and the ability to tap into that equity to make improvements. But unlike adding an addition to increase the size and utility of the interior of a home, a deck, patio or outdoor living area can be completed incrementally and used immediately. So while outdoor spaces on new construction will continue to increase, we are forecasting that improvements and replacements of outdoor living areas will also continue to rise.”
Robert Lett, vice president of national sales for Wolf Home Products, also sees consumers turning from interior remodeling to exterior additions. “Starting about two years ago,” he says, “we saw a trend where homeowners were investing in remodeling projects inside their homes—kitchen and bathrooms, etc. Now that homeowners have completed those projects, and as the U.S. economy continues to improve, they’re turning to expanding the useable space outside their homes, too.”
This is not to say, however, that “bigger is better” will always hold true or that the trend of increasing outdoor living space is interpreted equally across the country or in every decking situation. According to Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield, understanding the demographics of the customer is vital for driving growth. “Deck sizes vary by geography and demographics,” he explains. “Larger decks are more common among higher incomes, in the West, and with owners of custom, larger or higher-priced homes and those who want their decks to be an extension of the interior. By contrast, smaller decks are more common among older ages, lower incomes, small town populations, the Southwest, long-term owners living in spec or established homes that are smaller and lower priced, and those who just want a functional deck.”