Fiberon offers accessory lighting for its Symmetry railing system that gives homeowners the ability to provide additional safety and to differentiate one decking area from another.
Regal Ideas’ CrystalRail combines unique infill with lighting. The clear iron-free glass of this frameless system delivers an unobstructed view, and when the LED lights are activated, the entire panel appears to glow.
Created as a lighting accessory for a wide array of residential and commercial applications, Starlights from AGS Stainless can be mounted to almost any surface, making them the perfect lighting option for both new and existing outdoor spaces. Starlights are made up of 316 marine-grade stainless steel for durability and ease of maintenance. It also features an open bottom for a beautiful down-lighting effect. Starlight comes with a rechargeable AA NiMh battery that replenishes itself during daylight hours via the 1-1/2″ x 3″ angled solar panel. Starlight produces 5 to 6 lumens of light for up to ten hours.
Exterior PVC cladding such as this from Versatex can add a high-end appearance to decking components that might otherwise have gone overlooked or relegated to plain wood.
Dolle USA offers a vertical cable rail system that provides a clear, minimal obstructive view and can be used to modernize an existing deck railing.
New for the Fall of 2017 is Key Link’s vertical cable infill option for its American Railing Series.
In-Fill Options Expanding
Wood railings still dominate the accessory market in part because they’re less expensive than their composite counterparts that can easily cost $35 a lineal foot or more (compared to less than $10 a foot for standard wood rails). Aesthetics and low maintenance, however, can win over the consumer especially when coupled with unique infills and complementing deck boards.
Julia Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer for the AZEK and TimberTech brands, explains, “With more custom outdoor spaces, contractors want to offer low maintenance, semi-custom options to the homeowner that work with their personalized style, and are also simple to install.” And as Levine points out, “Decks are not just a square piece of lumber hanging off the back of the house; they have become a design element and bring character to a house. As such, people want options; people want something new and creative. They want to stand out from the neighbors. They want to see through the railing and enjoy the nature around them.”
To achieve that effect, more contractors are opting for cable systems. Fairway’s Burkholder says, “We have seen a huge upward swing in cable rail. Just like in the interior of the home, where there has been a shift towards more transitional and modern designs, the same is true in outdoor spaces. Cable rails really help to accentuate that modern feel to a deck. Also, because of their small size, cable rails are virtually invisible and are a great way to provide an unobstructed view, whether it’s a great city skyline, the mountains or the ocean.”
This is not to insinuate that cable rail is the only growing segment of the deck railing market. Kevin Harris, director of sales and marketing for AGS Stainless, says his company has seen significant demand for more in-fill choices, options that include glass, bar (both vertical and horizontal), and more top rail choices (including ADA-compliant hand rails).
With the increased growth of railing options, manufacturers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, and by offering lighting options (both hard-wired LED and solar-powered) manufacturers give homeowners ways to expand a deck’s usability and increase its visual appeal. Says AGS Stainless’ Harris, “Lighting is a strong growing trend that takes the deck to the next level and creates a true outdoor living space.” And according to a recent Houzz survey, seven in 10 homeowners are installing lights, with the majority choosing LED or solar.
According to Fiberon’s Recko, “Lighting is another great way to put your personal stamp on your space. Primarily for safety, of course, lighting is an effective way to differentiate one decking area from another (the seating area versus dining area, for example) as well as to create a more custom look. Accent lights, for example, are great for illuminating the deck’s edges or as a smaller version of the traditional riser light on stairs.”
AZEK’s Fitzgerald sees very strong growth potential in lighting. “We have seen a boom in lighting sales,” she says. “Where it used to be a feature we would see occasionally, we now see the majority of the decks include lighting. As homeowners upgrade their outdoor space for entertaining, lighting becomes a key element for both safety and ambiance.”
Fairway’s Burkholder agrees with the growth potential for lighting. “While LED lights are a great way to add ambiance and style to an outdoor space, more and more local municipalities are requiring lit stairways on commercial projects and that same message is being transferred to the residential sector. Because of the demand, we’ve expanded our LED lighting offering by 50%. Stairways can be tricky for anyone to navigate, add in rain or snow and the addition of a well-lit secondary handrail can make all the difference.”
AZEK’s Fitzgerald adds, “A very clever trend with our best contractors is to offer to wire a deck for lighting even if the homeowner may have budget restraints at the time of installation. They tell us they almost always get a call back the next season to upgrade the deck with lighting, and since it is pre-wired, it is much less time and effort to complete the job.” Regal Ideas’ Pantelides adds, “If retailers want to grow their consumers’ basket size, cross merchandising outdoor lighting in their deck aisles is a must.”
Mouldings and Claddings Provide Customization Opportunities
In adding to adding lighting or installing/ updating railings, contractors are turning to mouldings and faux surface coverings to add distinction to decks; decorative elements can lend a look of sophistication and help a deck stand out as unique or as an extension of a home’s overall design.
According to Rick Kapres, vice president of sales for Versatex, adding finishing touches such as exterior PVC mouldings or other decorative elements such as brackets or corbels to a deck, shade structure or porch can give them a distinctive appearance. “Design flexibility and ease of installation are key,” he says in regards to mouldings. “We like to show the many ways you can dress up a deck or porch project, from ceiling applications to pergolas to columns. We also stress how easy it is to install, that no paint or finish is required, that you use the same tools as for wood, and that each piece is straight and true with no culling.”
Dressing with faux stone is another option that lends personalization and customization to a deck and can be a solution for upgrading the space under decks, porches and as an accent to outdoor kitchens. As well, composite post sleeves and cladding provide even more opportunities for deck customization.
By thinking beyond the obvious such as the deck boards or the railings, contractors can create unique outdoor spaces for their clients, and suppliers should be poised to help educate contractors on these solutions.
As Matt Sherstad, CEO of Fortress Deck says, “It’s about taking a real weak point in composite decking and turning it into a strength. These items are truly allowing the deck builder to deliver something to the homeowner that just wasn’t possible in the past.”
Performance and Ease of Maintenance Key Factors
As mentioned earlier, ease of maintenance is one of the main drivers of alternative railing systems and is a feature that both contractors and homeowners desire. According to AZEK’s Fitzgerald, “With more custom outdoor spaces, contractors want to offer low maintenance, semi-custom options to the homeowner that work with their personalized style, and are also simple to install.”
AGS Stainless’ Harris concurs: “Most consumers are looking for low maintenance to the greatest extent possible— low maintenance that conveys the best visual impact.”
Coupled with ease of maintenance is ease of installation. Whether it’s a railing system or lighting, contractors want an accessory that is quick to install and allows them to get to the next job; likewise, homeowners understand that faster installation means less labor cost to them. The Cable Connection’s Marino explains, “When customers are looking to take on a project, the key benefit they look for is an easy installation. Whether the customers are installing themselves or having someone install for them, they understand that an easy installation means that time is saved on labor and time is money.”
In the end, it’s about perceived value and how the cost of the accessories is outweighed by what the accessories are delivering to the consumer. As Fortress Deck’s Sherstad says, “Total value is extremely important, the cost-to-performance ratio. Performance is becoming a built-in expectation of the consumer. The fact that your product is being marketed and sold will have most consumers trusting that it will perform.”
Education Essential to Ensuring Accessory Sales Growth
When the day is done, true success in the deck accessories arena comes not from simply offering the most options; rather, it comes from providing education and support to the suppliers, contractors, and homeowners. The better the supplier understands his or her product lines, the more effective they will be in conveying to the dealer specific product benefits. And the more the consumers understand the product cost versus its performance, the more likely they will be to opt for upgrades.
As AGS Stainless’ Harris explains, “We’re focused on helping our dealers succeed. Training to the dealers at their locations, and training the builders at the dealers’ locations, help educate both parties on the importance of deck accessories.” UltraLox’s Peterson agrees that education is key. “Contractors are looking for ease of installation, availability, good warranty and a company which will back their products,” he says. “Contractors will upsell or persuade a homeowner to go with certain products if they [the contractors] are properly supported by the lumberyard or manufacturer.”
Education brings confidence to the contractor, and if the consumer feels confident in the accessory options and solutions the contractor is suggesting, then all parties stand to win—consumers will be rewarded with unique outdoor living spaces, and both contractors and suppliers will benefit from increased accessory sales.
To learn more about these companies’ products, visit their websites.
Companies in bold participated in this article.
Aurora Deck Lighting:
BW Creative Railings:
Color Guard Railing Systems:
Fairway Architectural Railing Solutions:
Key-Link Fencing & Railing:
The Cable Connection:
Wolf Home Products: