Color-infused lumber. Railing panels. Composites vs. wood. New AWPA ground contact standards.

That’s the “flash take” on the buzz you’ll likely hear at your local lumberyard, building materials supplier, or home improvement retailer this spring. Here’s a closer look at what to expect on the decking front:

Color-Infused Lumber. Southern yellow pine is getting a region-by-region makeover with deeply-infused color. In mountain states, redwood tone is gaining fast popularity. In the Midwest, heartwood cedar-tone is gaining momentum. For example, all Home Depot stores in Minnesota now carry cedar-tone pressure-treated lumber, with stocking conversions well underway in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago. Pro tip: Color-infused lumber is embedded throughout. Scratching or gouging won’t reveal the natural hue.

Railing Panels. Originally engineered for DIYers, prefab railing panels have proven to be a big hit with growing numbers of time-challenged pros. The six-foot lengths make it a comparative breeze to finish-off the deck’s railing system. You’ll find railing panels in the compositions and colors to match the planks, from composite, vinyl, and pressure-treated lumber to aluminum, cedar, and redwood. Pros like the prebuilt uniformity, consistency, and, of course, set-the-bracket-and-go installation speed.

Composites. Maintenance-friendly composites continue to win adherents, in spite of the upfront price gap with wood. Homeowners who plan on staying in their home five years or more appreciate the demonstrated payback of composites in maintenance savings.

“Yes, there can be sticker shock at $40 a board for a composite,” states Geoff Case, The Home Depot merchant for pressure-treated lumber and decking. “But you could cover the price differential in five years on just stain and sealer alone, forget the value of your time.”

Wood. Wood is still a bargain. The muted housing recovery hasn’t spiked wood demand and price. A standard-grade pressure-treated deck panel costs about 50 cents a foot. Wood’s value is especially attractive if the homeowner plans to be in the home less than five years. The lifetime value argument doesn’t necessarily apply.

New AWPA Code. The American Wood Protection Association (AWPA) has revamped certain wood decking standards in recent weeks. The standards-setting body has specified wood deck posts and stairs be labeled UC4 for ground contact. Lumber labeled UC4 are certified for ground contact, which will be gradually embraced by local code jurisdictions. “We’ve begun the transition to ground contact lumber now,” observes Case. “This will touch every Home Depot store in the U.S., except the Hawaii markets.” Case anticipates only a slight increase in materials cost.

For industry insiders like Case, the customer remains first, last, and always the final judge. “We have 1,977 test labs―our U.S. stores―where we continuously try out new decking materials, accessories, and products. We do some consumer insight studies. If we get a thumbs-up there, then we’ll test it in some stores. We’re always experimenting. But ultimately it always comes down to what the customer wants.”

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