Chris Renslow, owner of Renslow's Outdoor Systems, in South St. Paul, Minn., divides "the deck world" into three parts: There are wood decks; there are low-maintenance vinyl or composite decks; and then there are his decks -- specifically, a product he calls Versadeck.

Renslow's Outdoor Systems, which completed 130 projects in 2002 and will do well over 200 by the end of this year, sells a modular decking system made of thermal-coated steel. You've seen the same material used in playground equipment.

There are many advantages to the material, according to Renslow. The deck doesn't burn, weather, wear, or go gray. It's also slip resistant and doesn't squeak. So confident is Renslow in his product that he offers clients a limited lifetime warranty on materials and labor. The "limited" part has to do with color, because panels can experience "color drifting" over time. Color stability (Versadeck clients can choose between seven colors and seven rail options) is warranted for 10 years.

Renslow got his start building wood decks in the Twin Cities in 1987. He experimented with composites before they'd completely caught on, and six or seven years ago began assembling decks out of thermal-coated steel. The material is more expensive than wood or composites, but the trick to staying competitive is in the assembly. Once designed, a package of prespecified components is delivered to the site, and the finished deck is bolted together in a day. That's in contrast with the three days Renslow says it took a two-man crew to put together a wood or composite deck, when he was still in the business of building them.

Cutting costs on labor allows the contractor to offer his modular steel decks at prices of between $10,000 and $15,000, competitive, he points out, with composites.

Renslow says about 80% of customers ultimately involve themselves in the design process, via the company's Web site ( Today his company not only builds in the Twin Cities but designs decks and ships the component packages to customers in other states. Renslow says he has had "many" inquiries from other contractors about setting up dealerships. Custom software, and the many systems he's developed, make franchising the logical option, at some point in the future. "I'd like to own the first three to five locations," he says. "Then franchise it if we need to."