Decking demand in 2017 may not match the heady heights of the Alan Titchmarsh/Ground Force days but it’s still very much on trend and manufacturers are reporting continuing sales growth within residential markets.

“We are entering a ‘deck replacement era’ with an ageing population of decks dating back to the early 2000s when decking first grew in popularity,” said Janet Sycamore, director of operations at the Timber Decking & Cladding Association (TDCA). “It is still on trend and styles have evolved to become sleeker and more modern.”

She added that decking into commercial markets is buoyant, particularly within the south-east and that sales of slip-resistant decking supported this fact. One TDCA member, Hull-based anti-slip and treatment service provider WJ Group had reported that it had anti-slipped enough decking to stretch from Hull to Paris, she added.

Aesthetics are a key driver in product developments and several TDCA members have brought in, or will be launching, new products with improved colour and weather protection.

Silva Timber, for example, is promoting factory coated decking to provide colour and water repellency. All four sides of the board are coated, taking into consideration the fact that the underside of the decking is exposed to damp conditions at all times. Coating in the factory saves on labour costs on site.

WJ Group’s DeckWright Anti-Slip service continues to grow as more of its treatment customers realise they are able to add value to their basic decking by offering anti-slip.

“We have also been sampling some secondary coatings on deck boards using an Impra coating designed to work on ‘copper’ impregnated decking,” said Mark Eggleston, managing director. “We haven’t processed a bulk order as yet but it does create interest.”

The “definite trend” as far as Hoppings Softwood Products is concerned is colour, whether on 100% timber decking or on wood plastic composite (WPC) decking.

Hoppings manufactures TanaShades decking, which it markets under its Q-Shades brand. With TanaShades/Q-Shades products, the stain is applied and the timber bulked stacked under cover to dry for 48 hours before being treated, a process where the preservative is “pushed through” the stain. Sales of Q-Shades have gone “stonkingly well” since the product was launched last April.

“It has made the deck fitter’s life easier and is instant gratification for the consumer – colour on the deck from day one,” said Adam Pulfer, Hoppings’ group marketing, development and technical director.

“People want colour in their gardens,” he added. “We started with Q-Shades cladding, then decking and we’re now expanding the range. This year we’re adding landscaping sleepers in three colours and anti-slip decking in grey and brown. We plan to add deck balustrading later this year.”

Alongside the aesthetics, the emergence of higher cost alternatives – including WPC – is also changing the market dynamic.

“Within that there are opportunities for timber with a market for high quality decking emerging in the commercial sector and high end domestic sector,” said Ms Sycamore. “It seems that fewer low quality products are being used, replaced by products that can offer durability and performance, often with colour and maintenance attributes. Grey, brown and black are becoming popular colour trends.”

Accoya decking is enjoying a very strong uptake according to Michael Stubbs, managing director of NFP Europe, which is licensed to distribute the raw material in the Baltic states where it can be manufactured and then exported, including to the UK.

One recipient is NFP Europe customer Silva Timber, which is in the process of launching its Accoya decking (and cladding) onto the UK market.

Many TDCA members stock WPC decking, recognising the demand for it and offering it as an alternative to traditional timber decking.

Hoppings has stocked Twinson WPC decking, manufactured by Deceuninck in Belgium, for several years. Sales of the hollow core PVC-based decking have “bubbled along for many years now”, said Mr Pulfer.

The last couple of years, and 2016 in particular, have seen significantly more interest in the product, however, and Hoppings is now boosting its WPC offering by tying up with a Chinese manufacturer to create SmartBoard.

“It’s 30% recycled hard polyethylene, 60% recycled hardwood flooring residue and 10% other additives and we are launching it to a restricted number of merchants over the next few weeks,” said Mr Pulfer.

For the board to sell well through Hoppings’ supply chain it had to perform in some respects like timber decking.

“We wanted to keep it simple for the trade counter – and for the contractor, for that matter,” said Mr Pulfer. “So we have come up with a formulation that minimises any change in the length of boards in situation, meaning it can be face fixed the same way as a timber deck, albeit with special SmartBoard screws. It has a solid core and solid edges, so to a lay person it just looks like very consistent coloured timber decking.”

Smartboard, which has a reversible profile, is available in one length (3.6m) and in either battleship grey or chocolate brown. NFP Europe represents Megawood, Europe’s leading producer of composite decking – although it prefers the term “wood polymer decking”. The product has a 75% wood content and the core range is available in several colours, styles and lengths (from 2.4-6m).

New for 2017 is a price-competitive version of Megawood called Easydeck. “It is made from the same material but is only available in two lengths and two colours,” said Mr Stubbs. “It is aimed at the price sensitive end of the market and the big DIY chains in Europe are already stocking it.” Another new Megawood product this year, but aimed at the top end of the market, is Litum, a stone-effect WPC that looks like paving slabs.

Balustrade manufacturers are also keeping a watchful eye on the progress of WPC in the decking market.

“We have no plans to enter the market at the moment but it’s certainly a growing segment of the market and one that we watch closely,” said Paul Martin, group product and marketing manager at the Archwood Group, Richard Burbidge’s parent company.

Cheshire Mouldings has earmarked 2018 as the year in which it will look to develop into WPC territory but said at the moment “composite” decking was more about combining timber with other, contemporary materials such as glass and metal.

Richard Burbidge is seeing increasing demand for its FUSION system, which combines round hardwood handrails with aluminium rails and newels. It can be co-ordinated with softwood, hardwood or composite decking.

“It is simple to install and comes with 8mm toughened safety glass so that end users can make the most of the view,” said Mr Martin. He added that demand for the system had started well before the traditional Easter uplift, and for both domestic and commercial projects.

Cheshire Mouldings, which also said it had seen a pre-Easter volume increase in sales, is launching new deck kits this year.

“It’s an overall decking solution in one pack,” said John Carney, managing director.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for quick fixes and this product taps into the demand for convenient, hassle-free ways to transform the garden.”

Richard Burbidge has plenty of promotional activity scheduled for this year and says it will be of particular interest to consumers who are planning decking projects. New products are also on the cards. “We have some exciting plans for later this year,” said Mr Martin. “Watch this space.”