October 16, 2010 | If you want to get a heated debate started among deck builders, assemble 30 from any part of the country in a room, walk out in the center of the floor, ask them to state their opinions regarding alternative decking or real wood, and move out of the way quickly. You’re going to hear strongly held opinions split down the middle. I’ve observed blogs that followed this course. The proponents believe alternatives offer lower maintenance solutions than wood and avoid the problems that can be associated with it and buy into the concept. A lot of deck contractors simply prefer real wood for what they build. But many of the naysayers are made up of earlier generation builders who have experienced problems are newer ones that have heard too much about them. This group believes it’s too risky to bet their reputations on. Interestingly enough, they’re both right.

Technically deck builders are not on the line in terms of warranty with any alternative decking or railing product. But contractor’s reputations are on the line every time a product is recommended or installed. If a failure occurs, the manufacturer is responsible for warranty obligations which are for replacement material only. Customers are responsible for removal, disposal, and new installation expenses.

The reality is only a small percentage of decking products actually fail and in many cases where they did, manufacturers protected their preferred contractors by covering all or most cost. To a large degree it’s a perception issue with customers and contractors that problems are bigger and more widespread than they are. That said, contractors who have all their eggs in a basket by using a particular product that does have problems, risk having a tainted reputation and customer base.

“Labor Replacement Warranties / Insurance” even purchasable warranties would create a comfort level with reluctant users and increase usage and market penetration for alternative products. This could be tied in to “proper installation “and available to“certified contractors”. I believe contractors would be glad to build a little extra money into the sales price to cover this expense. It would be a huge selling feature. To go in front of a customer and point out that most decking product warranties only cover product replacement but another offers you an “umbrella policy” will sway prospects into customers and make their choice decisions easier. All things being equal with product lines, contractors will migrate to the safer sounding option. Manufacturers that offer this in my opinion will gain market share given time and once a marketing awareness has been created.

I brought this up last year at the Principia Partners Conference in Baltimore and found out afterwards that GAF,the manufacturer of Correct Deck CXhad begun this type of program. They provide a 5 year material /labor replacement warranty. I hope that this approach influences others to adopt similar policies.

It’s my understanding that cap-stock decking products will begin to dominate the market and over the next couple of years composite options will be reduced. I believe this is a big move in the right direction and this improved version should offer less risk. Why couldn’t the labor warranties be tied to this line of materials?

I don’t claim to know the complications involved but it does seem to me that even if third parties were to sell and cover the program, that there’s money to be made. I know many of the people involved in the alternative decking industry and they are great people. I’ve always had the impression of their sincerity to continue to improve their product offerings.If an acceptable percentage was charged to the contractor or built into the sales price at least the upper end lines, it seems this would keep manufacturers from ever having to come out of pocket to protect preferred contractors, How could this not be a money maker and a win –win for all involved?

Bobby Parks
Peachtree Decks & Porches, LLC
NADRA GA Chapter President