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Southern Manufacturing

Polymer-Wood Composites Growing at Expense of Natural Wood

27 April 2001

Polymer-wood composites are growing at an explosive rate competing against natural wood (e.g., pressure-treated pine and fir; redwood; cedar; mahogany, Ipe, and other exotic hardwoods) and other alternative synthetic decking and railing materials, including plastic lumber, vinyl, aluminum, and steel. The potential reward is huge -- an estimated 3.2 million wood decks, porches, verandas, and balconies are constructed annually in the United States.

The U.S. deck materials market totalled more than 5.3 billion board-feet in 2000. Superstructure, including girders, joists, ledger boards, and support posts, accounts for 2.7 billion board-feet of this total, but is unlikely to be replaced by alternatives in the near future. Deck boards, stair risers and treads, and railing systems account for 2.6 billion board-feet valued at $3.5 billion in 2000. Polymer-wood composites are vying for a major portion of this market, and compete primarily against pressure-treated softwoods, including pine and fir. These pressure-treated softwoods are well-established and have proven performance in all deck structures. The majority of contractors and do-it-yourselfers are comfortable working with these materials, and the materials represent the lowest cost option when building a deck.

Polymer-wood composites account for 8% of the decking and railing portion of the market, and is the fastest growing decking product category. This growth is driven by the benefits realized during installation and in-use. Penetration of the residential decking market has been limited by access to market channels, acceptance by builders, and the purchase price of the products. However, after a number of years of active marketing by several of the leading producers, channels of distribution have been established, builders and homeowners are aware of the products, and the initial purchase cost has been shown to represent the value offered (due to reduced maintenance/replacement).

Significant shifts in the decking materials market are expected. Pressure-treated lumber will continue to be the dominant material in both new home deck construction and remodel/replacement projects, but its share of the remodel market will decline. Polymer-wood composites, with sales doubling over the current level by 2005, will displace a significant share of the pressure-treated lumber used in decks.

The market for polymer-wood composites and the basis of competition against numerous established and alternative decking products is the subject of a new report titled Wood Composites in Decking Structures-2001: Building of Outdoor Living Areas. The just-released study is the second detailed analysis of the polymer-wood composites industry by Principia Partners, the Exton, PA-based market research and business consulting firm. Principia Partners is an international business consulting firm serving the building products, plastics, packaging, metals, and specialty chemicals industries. For more information about the new report on polymer-wood composites, visit the company's web site

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