top of page
Blog: Blog2

Railing and Decking Trends: A Coast-to-Coast Report

by Craig Webb, president, Webb Analytics

What’s popular today at America’s decking and railing suppliers? What trends are coming on that have yet to be tracked by analysts? To find out, Superior Plastic Industries, a manufacturer of both vinyl and metal railing systems, commissioned Webb Analytics president Craig Webb to conduct a series of one-on-one interviews with building material dealers in many parts of the country. This spring and summer, Webb spoke with officials at more than 40 companies, from the South Atlantic states o the Pacific coast. Here’s what they said. Respondents were promised anonymity, so people and companies remain unidentified. Their comments are presented in an “as told to” format.

Key Findings

* Aluminum is rapidly taking market share from vinyl and composite. Why? Basically, thin is in.

* Vinyl increasingly is fitting into a price-point niche between treated wood and metal. It appears to be more popular in low-dollar rural areas as opposed to places with second homes and upscale residences.

* Cable rail is growing in popularity beyond its origins on the West Coast.

* Non-wood railing choices are showing notable gains vs. wood railing choices. Treated and untreated wood had 60% of the market volume in 2017. In 2018, that share had shrunk seven percentage points, to 53%.

* Powder-coated aluminum railing is recording the biggest percentage growth, but in volume terms it remains behind vinyl and PVC. Given the anecdotes I’m hearing, it’s possible that powder-coated aluminum’s market share (now 7%) could surpass that of PVC and other all-plastic products (now 9%) in 2019, as well as take a bite out of the market share for vinyl and plastic composites (now 11%).

* Dealers’ overwhelming request: Make railing simple!

* Metal railing systems dominate when composite decking is bought. Customers like the thin profile. They particularly like Fortress over offerings from companies like Azek because it’s simpler to put together.

* Unlike dealers in the South Atlantic and Gulf regions, nobody out West who I contacted sold white vinyl railings, even at dealers located near the Pacific Ocean. This is in part because they said distributors don’t stock it or promote it.

* Hog wire is popular in some of the rural areas, but often it’s regarded by dealers as a replacement for fencing rather than as a component for railing. A number of dealers refuse to stock it, citing safety concerns.In more urban parts of the country, cable railing is installed on metal posts. In more rural areas, cable is mainly being used on wood posts.

* PVC enjoys popularity in areas such as a part of Alabama where white front railings were used on older homes, in part because the window frames also were white. In back, PVC was abandoned for other choices.

Dealer Comments

The dealer executives who provided these “as-told-to” comments were promised anonymity, so they are identified here only by the general region of the country where they are located. Some designations—like Great Lakes vs. East and West North Central—seem to overlap, but that’s in part because some of the dealers operate over large territories. Dealers in the Northeast weren’t interviewed because SPI already had a good handle on trends in that region.

South Atlantic

We’re beginning to sell more and more of the stainless steel cable rail. Even on the interior; they’re using it on staircases.We sell some vinyl, but we don’t sell a lot of metal at all. It’s just not something that’s big in our market.

Treated is still our No. 1 exterior decking product, without question. When the chemicals changed, a lot of dealers decided we aren’t going to stock crap any more. We only sell clear and prime No. 1—nothing else. We had to clean up our act, and so did the builders. Every piece we sell is treated for ground contact. We sell almost all the brands. Builders will try something and they like and their subs know how to use it. You have to work hard to get them to look at new products. Most people are using some type of composite if they aren’t using.

Because most of our homes are large and very expensive, we haven’t gotten into the cheaper composites. People don’t think about overall cost and value. Darker colors need replacing, and installation can be a problem.


A lot of the building around here is being done is by tract builders. We also get custom home builders—we have a recreational lake in which there’s a lot of development. We had a huge increase in business from ’17 to ’18. A lot of that was because of a hailstorm that put $2.5 million of roofing sales into our coffers. For ’19, we don’t have a hailstorm and with lumber being 35-40% less, our numbers are still ahead of last year.

We’ve sold a tremendous amount of treated lumber. Last year it was a truck a month. This year it’s two trucks a week. Timbertech has come out with a lower-priced cap composite. We put it in inventory and sold it a bit of that, and it gives us an opportunity to upsell.

A lot of people still do wood railing, but we sell a lot of the Fortress Iron Railing. Builders like how it’s easy to put together. And you’re seeing a lot of cable rail. We sell some of that, but I think it’s being used out more on the lakes because there are so many products out there that you can go online and buy. I think the pros are doing that and bypassing us. We have kits, which for a small deck works well. East Coast Millworks has a cable rail system.

Hogwire fencing—the big heavy 3x3 squares—i’ve seen that being used now, whether with wood or with metal.

PVC? For us, we don’t sell much of that. A lot of these houses are out on the lake and are more rustic. White’s more for colonial. People on the lake are going with darker colors. But when we do higher-end projects, people go with radiance rail. People want a dark color deck with a black handrail. That way, you can get it all from one source.

Metro Southeast

It appears that the aluminum panels and kits are very popular. It’s moving away from the old infill kits for railing that the manufacturers offered. They’re all going to an aluminum panel or aluminum kit similar to Fortress.

Vinyl isn’t growing as much. We probably sell more of the Fortress that anything else. We have a stocking program with Fortress that we’ve had for years. We also sell the Trex Signature line and Timbertech’s aluminum line.

Cable railing got really popular two years ago and has kind of maintained that level. It’s popular in the mountains and around lakes; there, the view is important. It really peaked probably in 2017 and 2018 and while it’s still a big component, the trajectory of growth isn’t as steep.

Wild Hog railing came in and is really popular. It’s taken a bit of cable rail’s share. It’s a good look and can be used with anything from yellow pine to Azek.

In the Southeast, Southern yellow pine is such a cheap component to build a deck. But we’re seeing replacements. Consumers are more interested in maintenance-free composites. You’re also going to see more single-family builders go to composite. There’s a lot more opportunity to build at not much more cost.

We told the manufacturers they had way too many options in railing. It was overwhelming.

We have cut down considerably on our stocking SKUs and railing components. It was an inventory nightmare to have all those infill kits. Over the last 3 years, we’ve dropped about 50% in SKUs counts—but we were growing that much in sales volume—and we rely on manufactures to have the components in stock within 48 hours.

During the winter buyers, there were additional discounts for more trucks. They tacked on some very good buys for the basic rail components. We stock three different colors of rail posts. They offered deep discounts and good terms for pallet quantities.

Looking ahead to 2020, I’d probably cut down on some companies like Deckorators.

We’re hoping to expand cypress and cedar business and set up the saws to do remand and resaw capabilities to provide different products.

South Atlantic

We see the PVC capped composite to be rising as opposed to just the straight PVC. A lot of that is cost-driven. The market is moving to the 3-side capsulation, in part because Azek/Timbertech has a new board, Edge.) We think that’s going to move the market down. There’s still a need for the full PVC but it’s just the cost point that’s too high.

We have been very big into vinyl railings for years, but we’re seeing a fairly significant move toward aluminum—usually a cast-aluminum railing rather than a lighter gauge. And there’s growth in composite. If you look in the Southeast, we sell more vinyl, but in the rest of the country it’s moving toward aluminum railing. I think people see the product as being heavier, a high quality product. In the Southeast, aluminum also is growing, but just not as fast.

I hadn’t heard about Wild Hog, but I’m calling it up on my PC screen as we speak. I view any railing that has a horizontal member to be a stepladder. And when you have 2- or 3-year old kids, well, I would never sell that product. When a railing is 3-1/2 or 4 feet above the ground, that can be a death height.

South Florida

We’re down by the water so we try not to push the wood, because salt water destroys, Stainless steel hasn’t proved its finish over a long period; iIt doesn’t matter if it’s machine grade, 3/16, or 304. So the vinyl, we’ve had good luck with it. Fairway is probably most common, then Trex, then Azek. I push Fairway. It’s easy to quote and easy to put together.

The PVC is really getting hot in our market, as it has for the last 10-15 years. It stays true and the water doesn’t hurt it. We stock a good amount of Kleer PVC.

As for what types of vinyl railing people want, we sell both round and square balusters, chippendales. Not much lighting gets sold on a new install, but there’s some aftermarket business.

Sales of stainless steel cable rail are minimal.

Urban Southeast

What we do is we still sell mainly wood. We sell some composite. For railing, we make our own. it’s a 2x4 that’s rounded on the top edge and has a groove in the bottom for the picket.

But from what I understand, the code has made that obsolete. We still sell it mainly for restoration.

As for cypress, we do a little. When I first came here, old-timers wouldn’t touch it. We also do custom millwork. For a while, we almost got to the point where there wasn’t that much to do. Now we’re about full up. We got 15 doors that need to be put in new frames.

Gulf Coast

We have houses that are worth several million. What they want depends on the designers and homeowners. We have people on million-dollar lots. If they have some small deck, they’ll do composite.

We sell Azek in the after market. It’s twice as expensive at pressure-treated but has twice the life expectancy. No splinters, no slippage.

We don’t have much metal; it’s a salty environment. I don’t care how good you coat it, (the rust) seems to get through, even with a powder coat. We do sell some stainless.

RDI is vinyl. We do some of that. Timbertech, too—we do some of that. The vinyl doesn’t seem to be as solid as I personally would prefer. But Timbertech is good and sturdy.

South Atlantic

It seems like trends change every year. We started out with that Fiberon composite years ago and switched to Wolf PVC. We have lakes in the area. This is the first time we’ve put in a composite at a better price point so we could compete. It had been several years since we had a composite in stock. A contractor came in this morning and his customer is trying to pay for composite. It looks like he can probably get that job done in composite with that lower price point.

For the railing, we started out with just the white vinyl. Then we put in almond vinyl. Then aluminum; we keep a black aluminum rail. Last year, we took out the almond because it seems like everyone likes the aluminum.

We do quite a few special orders and that Wolf product has a lot of different spindle styles. We do a little bit of that cable rail. They seem to like that.

The aluminum has over 50% share of our sales now. Occasionally we’ll do a different color. It just depends on whether it’s new or they’re replacing.

My one complaint with Wolf is that if we do a special order on aluminum rail and the guys miss a part, and it’s already taken two weeks to get the order, then it takes another two weeks to get the missing part, because they don’t stock it at Wolf. You have to go back to Westbury, the manufacturer. The folks at Wolf don’t seem to understand the need to keep a bracket, or end post, or whatever. They say it’s a Westbury issue.

Coastal South Atlantic

A few people are starting to use more of the composite products. It’s a tougher sell here in the South because I have a treating plant just 45 miles away and we sell a lot of treated SYP. The shipping costs of composite are higher, and the product costs three to four times as much as treated wood. Trex has that newer product that’s maybe 2x higher. I don’t think we’ve sold much of it. Some of these subs are looking at it.

On railing, we’re starting to do some wire railings. You have to develop a skill set with it; if you haven’t sold one before, you almost need to have a factory guy come in. We’re working with some bubbas and some Hispanic people, so there’s a knowledge gap, unless you’re paying a higher price to get trained people.

Most of what we’ve sold has been wood—a lot of 2x2 pickets or maybe a 2x4 cap.

When they do the wire, they’re probably buying more of a system. A metal post. We may sell some Trex on the decking. Everybody who has an extruder comes to us and all it does is confuse people coming in. So we buy by the piece.

Urban Southeast

Our builders are building the bigger of the biggest homes in this market. The decking product we’re moving the majority of is Trex Transcend. That’s their best line. Our builders like the tropical colors that compete with Ipe and stuff.

A lot of our guys use the Fortress railing. They’ll buy Trex for the top and bottom rail, and then we sell a ton of the black aluminum balusters. (Any vinyl sales?) Not with our clientele. We don’t go after any of the tract guys.

Trex is coming out with a new product that’ll be their lower-entry level product. We still have a lot of builders who use pressure-treated. I can see a switch from treated to upgrade to this new trex product. But right now, the colors are very limited.

We have all the big distributors here—Dixie, U.S. Lumber, Boise, BlueLinx. We don’t have a big presence in stocking composite. We have a big line of treated that we keep. But because we can get stuff within 24 hours, we use their warehouse as our warehouse.

South Atlantic

Trex has just come out with a product that competes with the treated. It’s being pushed hard in my market. We have Fortress. As for railings, I don’t see the Trex or Fairway railings still happening. People are pretty much going with basic vinyl rails and glossing it up in some areas. Some might do a PVC band wrap. I don’t see lighting like they used to. The wire railing is coming back strong.

Business in general is really strong. The rain slowed us down last winter. But we’re extremely busy on the framing side now. We’re up about 13% on the same day as last year. We have to come in on Saturdays and get loads pulled. When it dries out, framers want it.

South Atlantic

In the railing, we do the Azek rail and Wolf has its. We stock that. We’ve had good success with the Intex rail. We brought one of its profiles in stock. Azek is more of a composite, while the Intex is a true PVC that’s white or that can be painted. It is popular for being maintenance free. In this area, we still have a specialty type of rail—wood 3-1/4 inch, with beads on the side. We sell a lot of that.

There are some people that do metal railing. We don’t sell it here. In general, my area hasn’t grasped on to metal, except in multifamily, which we aren’t into. Some people are powder-coating aluminum so it looks like wrought iron. We had an association with a metal place a few years ago, and we do special order the aluminum from Wolf from time to time.

We do stock some cable rail. We sell it every so often.

We are an Azek dealer. We stock two colors of Azek, brownstone and slate gray. They sell well for us. With our suppliers we can get the other colors in in one or two days.

Wolf came along a few years ago and created its own line. When it came out with PVC, we switched the white PVC from Azek to Wolf regarding what we stocked. But we didn’t switch decking.

While we are still selling mainly composites, pressure-treated has made a bit of a comeback. It’ll give you a good 15 years, 20 if you maintain it, and at less price. People are staining it. It has made a comeback, bug nothing huge, though.

Ipe used to be a trend, but not now.

Coastal South Atlantic

Sometimes they’ll put vinyl in front and then cable in back, where the view is more important. There are lots of wooden rails that still are done, but they are more on decks rather than on houses.

Interior Southeast

For the most part here, it’s mainly treated. If we sell some composite, sometimes they’ll get the railing to match, but that’s not very often. We’ve sold some of the horizontal cable railing on metal posts. And in the mountains, the log railing is popular. It’s made of white cedar.

We do sell some powder-coated aluminum. Some of our tract builders have started using it with treated rail and powder coated aluminum balusters. PVC? That’s handled on a special order basis. I’m not seeing as much of it as I used to.

We worked out a program with Absolute Distribution on powder-coated aluminum. We buy it as we need it. We might buy a show special, but by no means would we take a 12-month supply.

We get 2-3 orders a year for exotic lumber. The regular composite is going away and PVC wrapped is becoming more prominent.


Our deck expert feels that composite decking is up about 40% in the area. Timbertech and Azek have come out with more popularly priced products. Trex also is in there. We usually get the higher-end business and the big boxes get the lower end.

As for railing, a lot of it is composite, mainly in black or others colors in the back and white in the front. That’s because most of our windows are white; we don’t have much colored windows. The $500,000 homes and up are the ones that have color window frames.

Aluminum railing is mainly black or bronze, and vertical cable rail is much more popular than horizontal. Our railing sales are up 15% to 20%. Home Depot and Lowe’s don’t stock it, so the prices are higher. We’re seeing other dealers bring it in. We probably have 50% of the market.


Our railing sales mirror our decking sales pretty well in that if somebody is doing pressure-treated decking, what we’re seeing is a site-built railing system made out of 4x4s and 2-by material.