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Composite Lumber - Wood & Natural-fiber Composites at Work in Building & Construction

SpecialChem / May 31, 2011

Wood-plastic composites (WPC), which would perhaps be better named natural fiber composites since a broader range of filler materials have come to be used, continue to find use in composite lumber and other "outdoor living" products. Leading manufacturers of composite lumber are succeeding with new lines of ultra-low maintenance synthetic or composite lumber based on either cellular PVC or with a coextruded, weatherable cap that eliminates problems of scratching, staining, and color fade. Other players offering lumber made with a host of different materials are trying to carve out a niche, marketing their products as sustainable, attractive, and low-maintenance alternatives to wood.

Although sustainability is a widely-used marketing tool, the majority of composite lumber consumers, at least in North America, seem to be making decisions primarily on aesthetics and performance. "Over the last ten years, the industry has dramatically improved the aesthetics of its products and eliminated some of the earlier mold and discoloration problems. Demand continues to be driven by the same consumer trend for ultra-low maintenance decking and railing products with superior performance and aesthetics. For a certain portion of the market, price does not seem to deter consumers," comments Steve Van Kouteren of Principia Partners, which recently published an updated report on the residential decking and railing industry. Decking and railing volume demand in North America was basically flat in 2010, but the value of the market increased because high-end, ultra-low-maintenance products replaced less-expensive, traditional composite products, reports Van Kouteren. European industry members comment that WPC decking is going strong in Europe, where WPC continues to take market share from traditional decking materials like tropical hardwoods.

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