Building a deck is a big project, and whether you decide to take it on yourself or enlist the help of a professional, knowing what a decking project entails is essential to a successful install. 

In part two of our decking series, we’re going to share just that. We’re joined by one of the greater Seattle area’s premier deck builders: former co-founder of West Coast Decks, Joel Skillingstead. Joel has been building decks in the Pacific Northwest since 1990. With more than 30 years of experience building, overseeing, and waterproofing deck projects large and small, Joel is one of the best resources out there. 

In this episode, Joel shares stories from the early days of working with manufactured decking, his take on how it's improved over the years, and what you can (and can't) expect from your manufactured decking. Watch our conversation above, or keep reading for a detailed recap.

The early days of manufactured decking

Manufactured deck boards revolutionized the decking industry in the late 1990s. Trex made the first manufactured decking product to hit the market, which used recycled plastic bags and wood byproducts (sawdust) to create composite boards. While the product was more durable and long-lasting than traditional wood, it was far from a perfect substitute; inconsistent sizing, thickness, and color degradation made boards difficult to join and blend together. 

In the beginning, deck manufacturers only produced boards—no fascia material. This meant that deck builders had to decide on a solution: avoid using fascia entirely, install traditional wood fascia, or use manufactured deck boards as fascia boards. While the third option seemed to be a simple way to keep the appearance of the fascia consistent with the decking, it compromised safety. Excessive movement of the substitute fascia boards resulted in screw heads breaking off and ultimately led to fascia failure.

Fastening methods have come a long way, too. With the early generation products, you could pre-drill and counter-sink screws, although some were still hand-driving galvanized casing nails or even using nail guns to install the boards. 

Product and installation improvements

Over the years, deck manufacturers have improved their products, and installers have developed methods to create a better end result. Picture-framing became an early workaround for deck builders, as it created a more finished look while allowing for more board movement with less structural impact. Meanwhile, manufacturers established guidelines for spanning and gapping to help builders ensure clean joints and proper spacing. 

Visually, modern manufactured decking products are looking more and more like real wood. Boards come in a wide range of colors with realistic and long-lasting color, detailed streaking, and some even have a wood-like texture.

Manufactured decking: expectations vs. reality

When people hear the word “manufactured,” they often think it’s synonymous with perfection—and while manufactured decking is created to be a more durable version of traditional wood, it’s certainly not indestructible. Just like traditional wood boards, manufactured boards can get scratched and dented with overuse. Another common misconception is that manufactured decking is maintenance-free; in reality, manufactured decks need to be cleaned and cared for just like any other outdoor product. 

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to working with manufactured decking, and we’re here to help. To hear another take on the evolution of manufactured decking, don’t miss this deep dive into the history of Trex decking products. And for more tips and insights, check out our manufactured deck planning and layout best practices and maintenance advice.