Our Favorite New Building and Deck Products
Top picks from the 2011 NAHB International Builders' Show, where all things new and exciting having to do with homes are debuted
Every year in January, tens of thousands of builders, contractors, manufacturers, designers, and everyone else who has anything to do with homes—from what they're made of to what's inside them—gather for the International Builder's Show. It might just be our favorite time of year.
Our editors got together after returning from this year's show to assemble a list of the best and the brightest. Here you will find building materials and products to make deck construction a snap. Many of these are so new they're not yet on the market; contact manufacturers directly for availability dates.
Sometimes the biggest ideas spring from the smallest booths at trade shows, and that's the case with this modular aluminum-planked roof system, which is rated to withstand wind speeds upward of 300 mph. Invented by retired book distributor Carl Jenny, the patent-pending design revolves around interlocking extruded aluminum panels ⅛ inch thick. The system installs from the inside—Jenny says no sheathing or felt are required—and each plank covers the fasteners from the previous one.
Of course, a roof designed to live up to a 100-year guarantee doesn't come cheap; the price fluctuates with that of raw aluminum and puts it in the slate-roof ballpark: at least $900 per 100 square feet for the material (not including installation).
Batt insulation made 50 percent of recycled plastic bottles (the other half is virgin polyester) means no glass fibers to cause skin irritation and no need for you to wear a mask during installation. It looks as easy to handle as a foam pillow and won't sag over time. The R-value is 4 per inch for an R-13 batt, which costs 72 cents per square foot. They also make R-15, R-19, and R-21 batts.
EnGuard GlassFree Insulation Technology, by Vita Nonwovens. Contact the company to find a distributor in your area.
These mats—pods filled with refined vegetable oils—staple right onto studs, over insulation and beneath drywall, to increase the thermal mass of your home (the so-called M-value). By absorbing excess heat during the day and releasing it at night, BioPCM evens out the natural temperature spikes that your heating and cooling systems work to overcome, thus making their job easier—and your utility bills lower.
It costs about $3.25 per square foot, and the manufacturer says the return on investment is less than three years.
BioPCM, by Phase Change Energy Solutions.
This clip-in system of rails and studs made of 100 percent recycled PVC is refreshingly easy to install. It's not meant for load-bearing walls, but the material's rot-proof, termite-proof qualities make it perfect for, say, finishing out a basement. No nails. Just screw the rails into place and snap in the studs.
The system costs about $5 per 8-foot stud.
Let your walls do the air scrubbing with drywall that captures formaldehyde and VOCs. Good for new construction or renovations anywhere you're concerned about indoor air quality. It does require water-based paints, because oil-based formulations would seal the drywall. Ask your contractor about it or look for it in home centers in the coming months.
It will cost about 10 to 15 percent more than mold-resistant drywall.
Instead of filling large gaps in a flagstone patio with mortar, this new jointing sand hardens when you mist it with water. It won't set up as hard as cement, but it's plenty firm enough to hold your pavers in place, and it can fill gaps up to 2 inches wide between pavers, brick, or cement slabs. Sweep it into the cracks, wet it down, and—just like that—you have solid joints that resist erosion, weeds, and insects.
About $18 for a 50-pound sack.
Ever feel like you and your contractor are speaking two different languages? Building products manufacturer Ply Gem aims to bridge the communication gap with an online gallery of home styles that labels each one's key architectural elements. This collection of annotated templates gives you the vocabulary—and the remodeling inspiration—to get you started on that long-awaited exterior makeover. It illustrates how the same 3,500-square-foot floor plan can morph into nine vastly different house styles, from Prairie to Craftsman to Folk Victorian, with a few strategic remodeling strokes.
In a stroke of pure ingenuity, this jig-and-screw kit allows you to lay down deck boards made of the hardest of hardwoods (or any material) in a jiffy and without drilling a pilot hole, thanks mostly to a specially developed screw with an augering tip that hogs out wood as it goes. The spacing tool, about the size of a staple gun, pulls double duty holding each board in uniform position and guiding screws at the perfect angle through the sides, thereby obscuring fastener holes. It accommodates 5/4x6 deck boards, but New Englanders with old decks need not despair: a 1x4 system is in the works.
At around $60, the DeckPac includes the Marksman tool, two driver bits, and 700-count 1⅞-inch screws, to cover 200 square feet.
This deck system eschews fasteners altogether in favor of a clever clip system: 1x4 hardwood deck boards with grooved channels on the bottom snap onto sleeper-mounted rails. Choose from a handful of beautiful woods: ipe, padauk, merbau, afromosia, and teak. The result is a spa-worthy deck whose boards can be easily removed to access the space underneath.
From about $20 per square foot, depending on the wood species.
This well-engineered fastener replaces carriage bolts—and the rigmarole of drilling pilot holes and tightening the bolts—for deck building. Just drive the screw with an impact driver and finger-tighten the nut.
About $25 for a box of six 7-inch through bolts.
Made of 75 percent long-fiber pine compound and 25 percent virgin polypropylene, this composite wood can be painted, stained, nailed, and treated just like wood. And it's stiff enough to be used in vertical applications. But thanks to the formulation, it won't rot, decay, mold, split, crack, and it won't leach treatment chemicals into the soil. The boards can withstand direct ground contact and are used for retaining walls, decks, railings, and siding that looks remarkably like western red cedar. Left unstained, it will weather just like the real thing—but last a lot longer.
Starts at about $2.40 per square foot.
Bamboo that's been sealed to displace the moisture content makes it invulnerable to mold and termites—and invaluable to anyone who has wanted to build a deck of this popular stuff. Use it for decking and outdoor structures without fear of it falling apart in the elements.
From about $3.50 per linear foot.
SunDeck Bamboo, by SunDeck Americas.
In anticipation of building codes mandating that deck stairs require lighting, Trex came up with a plug-and-play system of LED lights that recess into neat holes (easy to cut with a Forstner bit) and which are built into post caps. LEDs burn cool, eliminate the issue of lights dimming at the end of the line, and come with a seven-year warranty. All in all, a nifty system.
From $75 for a four-pack LED riser kit.
Trex DeckLighting, by Trex.
If you don't have time to design and build an outdoor fireplace, this prefab version is a good option. Clad in a variety of real stone finishes, it comes in three pieces and can be put together with a forklift in a matter of hours, on a reinforced concrete slab.
Starting around $6,500.
Masonry Patio Fireplace, by Natural Stone Veneers International