The most important rule of selling composite decking

September 8, 2017 Bob Heidenreich

If you’re anything like me, for a lot of things in life, you tackle a project head on right away and if all else fails, you read the instructions. This might work for putting together Ikea furniture for your kid’s dorm room, but it’s the opposite of what you should do when selling composite decking.

Here’s why: Officially, International Residential Code, Section 507.3.1 says that composite decking and railing must be installed per the manufacturer’s published instructions. That’s a catchall in the building code, but a very important rule nonetheless.

As composites have gained foothold in the decking market, so has the potential for those products to underperform. But there’s a reason for that, and it almost always has nothing to do with the quality of the decking product. The reason that dealers are seeing customer complaints about composites is primarily because the product is not being installed correctly. In nearly every example I have experienced, this has been the case.

Here’s an example: I had visit from a distributor’s rep recently regarding a certain product that was failing. He wanted my opinion about it. What happened was that the decking was shrinking considerably. There was almost a 3/4″ gap between the boards. With just a quick review of the deck, I noted a few things. First, there was a rain diversion system underneath the decking. Second, the deck had been installed using spray foam to insulate the ceiling. Third, the installer didn’t put any blocking between the joists. All three of these issues, further complicated by the deck placement, meant that the installer didn’t follow the manufacturer’s published instructions. Fasteners were put in the wrong place and the temperature considerations of the product were ignored.

Because of these failures, the homeowner is upset that the product didn’t meet expectations and wants an explanation from the manufacturer and distributor as to how they will remedy the situation.

It goes back to what we teach our employees at The Deck Store. Always make sure that the manufacturer’s instructions are supplied with the product. If a customer asks you a question about how to install a product, be sure to always refer to the manufacturer’s published instructions. Know them. If you’re going to sell a certain brand of composite, have those instructions available. Make sure you are providing them to your customers and make sure your employees know what those instructions say.

Because it’s decking, the instructions aren’t stapled to the side or in a box with the product. You normally get them online as a PDF file. Some manufacturers may supply you with instructions, but they change regularly enough that having a fresh PDF is a good idea. Then you can print them out at will. You can provide them to the customer as a no-charge line item on the invoice, or even email them to the customer. Then remind your customer to have a current copy of the instructions on hand when they’re building their deck. If there is a complaint, you have a record that you provided the instructions.

And under every circumstance, always refer back to the instructions. Don’t improvise, don’t come up with new ways to install anything, because if it fails, you’re going to get pulled into the claim. As a small business, that can get pretty expensive.

I can’t say it enough: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing and advising about a product. PVC decking is done differently than a WPC composite. Brand X may be different than brand Y.

Fasteners are also important. Read the manufacturer’s instructions with regard to the proper fasteners. It’s policy at The Deck Store that if someone buys a certain brand of composite, then we always sell that specified brand of fasteners that are called for in the instructions. Even if the homeowner doesn’t want them. We sell them and return them on the same receipt, showing that we originally provided the correct fastener to the customer.

The decking may show the symptoms of improper installation, but it could be a number of other things that could cause the issue, including using wrong fasteners. Adhering to manufacturer’s instructions can clear you of responsibility when a customer chooses to install first and look for instructions later.

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