In the early 1980s, many manufacturers of traditional vinyl products such as vinyl piping, vinyl windows, and vinyl siding all recognized the potential market for vinyl outdoor living products. As a matter of fact, for many of these manufacturers this new market helped close their recycling gap. Instead of selling the excess vinyl that results from die-cuts and extrusion lines, these manufacturers seized the opportunity to develop new products from this material. With added inhibitors for ultraviolet protection and modifiers for strength and durability, the vinyl outdoor living products industry was born.
The birthplace of vinyl outdoor living products was in the horse farm industry. It was there that vinyl fencing was fully appreciated for its product characteristics. Vinyl fencing allows more "give" than wood, thus preventing serious injury to horses. Horse farm owners also found another advantage: because vinyl's surface retains virtually no moisture and has no taste - unlike wood - horses' urge to "crib" or chew on a vinyl fence is greatly reduced.
As market demand grew, general contractors, architects and landscape architects began asking for these products, so it didn't take long for manufacturers to look for other outdoor applications for vinyl and hence the vinyl railing and vinyl decking industries were launched.
In the mid-1980s, vinyl railing's initial use was for decorative applications such as front porch railings. Manufacturing systems evolved; product testing evolved at the same time. Next, the railing was reinforced and ultimately an entirely new market was developed. Now vinyl railing is one of the most cost-competitive outdoor living products in the industry. It is being used wherever traditional wood and/or metal railings are found, including high-rise apartment balconies and stadium guardrails and front porches.
Vinyl decking is the latest newcomer to the vinyl outdoor living products industry. This part of the industry was formed in the late 1980s. In addition to the product characteristics shared by vinyl fencing and railing, homeowners found the benefit of a slip-resistant surface that provides safety underfoot for children and pets.
All indications show that market demand for vinyl outdoor living products will continue to grow. According to Window and Door magazine, the overall U.S. fence products industry will top $1.7 billion in the year 2000 - nearly tripling in size since 1987. Vinyl fencing is seen as the fastest growing segment of the total market with a compounded annual growth range between 25 and 33 percent. According to the same article, this confirms that vinyl fencing is now in the early stages of its growth, and is poised for expansion over the next few years.
A study conducted in July 1998 by Pure Strategy, a building products industry consulting firm, revealed a more definitive look at vinyl's share of the industry. At the time of the study, vinyl fencing products accounted for approximately 3 percent of the fencing market while vinyl decking materials accounted for approximately 3.3 percent. While the total size of these still growing markets has not been updated since the study, combined sales of vinyl decking and fencing products have gained market share, averaging 32 percent growth for the period 1997-1999. The combined market for all plastic decking and fencing was projected to be approximately $512 million by 2001, a number which (according to the study) may prove to be conservative. At current growth rates, vinyl decking and fencing could account for 30 percent of the residential market by 2007. (Projected growth studies for vinyl railing have not been completed by publication date but early indications predict that it, too, will follow the growth patterns of vinyl fencing and decking.)