A few years ago in an ill-advised move, I purchased a four-unit rental property, an old house that had been converted into apartments about three decades ago (never listen to anyone who wants to sell you his rental property, especially if you’re told it’ll be an easy source of extra income). Because of its age, the building has generated an endless list of projects, the most recent of which was demolishing and replacing its dangerously sagging front porch. It was an interesting case study.

For one thing, there wasn’t a treated framing member in sight. The ledger had no flashing and was nailed rather than bolted to the house framing … and forget about lateral load anchors or even metal connectors. This made it pretty easy to take apart the framing, once I had dismantled the face-nailed T&G porch flooring. Even with all the rot in the framing and flooring, and even with rusted non-galvanized nails instead of corrosion-resistant screws, it turns out face-nailed connections are pretty robust. The porch was supported by three pipe piers, which had long since corroded at the base where they had been embedded in their concrete footings. It was actually remarkable that this porch had lasted—with a few patches and repairs—as long as it had.

While I was digging the new footings and starting to reframe the porch, I was thinking about my decking and railing options. It didn’t help much that I’d just come back from the annual DeckExpo, held this year in Chicago, where walking the aisles was like being a kid in a candy store. The show floor was filled with the latest in decking, railings, fasteners, lighting, trim, and accessories, and I wanted a little bit of everything. Fused bamboo decking? Why not? The stuff was gorgeous, felt denser than ipe, and came with a 20-year warranty—but how well would it weather a harsh Vermont climate?

So maybe some type of composite decking would be a better choice for my porch—decking manufacturers at the show were armed with enough variations and new color options to give lumberyard owners nightmares. It was cool to see so many different choices, but it would be a challenge for even a specialty decking retailer to stock the full product line from a single manufacturer, let alone two or three. And at the Principia composite deck and railing conference, which I attended last week in Baltimore, some of the deck builders and distributors wondered what would happen to old stock as each year’s “must-have” color goes out of style.

At the conference, I also learned that the ratio of decking to railing products in the inventory of a typical building products distributor in 2006 was about 80/20; in 2013, the ratio was more like 60/40. This growth in the railing category was obvious at the show, which was filled with the options that Jeff Kolle talks about in more detail in his article on page 34. To be honest, they all looked good to me, especially the designs that incorporate low-voltage LED lighting into the posts and handrails.

Even though my design choices are limited by the traditional style of my modest porch, I came away from the show inspired. Unfortunately, I faced the hard truths of budget and immediate availability and took the practical approach, choosing 5/4 PT decking. I haven’t installed the rails yet, though the idea of low-maintenance aluminum balusters has a lot of appeal. In any case, once I’ve finished, it might be time to put my rental on the market. Anyone interested? It’s easy money.