(ARA) Summer will be here before you know it. If you're like many Americans, you'll likely curtail vacation plans this year in favor of staying home and saving money. But even economy-wary homeowners are still interested in improving their homes - whether to enhance resale value or personal enjoyment - and they're looking for improvements with the biggest payback.

Decks remain a top renovation, often cited as delivering the highest return on investment and homeowner enjoyment. The outdoor living trend is likely to remain strong this summer, and a great deck is the showpiece of your outdoor environment.

"Fortunately, decks today are a lot more advanced than the traditional wooden models you might remember from your youth," said Dick Gauthier of Universal Forest Products, a top producer of composite deck materials. "They are easier to take care of and are made of superior materials that are designed to last a long time with much less maintenance."

Composite materials remain a leading deck choice for savvy homeowners who seek low-maintenance, great-looking, eco-friendly decks. Universal's Latitudes Decking, a wood-thermoplastic composite material, is made from a mix of recycled wood fiber and post-industrial high-density polyethylene. And the material looks and feels natural.

Rather than needing to be restained or repainted regularly, as you would with a wooden deck, Latitudes boards have the color mixed during the manufacturing process so fading is minimal.

Now, one of the most popular looks in natural wood decking - tropical hardwood - is available in a composite form. Latitudes Capricorn features two tropical colors, Adobe and Koa, that mimic the woodgrain and colors of mahogany and ipe.

Once you've selected your composite material, don't overlook how you'll fasten the boards together. Opting for Equator hidden fasteners, which install quickly and easily from the top of the deck, will allow you to achieve a blemish-free and barefoot-friendly surface. The fasteners allow for the expansion and contraction along the length and width that naturally occurs with composites. They also automatically space deck boards with the proper gap, eliminating guesswork.

"When the deck is finished, add ornamental railings and decorative post caps to make great decorative finishes," says Gauthier. "And with so many options to choose from, it's easy to create a one-of-a-kind look." Latitudes offers a number of different railing systems, baluster and post cap options that match the composite boards they offer.

For more information about Latitudes Decking and Railing, visit www.latitudesdeck.com. Information about Equator Hidden Fasteners can be found at www.equatorfastener.com. Both sites feature installation instructions and store locators.

Courtesy of ARAcontent