So, you want a nice place outside to entertain friends or just relax with your family and a deck seems like the perfect solution. It would improve the value of your house and increase the use of your yard but you want to know what you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your new deck. There are several choices for decking materials and each one affects the environment in good and bad ways. The lessons from using pressure-treated wood, which has been phased out for residential use due to the adverse affects of its arsenic content, make us sensitive to how our choices affect our lives. What becomes of the waste materials? How do I clean my deck? What happens to the deck when its life span is over? These are some of the things to be considered.
Wood is the original deck material. It’s strong, it looks good, and it breaks down into natural components. Hard woods, such as redwood and cedar, and ipe (pronounced ee-pay) are the best choice because they are the most naturally resistant to rot and insects. Old growth wood is also preferable but not readily available, although there are opportunities to salvage it from older buildings and other structures. Softer woods are also a good alternative but they require chemicals and preservatives to ward off rot and insects.
When purchasing wood materials, consider where they come from. Hard woods from farther away require more energy and have a higher carbon input to get them to market. Also, it’s better to buy them from a managed resource rather than cutting down virgin rain forests. There are organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) that certify growers so that you can be assured of what you’re purchasing.
Some of the downsides to choosing wood include problems during installation, such as cracking and splitting, chemicals used to stain the wood a desired color, and the annual maintenance and chemicals required to reduce mildew, rot, and warping.
Composite materials are a combination of wood, plastic, and other materials such as wax and fiberglass. Not all composite materials are made the same so ask to see if they are made from recycled or virgin plastic and if they contain any other harmful chemicals. They are especially helpful for creative designs because they are easily shaped for curves and custom edging. Contact a deck contractor for ideas for your home.
Composite materials last longer than wood, many being guaranteed for up to 25 years. They do not have the installation and maintenance problems of wood nor do they require the preservatives or chemicals that wood does. Because some of them are made from recycled products and their lifespan is so long, they help to keep those wasteful products out of the landfill. Unfortunately, once these materials are no longer useful, they can not be recycled and most likely will end up being thrown away, where they will be around for a long time.
Plastic Lumber is usually made from 100% recycled PET, HDPE or LDPE but sometimes has wood or other materials mixed in, which can make the materials weaker and more prone to warping. Plastic doesn’t require chemicals or preservatives and is easily cleaned with your garden hose but again, once it’s life span is over, it is most likely thrown away.
Each option for deck materials has its own pros and cons depending on how they will be used. For help in deciding which material would be best for your situation, ask about deck design and installation options.