In the not so distant past, decking did not enjoy the longevity it does today. Advancements in deck sealants, stains, and pressure treating wood have greatly enhanced the durability and appearance of the modern day deck. Proper annual or seasonal maintenance is still required to ensure a quality deck retains its quality over time. Choosing a better species of wood is the first place to start. A “better” species of wood is one which is more resilient to the harsh elements. There are only a few areas which do not receive a vast variety of temperature or climate changes. The majority of the U.S. is much like what North Carolina experiences year round. Temperatures ranging from freezing to hot can cause repeated and rapid contraction and expansion of deck lumber. Coupled with wet or icy conditions, most basic lumber, regardless of being pressure treated, will begin to show signs of age. What determines how quickly the custom deck will wear is the type of wood used.
The most commonly used types of decking lumber are pine, fir, cypress, and cedar. There are many more choices such as mahogany, redwood, and exotic lumbers. The more inexpensive of these types are pine, fir, and cypress. Regional location is factored into lumber pricing. For example, redwood should be less expensive in the western U.S. than it would in New England.
Pressure treated pine decking, or PT lumber, can be found in almost every hardware store or home improvement store. In years past, pressure treated lumber was commonly treated with chromated copper arsenate, or CCA. Unfortunately, this widely used type of treating was proven to be carcinogenic and very toxic due to arsenate leaching into groundwater, plants, and skin through repeated prolonged exposure.
It was quite common for many parks and playground equipment to use CCA pressure treated lumber. Most cities and towns have now replaced these poisonous structures with metal or synthetic equipment. Because of this danger, most larger home improvement store chains have now switched from stocking CCA treated wood to a more benign type of pressure treated wood. Fantastic alternatives to using pressure treated lumber are naturally resistant woods such as cedar, cypress, and high-grade redwood.
Again, every home owner needs to be aware of any pressure treated lumber used on their property, especially if gardening is being used to provide fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Once the soil is contaminated with CCA treated lumber, it should never be used again for the growing of foods. If the existing deck or structure is not known to be CCA free, the home owner needs to assume that the ground has been contaminated. The deck builder which installed the deck should have this information readily available, if not voluntarily informing the customer.
A newer alternative to wood is synthetic lumber or composite lumber. These alternatives use recycled lumber combined with epoxies and resins to form lumber substitutes. Synthetic lumber is considered a green and ecologically responsible alternative to deforestation. It can often be difficult to differentiate synthetic lumber from the genuine article once it has been installed. Sealing composite decking is not necessary to maintain the durability, appearance and strength.
Regardless of the type of lumber used in a deck installation, gazebo or other outdoor structure, if actual wood is used, sealing the wood with a water repellent sealer is a good idea. When purchasing any lumber or having a professional deck builder construct the deck, be sure to ask how best to maintain the specific type of lumber used.