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Choosing Lumber for Your Deck

Construction How-To, Decks, Decks, Lumber and Composite, Outdoor Living March 4, 2003 admin


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In the early 1970s when concrete patios were much more common than raised wood decks, the choices for deck materials were few: redwood, cedar, maybe cypress. In that same decade, lumber dealers began stocking pressure-treated pine, suburban living became part of the American dream, and backyard decks began their tremendous growth in popularity.

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The appeal of decks remains strong today and is spreading to other countries. Not only do decks provide useful, private space for outdoor relaxation and entertaining, they also add to the resale value of homes. There are reported to be some 30,000,000 wood decks in the United States, and the number increases with every new subdivision.

During the past few years, many alternative materials have been introduced for deck construction. Newer options include plastic products, wood-plastic composites and tropical hardwoods. The primary deck material, however, is pressure-treated wood.

Treated wood, now sold in nearly every lumber outlet in North America is chosen by contractors and do-it-yourselfers for a variety of reasons. It has a natural appearance, its resistance to termites and rot is well established, wood is a plentiful and renewable resource, and treated wood is usually the most economical choice.

But, even in treated wood the options have expanded. Different species of wood are treated in different regions, some treated wood contains built-in water repellent, wood is available, that is re-dried after treatment and ³new generation² preservatives have been developed.

How can a busy homeowner sort out the possibilities? This article is intended to help.

Just as there’s a time to reap and a time to sow, there’s a time to select high-grade, well-protected outdoor lumber, and a time to choose more economical pieces. Homeowners building a deck or other backyard projects need not spend extra money for quality they don’t need, but they should not settle for second-rate material in applications where quality is preferred and beneficial.For help in decking solutions, check this out.

Longevity If you want to use real wood for an outdoor project and you expect the wood to withstand termites and fungal decay, your principal choices are either a naturally durable wood (i.e. all-heartwood grade of redwood or all-heartwood grade of cedar) or wood that has been pressure-treated with preservative. The most widely used brand of treated wood is Wolmanized wood, a name by which people frequently, but erroneously, refer to all preserved wood. In much of the county, all-heart redwood and cedar are rare or discouragingly expensive. Preserved wood, which is made from plentiful species, is economical. It is also backed by a long-term warranty, an assurance not available with redwood or cedar. Some producers offer warranties that extend for the life of the purchaser; treated wood is used for permanent structures ranging from foundation piling to seawalls. As a result, more than 80 percent of all U.S. decks are built entirely or partially with preserved wood, according to national surveys. Even when plastic or composite decking is used for the deck platform, preserved wood is usually used for posts, beams and joists because of wood’s structural strength.

Appearance Appearance is named the top priority by most people planning a deck and choosing lumber. The appearance of a deck affects homeowner pride and the deck’s value at the time of the eventual sale of the home.

Treated wood can be found in a variety of lumber grade ­­ from knot-free, close-grained grades to lower grades that have more knots, splits and wane (missing corners where bark once existed). Other than imparting a greenish hue, pressure-treatment has little affect of the appearance of wood; treating makes wood last longer regardless of its appearance.

The grades of lumber are determined by certified graders at sawmills, prior to treatment. The grade designation is stamped on each piece of wood. Generally, the higher the grade, the higher the cost.

For those parts of a deck where the wood is conspicuous and you want top appearance; select a higher grade of lumber. Examples are the platform and railing. High-grade lumber is also preferred for other projects, such as gazebos and outdoor furniture. Where the wood will be unseen (such as a deck joist) or where you might like a rustic look (such as a retaining wall), you can buy a more economical grade.