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How to Choose Lumber for Outdoor Projects

Construction How-To, Decks, Outdoor Furniture, Porches and Gazebos July 19, 2008 admin


Back 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. 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.

Over 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.

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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 preserved wood, the options have expanded. Different species of wood are treated in different regions, some treated wood contains built-in water repellent, and wood is available that is re-dried after treatment.

How can a busy homeowner sort out the possibilities?

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 project 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.

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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 country, 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 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 grades—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 effect on the appearance of wood; treating makes wood last longer regardless of its appearance.