Treated Wood Alternatives
Look for eco-friendly lumber options that are free from toxins
By Kathryn Keep
Treated wood contains chemicals that protect against moisture and pests, such as termites. These chemicals leach toxins, such as arsenic, which are not safe for the environment or human health. Fortunately, there are alternatives to treated wood that include less toxic materials. Many treated wood alternatives use recycled or sustainably harvested materials.
Some hardwoods are naturally resistant to water, mold and pests. There are many choices in alternative hardwoods, such as cedar, redwood, cypress, juniper and black locust. Other options include tropical hardwoods, like purpleheart, and exotic hardwoods, like mahogany. Domestic hardwoods are generally less expensive than tropical or exotic hardwoods. Ensure that your choice of wood was sustainably harvested from ecologically managed forests.
Plastic lumber can be made from a variety of new or recycled materials. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or a wood and plastic composite is formed into commonly used building materials like panels or tongue-and-groove boards. It is very weather resistant. Formed plastic lumber isn't strong enough for the structural components of homes or buildings.
Rubber lumber is a combination of around 50 percent plastic and 50 percent old rubber tires. These materials make rubber lumber impervious to water. Durability and pest resistance are the key benefits of rubber lumber. It cannot be used for structural supports or subframes. Although it does resist sun damage, its color does fade.
For exterior applications, cement-board panels and fiber-cement panels provide a durable and fireproof alternative to treated wood. Fiber-cement panels contain wood fiber, often reclaimed from other applications, but they can be brittle, and weatherproofing treatment is usually necessary. Different thicknesses of cement panels are used for different purposes, with the thinnest panels being used mainly for siding.
Virgin vinyl, made from hi-polymer resin, is often used in decks or fences, but not in any structural supports. Vinyl boards are hollow, and some people don't like the way the way they look, but there are advantages. Vinyl doesn't warp, rot, split or chip and comes in a wide variety of colors. The biggest advantage of vinyl over treated wood is maintenance. Virgin vinyl never needs to be stained or sealed.
About the Author
Kathryn Keep is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She is an eco-consultant, with expertise in environmental issues, home decorating, green building, and general sustainable living.
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