Pressure Treated Lumber For Decks – Alternatives to Chemically Processed Lumber Which May Be Better

Maryjane E. Cason

The pressure treating process of lumber was invented approximately 70 years ago.  Up until 2004, the main method for pressure treating lumber was with chromated copper arsenate.  The main problem realized with CCA treated wood is that arsenic was discovered to leach out from this pressure treated lumber.  Unfortunately this meant that almost every deck, gazebo, pergola and playground was exposing families to the highly toxic arsenic.

Many proponents and individuals working in the lumber industry have categorically denied that CCA lumber is environmentally safe.  Claims have also been made that no one has been harmed or experienced any ill effects from CCA treated lumber.  Fortunately, independent testing and medical records has shown otherwise.  While the leaching out of toxins can be minimal, major negative health problems have been much higher when CCA lumber has been burned or exposure to sawdust from cutting the pressure treated lumber.  

While the levels of arsenic which people were exposed to varied, the production of this type of chemical pressure treating was banned in the U.S. and parts of Europe in all residential and general use lumber as of 2004.  Despite being banned, some old stock can turn up in stores.  Even though CCA lumber was banned, it is still being produced in some products.  The exceptions allowed are poles, marine lumber, piles and guard rails.

There are alternatives to using this older pressure treated lumber which have been created.  ACQ, or Alkaline Copper Quat, is the most prevalent and easily found in home improvement stores for general use carpentry.  There is a marginal increase in cost of this newer pressure treated lumber, but it does not have the same health risks associated with CCA.

No matter what type of chemical is used to treat the wood, eventually is will begin to break down from exposure to the elements.  Another alternative to using wood as decking and playground equipment is synthetic lumber.  One may also hear synthetic lumber go by the term composition decking.  

Originally, synthetic lumber looked like it was synthetic.  The quality and appearance of many different brands of synthetic decking are virtually indistinguishable from real wood today.  Synthetic lumber has different formulas, but are essentially composed of resins, plastics and recycled material.  The greatest advantage of utilizing synthetic decking lumber is that it is largely impervious to rot and damage from insects.  The increased durability will also be accompanied by an increase in cost as opposed to using basic pressure treated deck boards.

There are several additional pros and cons to using particular types of synthetic lumber over others.  Experienced and professional decking contractors should be able to inform the home owner of the important major differences and which type of decking is preferred for the specific climate and region.  Should the contractor not provide a variety of possibilities; the home owner may need to do additional research. 

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