How to make your deck sustainable


deck pallets

A deck made from pallets. Source: unknown. You can also just use pallets for the frame.

We know that the wood industry is causing deforestation, harm to animals and people and climate change. That affects us all. A new UN project to track illegal timber is now set up, but play your part by making “smart wood” choices when building a new deck this summer, or winter if you are in temperate climates. 

Look for the FSC label

Order wood through a trusted source and look for the FSC label that the wood was harvested sustainably. FSC labels are used on products to identify that the product has been verified to come from an FSC-certified source. FSC labels can be found on millions of products around the world: from toilet roll to your favourite book, that milk carton in your fridge, and other food products. I have friends who were part of the founding initiatives of the FSC in Canada. Read about its history here. Lumber can be treated with chemicals that are considered harmful to your health like arsenic and copper so not all “natural” wood is really good for you. 

Reclaim old wood

Consider using vintage wood if it’s hardwood. The video below shows how you can build a new deck with old wood.

Upcycle pallets

If you don’t mind that it won’t last long, build a deck from pallets. You can also just use them for the frame and add a layer of higher quality wood.

Composite wood

Consider composite wood. It can also be used for decks. But never used it on raised beds for gardens, as it contains plastics and chemicals that can leach into your food.  Composite wood typically offers between 15 to 20 years life span, lasting way more than wood. Invented in the late 1980s, wood-plastic composite decking (also called “composite wood decking”) is made of wood fibers encased in plastic. Composite decking is readily available at big box home improvement stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well as local lumberyards throughout the US.

As more builders and homeowners learn of wood decking problems, many are turning to high-performance composite decking.

• Resistant to severe weather.

• Very minimal maintenance cost.

• Thanks to its plastic feature, it is highly mould resistant, irrespective of how exposed to moisture it is. 

• It is lightweight and has a lock style, making boards easy to figure out for a successful DIY installation

If you go for “wood” find wood that is harvested local to you. If the wood you buy is forested in Canada, sent to China for treatment and then sold to you in Texas it is not sustainable wood. Find local, just like strawberries.

Avoid treated wood for your health and for the fish:

Chromium copper arsenate, or CCA, according to the Environmental Working Group, was once widely used as a preservative and insecticide in pressure-treated wood. In 2001, tests by the group and the Healthy Building Network showed that wood treated with CCA could expose people to dangerous levels of arsenic, spurring the Environmental Protection Agency to force its removal from the market.

Copper-based chemicals replaced the arsenic preservative, but some of them are also hazardous. For example, alkaline copper quaternary and copper azole are extremely toxic to aquatic life and should never be used in areas where runoff can be carried to surface waters, marshes or coastal areas. Borate-based wood preservatives are also common, but they can leach out of wet wood, leaving the wood vulnerable to decay.

Don’t build a deck

People everywhere are noticing the benefits of grounding. How about just planting yourself in the grass or wild weeds and avoid the deck altogether. More sustainable long lasting options could be ceramic tiles, like the ones used in Mexico and Costa Rica although these tend to break during the freeze and melt in really cold climates. 

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