By Laura Schlereth
There are many green materials available for decking that can meet various sustainable needs, are low maintenance and will reduce your overall carbon footprint.
Sustainability has become increasingly important over the years—particularly in building and remodeling. The green trend is especially prevalent in outdoor living areas, and this increase in demand translates into a more readily available supply of sustainable deck materials. Not only do these materials have a smaller carbon footprint, but also they last longer and require less maintenance, making them even more desirable to consumers.
Here are some of the most popular materials for green decking:
Chris Higgins, program coordinator at LEED Canada for Homes with the Canadian Green Building Council, says stone or concrete are reasonable options for green deck building. Stone is a natural, reusable material that has diverse aesthetic qualities, and there are many opportunities for buying it locally, he adds. And although concrete has a relatively high level of embodied energy (the amount of energy that went into producing it), it is very durable and requires little maintenance, which means less energy is required for upkeep. "Concrete could be there for a hundred years, and you can leave it untreated," Higgins says.
When it comes to sustainability, wood is the superior choice overall, Higgins says. As opposed to plastic or vinyl, wood is a renewable resource that can decompose and go back into the ecosystem. Plus, its production requires a low level of embodied energy—only requiring solar energy and millwork—and has a much smaller carbon footprint than concrete and aluminum’s production processes.
Cedar: Higgins says cedar can have a 15 to 20 year lifespan, and its natural oils give it a great rot-resistant quality. "Also, it’s a beautiful-looking wood," Higgins says. "It has a nice, deep reddish color to it, and the oils release a nice aroma. It’s the gold standard that decks are measured by." A downside, though, is that cedar is typically more expensive when compared to an untreated wood, such as spruce, pine or fir.
Ipe: Joel Radford, flooring manager with West Wind Hardwood Inc., a custom wood business based in Sidney, B.C., highly recommends the tropical resilient hardwood ipe, which has a rich, dark brown color. It’s become very popular over the years, he says, as it’s an extremely hard wood with a fire reading comparable to concrete and steel. Although it has to be transported from South America, Radford says it’s offset by the fact that ipe is a lot more durable and low-maintenance than red cedar and pressure-treated lumber. This means it doesn’t have to be replaced as often—it can last untreated for 60+ years. "It’s not something that’s going to wear out and rot," he says.
FSC-certified wood: Highly recommended by Higgins and Radford, is wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which means it’s harvested using sustainable forestry practices. Rather than being clear-cut, FSC ensures selective harvesting, which involves letting trees grow to full maturity and only removing a specified percentage of trees, Higgins says. The Council also ensures diverse replanting, so the ecosystem is maintained. Another benefit of using FSC-certified wood is that it can earn you LEED for Home credits and Built Green points, says Radford, who adds that the FSC documents each mill and ensures wood has not been obtained through poaching.
FSC-certified wood used to have a higher premium, but now, due to a push from large forestry retailers, there’s a greater availability. This allows for lower prices, but your location may affect cost. To check your proximity to an FSC-certified forest, check out FSC Canada’s map.
Part wood and part synthetic, composite decking is a fairly new product out on the market. Typically made from a mixture of waste wood and recycled plastic—such as milk cartons or plastic grocery bags—composite decking looks like pure wood materials. But it won’t crack or warp as easily as wood, meaning it requires less maintenance. And it is environmentally friendly because it’s made of recycled materials.
However, Stephan Beaulieu, owner of Patios et Clôtures Beaulieu, in Montreal, says one environmental drawback is that composite decking materials are not renewable. So once made, it cannot be recycled again.
Another drawback of composite decking is the cost—it’s two to four times more expensive than red cedar and pressure-treated lumber, respectively. Beaulieu also mentions that because of the plastic in the material, it cannot contract and expand, which may cause joint problems.
A variety of factors come into play when determining the sustainability of a material, including the material’s lifespan, maintenance requirements, and its manufacturing carbon footprint. So it’s essential to determine what’s most important to your client, so you can help meet their green goals.