Arsenate & Child Safety
YOUR HOME: Finding Safe Material For a Deck
By JAY ROMANO, New York Times, May 9, 2004
AS of Jan. 1 of this year, manufacturers of wood treated with chromated
copper arsenate voluntarily discontinued marketing the product for use in
things like children's' play sets, lawn furniture and decks.
And while this may not be a major problem for manufacturers of play sets
and lawn furniture -- there are a number of other materials commonly used in
such items -- the impact the move had on decks is a bit more noticeable.
That is because ''pressure-treated wood,'' as it was generically called, is
the material that most homeowners think of when building a deck.
With wood treated with C.C.A., as it is familiarly known, off the market,
what is a homeowner who wants to build a deck to do?
''The good news is that today consumers have more choices than ever
before when choosing decking materials,'' said Anatole Burkin, editor for
decks and outdoor projects for the Taunton Press, a publisher based in
Newtown, Conn. ''The bad news is that some of these new choices haven't been
around for very long.''
Mr. Burkin said there are a number of chemically treated, natural and
synthetic materials to choose from when building new decks.
''I personally like the look of wood,'' he said. ''And if you like the
look of wood, you can't replace real wood with something man-made.''
Mr. Burkin said that for those who share his preference, a choice must be
made between untreated wood that is naturally resistant to bugs, rot and
decay and wood that is chemically treated to exhibit the same qualities.
The most common natural materials used for deck surfaces, Mr. Burkin
said, are cedar and redwood. These have been used on the exterior of homes
for many years, he said, and they are now a ''known quantity.'' Builders and
homeowners are familiar with how they will age, how they will look as they
age and how they will hold up to weather.
But a problem with using cedar and redwood, he said, is that they are
generally too expensive to be used for parts of the deck that will not be
seen. As a result, in most cases, chemically treated southern pine is used
for posts, beams and joists that form the substructure for most decks.
Since the use of C.C.A. was discontinued, manufacturers have begun using
other chemical compounds to treat wood, including southern pine, that is to
be used outdoors and wood that will come in contact with dirt.
Jim Hale, executive director of the Wood Preservative Science Council, an
industry organization based in Mount Vernon, Va., said two such compounds
are alkaline copper quaternary (A.C.Q.) and copper azole (C.A.). Both
compounds, Mr. Hale said, are pesticides approved by the Environmental
Protection Agency that resist bugs, mold and rot.
As a result, he said, they can be used for both the structural components
of a deck and the walking surface and railing material as well. ''In terms
of performance, consumers should see no difference whatsoever,'' Mr. Hale
said. ''All the test results we've seen show that the alternative
preservatives work just as well as C.C.A.''
But treating lumber with A.C.Q. and C.A. is more expensive than treating
it with C.C.A. ''I think consumers are going to find a 10 to 20 percent
increase in the cost of the material,'' Mr. Hale said.
Another thing that consumers should be aware of when using lumber treated
with A.C.Q. or C.A. is that the hardware used in the past for
pressure-treated decks -- typically, galvanized steel -- may not be the best
thing to use with the newer preservatives.
Fredy Lowe, the owner of Driscoll Signature Decks in Little Egg Harbor,
N.J., (www.driscolldecks.com) said that there is some concern that the
chemicals used in A.C.Q. and C.A. will corrode the standard galvanized
hardware sold for use with C.C.A.-treated lumber. He said that on the newer
treated lumber, the metal fasteners, nails and screws used to hold the deck
together should be either stainless steel, double-dipped galvanized or
material that has a ''triple zinc coating.''
''Consumers should make sure that the hardware they are buying is rated
for A.C.Q. or C.A.,'' Mr. Lowe said.
He noted that while he uses A.C.Q.-treated lumber for the structural
elements of most of the decks he builds, he uses synthetic materials for the
decking itself. ''I would say that 85 to 90 percent of the new decks I
install are made with composite materials,'' he said.
Mr. Burkin of the Taunton Press, said that such decking -- which is
manufactured and sold under brand names like Trex (www.trex.com), Nexwood (www.nexwood.com)
and TimberTech (www.timbertech.com) -- is generally made of recycled
polyethylene and wood fiber.
Another synthetic decking material is made out of polyvinyl chloride. One
vinyl deck brand is Dream Deck (www.thermalindustries.com), and another
brand name is Brock Deck (www.royalcrownltd.com).
The allure of composite decking, Mr. Burkin said, is that it is
splinter-free, maintenance-free, fungi-free and basically impervious to rot
and insects. At the same time, he said, ''composites haven't been around
long enough to study their performance over the long haul.''
Generally speaking, Mr. Burkin said, the composites are more expensive
than chemically treated wood and less expensive than many natural wood
decking materials. For example, he said, Trex costs about $1.75 per linear
foot for a standard six-inch-wide deck board. A similarly-sized piece of
clear western red cedar would cost about $2.35 a linear foot; ipé, a
tropical hardwood that makes excellent decking, costs about $2.20 a foot;
and redwood costs anywhere from $2.50 a foot to more than $7.50. A six-inch
wide board treated with A.C.Q. or C.A., on the other hand, would cost about
80 cents a linear foot.
One reason redwood and western red cedar are relatively expensive on the
East Coast is that they generally grow on the other side of the country.
One natural decking material that grows here, however, is northern white
David Gordon, the owner of Katahdin Forest Products in Oak Field, Me.,
said the northern white cedar that his company sells is often used in
high-end children's play sets. ''It's lighter than pressure-treated decking,
easier to handle, splinter-free, and it doesn't contain any chemicals at
all,'' Mr. Gordon said.
And while the prices ultimately paid by consumers depend on the
availability of the material and shipping costs, it is possible to purchase
northern white cedar direct from Katahdin for slightly more than the cost of
Additional information about Katahdin's decking material is available on
the company's Web site at www.usaloghomes.com.
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