Decking Materials Part I – Cedar versus Treated
For a new homeowner, or anyone looking to elevate their outdoor living space, a new deck is often the place to start. But deciding on a decking material can often be tricky with the number of options available including treated, Cedar, vinyl, and composites. In this three part blog series we’re going to break down the options.
If you’re thinking of building an outdoor project with wood, you’ll want to use a wood that withstands Alberta’s weather and lasts a long time. Two all-time favourites are pressure-treated wood and cedar. Both have distinct characteristics that make them good choices for Calgary and Canmore’s climate, and you can get excellent results by playing to the strengths of each and using both on the same project.
Pros & Cons of Treated Wood
When it comes to comparing treated wood vs. cedar, pressure-treated wood is the sturdier and more weather-proof of the two. It’s highly resistant to insect attack and rot, and special versions rated for “ground contact” can be buried in soil and will continue to shrug off decay for decades. Pressure-treated wood excels when used for structural members such as support posts and joists.
Unfortunately, most pressure-treated wood may not have the aesthetic appeal of some other options. The treatment process begins when the lumber, usually pine or fir, is run through machines that perforate the surfaces with hundreds of small incisions. These little holes ensure that the chemical treatment penetrates throughout the individual pieces of lumber. They can also detract from the wood’s natural appearance.
To apply the preservatives, the lumber is placed in an airtight chamber, and the air is removed. Liquid preservatives are introduced to the chamber and the resulting pressure forces the chemicals into the wood. Manufacturers have tried to include coloured dyes with the preservatives to give pressure-treated lumber an organic appearance, but the results are mixed.
Also, pressure-treated wood usually is made from lower grades of lumber that’s prone to cracking and warping when exposed to the elements. You can give pressure-treated wood an extra measure of protection by finishing it with a sealer or stain but give newly purchased pressure-treated lumber a few months to dry out before you do. New treated lumber invariably is still wet from the treatment process and won’t accept a finish until it dries completely. Painting isn’t recommended — lower-grade lumber will shrink and expand slightly with changes in humidity, playing havoc with a painted finish.
Pros & Cons of Cedar
This is where cedar comes into the picture. Tight-grained, good-looking and weather-resistant, cedar is the best choice anywhere aesthetics are important. Cedar makes beautiful decking, railings, arbors and trellises. It can be sanded to a smooth finish that makes it ideal for handrails, bench seats and children’s play structures.
Due to its chemical properties, cedar is naturally weather-resistant and repels most bugs. But over the years it can crack slightly and develop a fuzzy surface texture unless it’s periodically refinished. Cedar accepts sealers and stains beautifully and should be refinished every two to three years. If you plan to keep your cedar’s natural colour, note that cedar can darken dramatically when exposed to sunlight. You’ll want to be vigilant about applying clear sealers with UV (ultraviolet light) blockers to keep the rich colour of the natural wood.
Don’t put cedar where it’s in direct contact with the ground or set it in concrete. It may last for a while, but eventually it will rot and deteriorate.
Looking for some more low maintenance options? Visit Part II of our blog series where we compare composites versus natural wood options.