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.