Eco-friendly, green, recycled, renewable, environmentally friendly, sustainable, bio-degradable and energy efficient are all key words used more and more often these days. This is a positive movement that has grown internationally and is well marketed. We all want to contribute to saving the planet and doing our part to keep our earth clean and free of chemicals and pollutants. There are now many organizations that are set up to help us do just that. Let’s take a look at what this means and how a wood deck such as Ipe can be eco-friendly.
First what is eco-friendly mean? If we don’t Google it, I would say it means friendly to our environment, no chemicals no harmful out-gassing and uses only raw materials. The Wikipedia definition states it is product that inflicts little or no harm to the environment. This is a very grey area. Now lets apply this to decking. There are several products available; pressure treated, composite and hardwood decks.
Composite decking is the least environmentally friendly product. Let me state that this product is marketed as green but let’s examine a few things first. The decking is man made from plastic or composite that has been recycled. Testing performed on the recycled plastic (High Density Polyethylene ) has confirmed that the recycling process loses some of its original tensile strength and the recycled product does not readily biodegrade in the landfills. The fact that this plastic is made of petroleum also escapes the corporations that tote its environmental benefits. Petroleum is costly and sometimes environmentally damaging. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill is one example of the damages transportation of petroleum has caused. Now going back to the loss of tensile strength, how does that affect the life of the deck once installed in an external environment? What happens when plastic is exposed to heat over a long period of time? Again Google one of the composite company names to expose warping, staining, flaking, molding, fungus and other complaints and lawsuits. If you are replacing your deck in less than 10 years time is it really environmentally friendly or if you have to apply chemicals to it to prevent mold and fungus? Do a little homework and you will realize wood is the only eco-friendly decking resource.
Wood is a renewable, recyclable and totally biodegradable product. This product is a primary producer in that it only requires its natural habitat to develop and grow. The sun, water and soil along with the seed produced from another tree is all required to make this raw product. Wood uses less energy to process than steel, concrete, plastic and aluminum. It is used for insulation and has low thermal diffusivity (measure of how quickly a material can absorb heat from its surroundings). The only downside is wood made of certain species of wood will not be as dense and strong as others and would require some type of treatment to be usable outdoors. The new technology now available has opened doors to allow other wood to be available that has otherwise been unaccessible.
Pressure treated decking has been the most commonly used lumber. This lumber is in-expensive, readily accessible and easy to install. The chemicals used to treat lumber, has helped its resistance to insects, decay and mold/fungus. The only problem is the chemicals used to pressure treat the lumber has been chromated copper arsenate, a toxic chemical used until about 2003 and now other chemicals are used such as copper azone but no current information has been supplied as to whether it is any less hazardous also CCA is still being used in certain industrial and marine applications.
IPE decking is made from a hardwood with origins in South America, Central America and parts of the Caribbean. This hardwood is one of the strongest densest woods available. The janka hardness for Ipe is 3680 compared to the California redwood at 420. The fire spread is rated the same as concrete and steel. Naturally resistant to mold, fungus, decay and insects, Ipe requires no chemicals. The lifetime of the wood without a UV inhibitor is 40 plus years and with the inhibitor over 100 years. Ipe has a slip co-efficiency above the requirement for commercial applications for restaurants and hotels. This is the deck you will get to enjoy without all the maintenance. FSC certified Ipe is also available for the most discriminating clients and projects. The Forest Stewardship Council will certify that your lumber comes from a responsibly managed forest. Now that is as eco-friendly as it gets.
Rosi Lehr is a contributing writer for Advantage Trim & Lumber Co.