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Green Decks- Eco Friendly Deck Materials


This boardwalk was made of Hemlock. It grows naturally here in Ontario and can be sourced at many small lumber yards for far less than typical PT or Cedar, and it doesn’t have to be shipped across the continent for use.

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Eco-Friendly Deck Materials

Sustainable decks

Sustainable Eco-friendly deck materials have to be viewed with a critical eye. There are many factors that will go into choosing the best and most sustainable material for the environment.

Trex makes decking out of recycled materials, however, there is a downside. The decking does swell at the ends due to the wood content within. It does tend to sag in a decade or so. It really doesn’t look like wood. After 10-20 years you may be looking to replace it.

PVC products are made from oil–and the best are not made from recycled materials at all. You have to consider however, these may be the best wearing deckings long-term with a 20-50 year durability expectation.

Sustainably grown wood seems to be the best for the environment. Farmed timber is obviously best. Locally harvested timber does not have long distance transportation factored into the Eco-friendliness.

What species of wood is best in your local area?

Next time you are driving in the country somewhere in Ontario take a good look at the barns. Most of them have 1″ hemlock boards on them for cladding and in that use, they last a hundred years or more. Expect 15-30 years from a hemlock deck, depending on the method and where it is installed.

We sourced this rough cut Hemlock about 30 miles from the project. The frame and decking is all the same material for this boardwalk deck. Hemlock was traditionally used in the Toronto area as barn cladding, and often lasts 100 years. That said, if a smooth polished look is what you are after, Hemlock may not be the best for you. Sure, you can sand it, but it will never look as good as BC Red Cedar.

You can get Eastern White Cedar locally also, but the logs are smaller and you get a poor cut of lumber from those. White cedar does not last as long.

In the Southern States, you have Cypress which grows in Swamps and is perfectly suited to decks. Long lasting…keep oil on it, sands smooth. It has a beautiful grain and is available rough cut from local mills.

Obviously, on the West Coast, you have Redwood and Red Cedar, which are the best. Growing naturally in rainforest conditions mean it lasts fairly well.

Products marketed as Environmentally Friendly Decking Materials

Products sold as environmentally friendly decking materials have to be looked at with skepticism.

Some people want it all. They have a conscience so they don’t want old growth lumber. You want maintenance free, but don’t like the look of plastic lumber after a few years of the sun bleaching it. Folks want affordable, and they want it to last.

This unicorn material does not exist. Environmentally friendly decking materials will require more maintenance. Stain and paint are not good for the environment. The “Low VOC” finishes we have today only last a year or two at best. Leaving it grey is the best thing for the environment.

Rough cut lumber will give you splinters in bare feet. Sanding it will make it slippery! A slightly sanded surface may be best.

Building Longer Lasting Decks is the Environmentally Friendly Way

Many things affect the durability of decks. Spaces between boards, flashings, air flow as well as the type of wood and other design concerns.

These days we can design and build decks that last 50 years or more. The design should be right, which means you won’t want to change it within a few years. It should be large enough to suit anyone that may own the property in the future. It should be built on galvanized helical piers. The frame should be flashed to avoid premature rot… especially the stair structure. That is usually the first thing to go. Building better decks is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do.

Speak to a professional deck designer to learn more.

What is the most Eco-friendly Deck Material to use?

In my Humble Opinion… here are the best options for eco-friendly deck materials:

  • Locally sourced farmed timber milled locally installed without stain  (good for 15-25 years)
  • Farmed Red Cedar Lumber with no stain applied, just oiled yearly (good for 20-30 years)
  • Recycled composite on a frame with protective flashing covering all joists and stair stringers (good for 30-40 years)
  • Virgin PVC Decking on a flashed or aluminum frame.  (good for 50-100 years)

How long the deck will last has to factor into the equation of Eco-friendliness. When a deck is built, the builder has to use gas to get the materials. Materials have to be milled or produced. Electricity is used in the construction process. If a deck will last 50 to 100 years, the lack of eco-friendliness that went into the decking is offset by only needing 1 deck rather than 5 decks in 100 years.

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