Backyard Decks Go Green with Redwood Construction

Redwood, an "old favorite" building material, is coming around again as a premium product for decking, thanks to its good looks and earth-friendly characteristics.

Redwood deck

Photo: virginiadeckbuilding.com

Contrary to popular belief, redwood can be a very environmentally-friendly building material especially when compared to many types of composite decking. The key to maintaining a “green” pedigree on your redwood deck is using redwood harvested from “new growth” trees—those which are 30 to 50 years old from forests that are sustainably maintained and replanted.

According to the California Redwood Association (CRA), redwood is grown and harvested in accordance with the highest environmental standards in the world, tapping the sun for energy and soaking in California’s famed North Coast fog. Roughly 90 percent of all product-producing redwood forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative as sources of environmentally-sound building materials. In addition, redwood uses 97% less energy to produce than plastic.

But that’s not all — redwoods also excel at reducing carbon emissions. As they grow, the trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing it in the wood and releasing oxygen into the air. When the trees are harvested, the carbon they had captured remains stored: an average redwood deck carries 500 pounds of carbon. Choosing redwood as a building material can actually reduce a homeowner’s carbon footprint. In addition, when lumber is milled into decking and other products, the bark, sawdust and scraps are collected and used to produce biomass energy. In terms of sustainability, you can’t go wrong!

Redwood deck

Photo: California Redwood Association

A Life Cycle Assessment from the trade organization Rooted In Truth compared redwood to plastic PVC decking and wood/plastic composite decking and found that redwood is one of the most environmentally-sound decking materials. Man-made materials such as plastics and wood/plastic composites require significant amounts of petroleum and chemicals to manufacture and these substances all contribute to global warming. Also, many of these composite materials are not recycled, and wind up clogging landfills for decades.

Related: Planning Guide: Wood Decks

Another common misperception about redwood is that it is expensive. According to CostHelper.com premium woods like redwood and red cedar cost $18 to $22 per square foot. That’s not bad when you consider that plastic/wood composites average about $20 per square foot. Less expensive options include pressure-treated southern yellow pine, which costs $10 to $16 per square foot or vinyl decking, which costs $13 to $22 per square foot. The most expensive decking materials are teak-like tropical hardwoods, averaging $22 to $24 or more per foot.

Premium woods like red cedar and redwood offer comparable levels of durability and longevity, lasting an average of 20 years. Both woods are naturally resistant to shrinking and warping, to boot. The primary difference between the two woods is color: redwoods range from light to dark red, while cedar hues run from light brown to salmon pink.

The main reason that builders and homeowners are returning to redwood, however, is aesthetics; redwood possesses a rich character and natural beauty that enhances the exterior of any home. It creates an aura of warmth and luxury, adding value while at the same time, providing an ecologically sound alternative for the environmentally conscious consumer.