A lack of understanding about the environmental impact of wood can lead people to believe that any wood product is eco-friendly. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. With increasing awareness around the sustainability credentials of other decking materials, such as composite and PVC alternatives, consumers are increasingly interested in which products stand up to scrutiny on an ecological level. So just what are your green options when it comes to building a deck?
The case for timber
As well as being aesthetically pleasing and offering some flexibility in terms of design and installation (depending on what type you opt for), there’s plenty to recommend timber – particularly FSC-certified timber – when it comes to the environment.
This is significantly down to the method of harvesting, which typically involves leaving trees standing during the logging process and only felling them once they’re no longer economically viable sources of timber. This means that forests can provide an ongoing income for landowners while also providing a habitat for wildlife such as birds and small mammals. It’s too simplistic to say that ‘natural’ material is automatically better for the environment than engineered alternatives, but at least you know exactly where your deck timber has come from: a forest somewhere in England!
That said, many sustainable-minded consumers may shy away from using wood entirely, put off by the heavy demand for lumber used in construction and manufacturing. This is where a composite alternative might be an attractive option. Manufactured from recycled plastics and wood by-products, they are highly durable, strong and easily repairable – while also significantly lighter than timber and therefore easier to transport.
However, there’s one big drawback when it comes to composites: researching the eco credentials of each product can prove somewhat time consuming. While suppliers claim that their products give off fewer greenhouse gases during manufacture than comparable timber alternatives, this isn’t always easy to verify independently.
The same goes for PVC-free decking, which is constructed from 100% recycled plastic and offers a tough rot-, water- and cold-resistant alternative to traditional timber. Unfortunately, unlike FSC or PEFC-certified wood alternatives, there isn’t currently any certification for environmentally friendly decking (at least not in the UK). So either look out for third party accreditation logos on individual products or check the credentials of suppliers themselves.
Is it better to use reclaimed wood?
It’s certainly true that using reclaimed materials has benefits for both users and the environment – because you’re keeping beautiful timbers out of landfill – but this doesn’t necessarily make them more eco than a new product. For example, if you’re using reclaimed wood from an old construction project that used a lot of the same materials, your carbon footprint will be higher than it would have been if you’d used only reclaimed timber.
Is bamboo really the eco winner?
Nope! While it’s certainly true that bamboo grows quickly and doesn’t require as much water as many other timbers, cutting it down still has a big impact on the environment – particularly in places such as China where much commercial harvesting takes place. It can also take around nine months for new stalks to reach harvesting maturity, while the wood can shrink and distort significantly as it dries out. That’s why a number of suppliers are now offering bamboo decking boards made from natural grass-fibre composites that look just like real timber but last much longer. Now there’s something to chew on!
Is it better to buy reclaimed wood?
Reclaimed materials lend themselves well to some projects (like storing sheds in your back garden), but installing them on your deck will require professional installation by someone trained in working with old timbers.