With federal rules changing, it's time to rethink decking materials.

By Michael Haigley
May 21, 2003
 Terry Pommett

If you haven't heard, let me clue you in: Using the most popularpressure-treated lumber that resists insects and rot will soon beagainst the law. So if you're thinking about adding a deck,consider these choices.

Finish your deck by year's end. The federal rulesprohibiting wood products treated with chromated copper arsenate(CCA) go into effect January 1, 2004. If you believe you caninstall CCA-treated wood safely, you have months to get the jobdone.

What constitutes safe use? While cutting and sanding CCA-treatedwood, wear a dust mask, goggles, and gloves. Never burn or mulchit. And if your hands come in direct contact with it, washthoroughly before eating. That goes especially for kids who play onCCA-treated playground equipment.

Use wood treated by newer, safer methods. As soon as theEnvironmental Protection Agency started talking about banningCCA-treated wood, companies began working on replacement processes.New products from the most familiar names in pressure-treated woodhave popped up on the market. They are safer, friendlier to theenvironment, and-guess what-more expensive.

Some in the industry say the new processes cost more becausethey require more time and/or more of the treatment compounds to dothe same job as CCA. Cynics, of course, say it costs more becausecompanies can charge more without jeopardizing their niche at themarket's more affordable end.

Go for naturally resistant exotics, such as mahogany.They're pricey but beautiful. The tightly grained woods remainsmooth to bare feet. And endurance? In 30 years, I've never had toreplace one mahogany plank.

Remember, you're buying only what you see. Builders assemblejoists, stringers, and the rest of the understructure out ofpressure-treated stock or cedar.

Choose synthetic composites. Manufactured from recycled woodor some synthetic materials, these products sidestep many of wood'svulnerabilities. They perform especially well in decks andboardwalks under intense sun that can warp wooden planking.Composites hold their shape and don't splinter, and they can lastfor decades with zero attention.

The drawback? Big initial investment. As with exotic woods, youwon't need the high-priced material where you can't see it. Butsynthetic planks can't safely span the same distances as wood, soyou'll probably give back some savings in understructure by havingto build more of it. The value of composites is in the long haul,because costs end with installation. These structures will performreliably without additional costs long after wood needsreplacing.

In the end, consider your budget, how you want your deck tolook, and the time you plan to care for it.