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Green Building News

More Troubles for TimberSIL

The Make It Right Foundation plans to replace decks and stairs on 30 houses in New Orleans after the wood showed signs of rot

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TimberSIL boards were removed from a New Orleans project. Exterior decking and stairs built with TimberSIL will be replaced on 30 houses in New Orleans after some of the material showed signs of decay.
Image Credit: The New Orleans Advocate
TimberSIL boards were removed from a New Orleans project. Exterior decking and stairs built with TimberSIL will be replaced on 30 houses in New Orleans after some of the material showed signs of decay.
Image Credit: The New Orleans Advocate
Rebuilding in the Lower 9th Ward. These are two of the houses built by the Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. TimberSIL decking and stairs in 30 of the homes is being replaced.
Image Credit: The New Orleans Advocate

Troubles seem to be mounting for TimberSIL, a non-toxic alternative to pressure-treated lumber.

Already beleaguered by spotty distribution and long lead times on orders, TimberSIL is being removed from 30 New Orleans homes built by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation because it showed signs of rotting in the city’s damp, humid climate.

An article in the New Orleans Advocate published on December 30 said that the foundation is considering legal action against Timber Treatment Technologies (TTT), the Greenville, South Carolina, company that makes TimberSIL. Decks and steps installed as recently as three years ago are showing signs of decay, the newspaper reported, despite the company’s 40-year guarantee.

TimberSIL is southern yellow pine that has been treated with sodium silicate and heat. According to the manufacturer, the process encases wood fibers with “amorphous glass” and protects it from moisture and insect damage.

Chosen for its chemical-free content

TimberSIL was chosen for decks and stairs on 30 houses built in the city’s Lower 9th Ward between 2008 and 2010. The houses were among 100 energy-efficient homes built by the foundation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

A foundation spokeswoman said TimberSIL was attractive not only because of its long guarantee but because it wasn’t treated with toxic chemicals. “In trying to be sustainable and green, we didn’t want to use decking lumber that had chemicals in it,” Taylor Royle told the newspaper.

Not all of the installed TimberSIL showed signs of decay, but the foundation planned on removing all of it over the next six months at a cost of about $150,000, The Advocate said.

Calls to TTT by GreenBuildingAdvisor were not returned. The newspaper quoted TimberSIL Executive Vice President Joel Embry as saying in an e-mail that the company would shortly “begin the process of gathering the necessary information to evaluate the concerns and achieve a satisfactory outcome.”

High hopes at the product’s launch

Because of its low toxicity and guaranteed resistance to insect and moisture damage, TimberSIL enjoyed a run of good press after its launch. It was hailed as a promising replacement for lumber treated with more traditional copper-based preservatives.

TimberSIL was named one of Building Green’s Top Ten products in 2004, and it was the grand winner in the home tech category of Popular Science’s top products list the following year.

Yet TimberSIL never took off. It didn’t have the distribution it needed to become a major player in the market. A distribution deal with Huttig Building Supplies collapsed. And TTT was sued by a Wisconsin company under contract to produce TimberSIL. The company, Northern Crossarm Co., said representations made by TTT founder Karen Slimak “concerning the research and testing she had done to establish the TimberSIL process were not true,” according to Environmental Building News.

Troubles on Mt. Holyoke

TimberSIL is at the center of another dispute, this one involving the reconstruction of the historic Summit House on Mt. Holyoke in Hadley, Mass.

The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation used TimberSIL to rebuild a porch at the former hotel as part of a three-year renovation. But it had to be torn down and replaced when TimberSIL wouldn’t hold paint, according to a report last year in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The decision added $100,000 to the cost of the project and kept the hotel, a popular tourist destination, closed to the public last summer.

The newspaper said the state and its contractor got no response from TTT after “struggling for months” with questions over the wood. Slimak disputed the claims and Embry later told The Gazette, “It’s our intention to follow this through and continue to understand exactly what the problem is and intervene and assist to find a solution to have the Summit House open.”


  1. esp71 | | #1

    Why are contractors conservative?
    Unfortunate story, it seemed like a promising product. This is a prime example of why contractors are leery about change. Sometimes it can really turn on you.

  2. BobConnor | | #2

    Another reason to be conservative
    See what happens when you rebuild below sea level! Why, why, why, is anyone rebuilding New Orleans? Isn't that the definition of insanity?

  3. charles3 | | #3

    Best alternative?
    I was just about to try Timbersil to make raised vegetable beds. Anybody know a longer-lasting, non-toxic alternative? This is practically a buried application.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Charles Campbell
    For vegetable beds, I would stick with white cedar, red cedar, or whatever local lumber exists in your area that is relatively rot-resistant.

    Other options include concrete or stone and mortar.

  5. archigreen123 | | #5

    Timbersil Not Faulty IMO
    Being in the architectural business and knowing many contractors, I have heard from an insider that the contractors who built these homes did not properly install the lumber. They butted the wood up against each other not leaving any gaps.
    I have used Timbersil products myself. I live in Houston where the weather is constantly up and down. I had outdoor (untreated) furniture built from Timbersil wood and my fence around my home is all from Timbersil for over 4 years now. I have had no problems, even after it has flooded here by my home - many times now.

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