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Community and Q&A

Wood choices for exterior use (siding & decking) – Green pro’s and cons?

Kevin Hardy | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I’m working on a project to rehab and convert a garage building to a studio and living space and am looking at options for exterior wood siding and decking.

I will be using Hardie Panels with reveal strips for much of the siding, however there are some areas I would like to use a clear finished wood siding for an accent. In addition I’m building a small ground level deck and want to match the decking to the siding wood. The totally square footage of wood being used fairly low at around 500 sq. ft.

When researching types of wood to use I’m running into lots of conflicting information about sustainability, especially when it comes to tropical woods such as Ipe and Cumaru.

There’s the traditional option in my part of country (PNW) which is red cedar. However cedar is both soft and high maintenance. For clear or near clear grades is is also as expensive as tropical woods.

One could make the argument that because they can last 35 – 50 years tropical woods are an sustainable choice since they won’t have to be replaced as often. However I don’t feel totally comfortable with the sustainable forestry claims that are being made by importers. The last thing I want to do is contribute rain forest destruction.

Thermally treated domestic wood (especially poplar) looks like an interesting and sustainable alternative. The look comes pretty close to that of tropical woods and it is claimed to last 25 years outside. However there seems to be very few manufactures in the US and none locally. In addition the treatment process uses quite a bit of energy, but of course so does shipping lumber from South America.

Any unbiased information would be very helpful on making a choice.

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  1. Ashlyn Kirk | | #1

    Look into aluminum decking. It's eco-friendly and recyclable. :) I believe if you want a more natural looking deck they will soon have a deck that has the look of wood but is aluminum too!

  2. Stephen Martinson | | #2

    Cedar can be low or high maintenance, depending on how "pretty" you want it to stay. My childhood home was sided with cedar shingles. It was NEVER painted or stained, just left to naturally age and has lasted for over 60 years. We were a target for vinyl siding salesmen, since the exterior color was highly variable depending on its exposure to sun and or rain. It is now paper thin in places, so if I owned the house I would probably consider re-siding, but 60 years is a fairly good life for siding which has required next to no maintenance.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    You wrote, "I would like to use a clear finished wood siding for an accent ... and want to match the decking to the siding wood."

    My comments:

    1. If you install clear finished wood siding, expect to (a) sand and refinish it annually, or (b) watch it change colors and gradually darken, with uneven colors depending on location and exposure.

    2. You will never succeed at matching the color of clear finished wood siding to the color of your decking. It's not going to happen.

  4. Keith Gustafson | | #4

    clear red cedar will last for many many years if finished with a natural colored stain that you do not expect to look like paint. I like natural cedar. I will end up dark gray at the bottom and light brown a the top. The people that bought my last house painted it. good luck to them, but I wouldn't have. It was 25 years old and probably in line for its first coat of something.........

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