Eco-Friendly Building: Sustainability in Deck Design

Sustainable deck design

Amish deck builders may be the original environmental architects. Amish value the community’s welfare and live in harmony with nature. Decks R Us is an Amish-owned company of deck builders that are committed to doing business ethically, are focused on Lean Manufacturing, and work with suppliers like Culpeper Wood Preserves, Azek, J. Gibson Mcllvain Company, and locally-owned-and-operated Superior Plastics. These companies place a special emphasis on creating environmentally sound products for the decking industry.

What Makes Wood a Choice for Green Building Materials?

Many green building structures including decks incorporate energy-efficient lighting like LED fixtures. These lights don’t have mercury, focus light so it distributes evenly, and produce little heat which saves on maintenance and energy costs.

Decks R Us also uses renewable resources like responsibly harvested lumber from their suppliers.

Culpeper Wood Preserves, for example, ensures their suppliers are certified by Sustainable Forestry Initiative of the American Forest (SFI) and other forestry sustainability agencies to ensure future generations will have abundant forests while keeping a steady supply of wood for manufacturing today.

In fact, in North America alone, which is where Culpeper Wood Preserves and J. Gibson Mcllvain Company are housed, more than 280 million acres of forests follow the Sustainable Forestry Initiative standard.

Sustainable wood comes from forests worldwide that are managed sustainably. Forest stewards take a long-term view of the forest and will manage the landscape to prevent irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Climate Change and Sustainable Wood Choices

According to Dr. Elaine O’Neil at the University of Washington, cutting trees may counter-intuitively reduce climate change.

Decreased carbon in the atmosphere lowers the risk of climate change. Trees absorb CO2. As trees mature, they absorb less. When trees die naturally, they release the molecules back into the environment.

According to the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, using trees before they are fully mature reduces the CO2 emissions. 

When trees are cut, they continue to store the molecules inside instead of releasing the carbon dioxide if the tree fell over on its own.  Thus, cut wood reduces carbon in the air and will remain inside the wood during production.

Responsible harvesting and planting saplings are two examples of sustainable practices.  

Renewable Resources and Sustainability in Decking Choices

Beautiful, modern and versatile, wood that comes from responsibly managed forests is an excellent choice for deck construction or renovation.

It is durable, nontoxic, recyclable, and renewable. Wood is one of the best green building materials for a deck because the emissions released during the product’s creation are low, the material can be used a long time, and Decks R Us uses a sustainable way to dispose of the waste.

Each time a deck is demoed the company brings the wood back to their shop and a local entrepreneur takes the scraps and creates wooden garden crafts in lieu of sending the scraps to a landfill.

Decks R Us also recycles wood. Scrap pieces of wood that are over 2 feet long are then used as skirting thus even fewer pieces of wood end up in landfills.

Which Wood Types Are Eco-Friendly?

Cedar, Southern Pine, Ipe (Brazilian Walnut), Cumuru (Brazilian Teak), and Mahogany are abundant and renewable resources found locally and internationally primarily in the rainforest.

It’s important to note that logging isn’t the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Cattle ranching it the top contributor, followed by large and small-scale commercial and subsistence agriculture. Logging contributes to less than 3 percent of lost trees.

Some of the eco-friendliest wood choices include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved Teak and Mahogany. Pine is also an excellent choice due to its fast-growing nature.

However, some are concerned that woods like Ipe, Cumuru, and Mahogany aren’t environmentally-friendly. Yet none of these hardwoods are endangered.

Ipe is a tropical hardwood indigenous to South America. It’s exceptionally durable, resistant to insects, fungi and has a Class A fire rating. The bark has also been used historically for medicinal reasons. Ipe has been sustainably harvested in Bolivia since the 1990s and the country is a leader in tropical forest certification. Today more than 3 million acres of Ipe is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Remember Ipe releases less CO2 when harvested as opposed to timber falling naturally. It’s extremely durable and will last 75 years or more. Further waste can be minimized by allowing the bark to be used for medical purposes. Once used for the intended purpose of creating a deck, it can later be reused or repurposed if a new deck design is warranted. Ipe is has a long lifespan and doesn’t require additional chemicals to seal the hardwood further adding to its sustainable nature.

Exotic Cumuru, Tonka Bean, or Brazilian Teak is a low-cost lumber heralded for its strength and durability. It’s stronger than Burmese Teak by a factor of three. It is not listed as a threatened species, doesn’t cause health reactions, and is decay resistant. Some assume that this hardwood can only be accumulated from clear-cutting the Amazon. That’s not necessarily so. Many of these forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and Cumuru is not listed as an endangered wood species. Buy it will create an eco-friendly deck that will last 50 years or more with no chemical treatment.

Mahogany, with an FSC stamp of approval, is a heartwood that ages to have rich brown and red tones. Many lumberjacks will use hydro reservoirs to harvest timber from water submersion.  Old mahogany decks that need to be refinished can be dismantled and the wood, again, Decks R Us gives the wood to local craftsmen who recycle the wood into garden crafts.

Finally, Azek, a popular engineered wood, is certified under the National Green Building Standard (NGBS). It is created from 145 million pounds of recycled material that would otherwise end up in landfills. It’s shipped to companies via railcars which save thousands of gallons of fuel and the company uses a closed-loop water filtration system that recycles hundreds of gallons daily. This engineered wood saves trees and lasts longer than the average wooden deck.

Lean Manufacturing Practices in Decking

Lean manufacturing makes Decks R Us even more sustainable. Lean manufacturing principles include reducing waste while increasing a product’s quality. The company carries little backstock of materials and only uses what’s needed. Then when it is time to create a deck the workers cut and assemble some of the deck in a pre-fab fashion at the facility. This saves time and minimizes the distance in the supply chain. It’s another lean, green way to create amazing, award-winning decks.

Recycled Plastic is a Respected Green Building Material

Superior Plastic Products works with Decks R Us to recycle their vinyl railing. When the deck builders are finished construction, the leftover railing is broken down, boxed up and send to the local company so the materials can be recycled.

This means there is no waste left behind.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that some of the most effective means to achieving a greater abundance of sustainable buildings include choosing deck products that reduce climate change, reinforce sustainable business practices, drive local economic growth, and beautify local communities.

One of the best opportunities to go green while increasing a home’s perceived value by 4 percent is to focus on sustainable materials and practices. The lowered maintenance and energy costs mean that the deck is expected to pay for itself in less than seven years.

Act locally; think globally with Decks R Us.