If you’ve considered installing a new deck recently, you were likely overwhelmed by the variety of available decking materials. With the advent of plastic and composite decking, consumers are faced with dozens of possible product choices. Often, these new decking materials tout themselves as a significant improvement over traditional decking materials like Western Red Cedar. Should you believe all the hype? Are these new plastic and composite decking products really better then a material with centuries of proven performance like Western Red Cedar? In fact, there are a number of excellent reasons why cedar has remained the preferred outdoor building material for hundreds of years.

Minimal Maintenance

One of the biggest misconceptions about these new decking products is regarding the necessary amount of maintenance. Consumers may believe that once installed, their new plastic or composite deck need never be touched again. To set the record straight, it’s imperative to understand that “maintenance free” or “no maintenance” decking claims are simply not true. Regardless of the material, ALL decks require some annual maintenance to remain looking their best. In fact, many composite decking manufacturers provide thorough “Care & Maintenance” instructions to help care for their various products.  

Whatever the product claim, mildew forms on decking surfaces of all types and should be removed from a deck soon after it appears.  In reality, Western Red Cedar decking often performs better than most heralded “maintenance free” decking materials.  Western Red Cedar’s natural resistance to mildew and overall deterioration comes from compounds called “thujaplicins” that actually act as natural preservatives – making the wood incredibly durable.

If all decking materials require some maintenance, is an all-natural and beautiful cedar deck really that difficult to maintain?  

Tom Read from Tacoma, Washington, is a long-time Western Red Cedar deck owner who provides an excellent example of how easy an annual maintenance program can truly be.  “All my Cedar deck requires is a little cleaning and minor touch-ups to the finish annually – and I’ve been more than happy with the results,” says Read.  “Investing just a small amount of time can make all the difference in how your deck will look and perform.”

Read also suggests that good maintenance practices include allowing proper water drainage, keeping the surface free of dirt, leaves and other debris; and moving planters, benches and other deck accessories from time to time to permit the deck beneath them to dry thoroughly.  For example, his deck is elevated off the ground and includes ample decking board gaps to allow for sufficient water drainage – very important as the deck is located in the moist environs of Washington State.  “The good looks and durability of Western Red Cedar appealed to me initially,” added Read. “And looking back now, its beauty is still evident everyday – and maintenance really hasn’t been a burden.”  

To reduce maintenance even further, recent advancements in cedar manufacturing allow Western Red Cedar decking to be offered pre-finished on all sides – this finishing technology is important as it ensures the highest level of quality-finished products, greatly increasing consistent coating, longevity and overall resistance to moisture. This allows you to choose the preferred finishing color and simply install.

Photo Caption: Tom Read’s Western Red Cedar deck – brand new and 10 years later.  Can you tell the difference? Photos Courtesy of the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association.  

Lasting Beauty

While composite and cedar decking will both require some annual maintenance, the similarities with materials end there. Despite composite and plastic decking manufacturer’s best efforts, no man-made decking product is able to capture the all-natural warmth and beauty of a Real Cedar deck…Nature still knows best.

Such differences in aesthetic beauty are easy to understand. After all, no matter what color it is, or what wood “grain” is stamped into its surface, plastic is still plastic. Yet there are several other, less obvious reasons why Western Red Cedar remains a favorite decking material as well.

First, the color of all decking materials will gradually fade when given long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays. With plastic or composite decking, this color fade is irreversible. Deck owners must live with color differences that appear over time between sun-exposed and shaded areas of their original deck. Fortunately, there is no such downside if building a deck from Western Red Cedar. Unlike plastic or composites, Real Cedar decks can be completely restored and refinished at any time, providing a decking surface that looks virtually new. 

And due to cedar’s low density, you can kick off your shoes and enjoy your deck with friends and family even during the hottest summer months. The same can’t be said for plastic based products.

In addition, the surfaces of a cedar deck can be touched up with sandpaper and stain to remove the inevitable “dings”, scratches, and stains of a well-used deck.  Such emergency repairs are bound to be necessary over the life of your deck, but with most plastic or composite materials, they’re often not feasible… so much for claims of “low” or “no” maintenance.

Environmentally Responsible

Even when produced with recycled materials, most composite decking is made from plastic and other non-renewable resources. With major ingredients derived from petroleum-based products, plastic requires a significant amount of scarce, non-renewable energy to produce.  At the end of its life cycle, a plastic based product can sit in landfills for years without breaking down.  You need to consider if a backyard deck is the right place to use these finite resources.

To truly demonstrate concern for the environment requires using materials like Western Red Cedar that don’t cause an unnecessary drain of natural resources.  Cedar manufacturers have developed highly sophisticated technology to minimize waste, sustainably manage harvesting and improve product yield at the same time.  In fact, America grows 30% more wood each year than it harvests and has more forestland today than 100 years ago.  What’s more, wood is entirely biodegradable – at the end of its life cycle, can be absorbed by the earth without negative impact.  

Western Red Cedar is the natural choice for a beautiful, low maintenance and environmentally sound deck. Ready to turn your backyard into an all-natural standout?  To learn more about the virtues of Western Red Cedar, the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (WRCLA) has developed a collection of brochures about a variety of applications.  To learn more, call 1-866-788-9096 or visit www.realcedar.org.-


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