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Wood holds its own in construction

Published Oct. 16, 2005

Wood, one of the world's oldest building materials, is aging well. Processes to improve its wearing and weathering qualities and a new appreciation of its natural insulating qualities contribute to its continued popularity.

The trade association for makers of wood windows and doors as well as suppliers of pressure-treated wood report healthy and growing sales, despite the fact that housing starts dropped in 1988.

"Because of its honeycomb-shaped cell structure, wood is a natural thermal insulator containing a high percentage of insulating-rich air within the wood fibers," points out John W. Shoemaker of the National Wood Window and Door Association, which reported a 20 percent rise in sales last year.

The association's research on wood doors showed that wood expands and contracts less than steel during temperature changes, thus maintaining a tighter fit with weather stripping. Wood's aesthetic quality also contributes to its popularity, Shoemaker adds.

Woods to be used outdoors, such as in decks and patios, are in higher demand because more Americans spend leisure time outdoors. "Americans are snatching up new products which help to create more interesting and useful outdoor environments where they spend their time," says John Cashmore, Weyerhaeuser LifeWood Program manager. Among these are pre-turned millwork in a variety of styles that can be used in building decks and other structures.

The most durable woods probably are those treated under pressure with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to resist fungus, mildew, and termites. CCA penetrates the wood, creating a molecular bond that prevents leaching and chemical seepage. Some care is needed in handling pressure-treated wood, which has come under Environmental Protection Agency scrutiny for potential hazards due to the arsenic. The agency recommends not using the wood for for kitchen, livestock feeders or food storage projects.

Treated wood needs some maintenance, such as cleaning and preserving, to protect against weathering.

A deck cleaner like Cuprinol's Revive can be used to pre-treat wood before staining or preserving, or use a 50-50 solution of household bleach and water. Then apply stains or preservatives.

For damaged old wood, try Mr. Mac's Wood-Fix. Used with fiberglass cloth, this polymer-based substance can repair and rebuild splintered, rotted, chipped, blistered and mildewed wood.