The Pros and Cons of Using Cedar for Your Deck Project
Building a deck starts with selecting a material. In this installment of Pros & Cons of decking material, we will cover the benefits and drawbacks of western red cedar.
Cedar Wood Decking
What is Western Red Cedar? The lumber comes from the forests on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. It is a lightweight, naturally outside-tolerant wood that is red-to-pink in color. Its scientific name is Thuja plicata.
Where is Western Red Cedar Used?
This material is versatile and can be used inside and outside. The wood can be used for interior projects like lining the inside of closet walls or adding to the inside of the ceiling as an accent wall. But, since western red cedar is naturally a durable wood in outdoor weather, it can also be used for projects such as decks, siding, and roofing. Being readily available there many dimensional options, but specifically in regards to deck material.. here is a general list:
Deck Boards: 5/4" x 6" x 8', 12', 16', 20' (for all subsequent dimensions the sizes reference width" x depth" x length')
Handrail: 2" x 4" x 8', 10', 12', 16'
Balusters: 2" x 2" x 36", 42"
There are many more sizes, but these are the typical sizes used for deck construction.
What are the Pros of Western Red Cedar?
Aesthetics: Western red cedar (aka WRC) is a beautiful wood, naturally. It has a red to pinkish brown color with random streaks and a straight grain, which is appealing when used for a deck. Plus, the wood is aromatic, which is a big plus.
Durability: Durability, in terms of wood, is defined by the wood's ability to resist elemental and natural forces of decay. Western red cedar is, by design, a durable wood. The tree secretes oils to aid in its durability - these are called extractives. And, as a matter of fact, on the durability scale, western red cedar is defined as a durable (15-25 years) to highly durable (25+ years) product. In other words, selecting western red cedar for your deck can guarantee a durable product for at least 15 years.
Environmentally-Friendly: Western red cedar is listed as a 'least concern' wood because the material does not contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment. In other words, cedar is a green product.
Stability: Western red cedar wood is a structurally sound and stable material. For instance, when water enters and leaves any wood species, that process of expelling liquid makes the wood prone to checking. But cedar is a porous wood that expands and contracts with the humidity in the air, so the wood will always adjust to, or favor, equilibrium. The term for this property is hygroscopic and western red cedar has this characteristic. But, what does that mean for a deck? It means that deck boards made from western red cedar have a low probability for twisting or warping over the life of the deck.
What are the Cons of Western Red Cedar?
Cost: Granted, the cost of a cedar deck is about twice the cost of a pressure treated deck, but it is about half the cost of a composite deck; so, cedar can be a great upgrade to a pressure treated deck, but you can expect to spend between $25-$30 per square foot for the deck.
Maintenance: Cedar is a beautiful wood but it requires the most maintenance. Every year, you must winterize the deck (prior to winter), which includes softly power washing the deck, sanding rough spots, staining, and sealing the deck. This is a time-consuming process that is necessary to properly maintain the deck; so, expect to use one or two weekends in the Fall to complete the maintenance.
Fragile: Natural cedar can be dinged, dented, and scraped easier than other decking material. There's a scale that determines the hardness of wood and it is called the Janka Hardness test. It tests the hardness by measuring the force required to insert a steel ball halfway into the wood. The scale ranges from 22 to over 5,000 (from soft to hard). Cedar measures on the soft-side at 350, which means the wood can easily obtain dents, dings, and scrapes.
Overall, western red cedar is a great choice to use for a new deck. In fact, cedar can be used for the substructure as well, making a beautiful deck from bottom to top, literally. It's an option that is more stable and less harmful to the environment than pressure treated wood. And, it's an option that is more cost-effective and more natural than composite material. Therefore, if you are wanting real wood without all of the chemicals, western red cedar is the perfect choice for you.