Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green: Decks, Patios, and Porches

Outdoor living areas are one of the greenest additions you can make when it comes to remodeling your home. After all, what's greener than creating a space that allows you to spend more time outdoors appreciating and enjoying nature? Furthermore, from a green remodeling standpoint, outdoor living areas are prime candidates for green building practices, especially if low maintenance, long lasting, healthier, and more environmentally friendly decks, patios, and porches sound like a good choice for you and your home.

The Cost of Green Decks, Patios, and Porches
When it comes to decks, patios, and porches, going green is probably going to end up being more expensive than if you choose a more conventional route. Unlike other green remodeling projects like home additions or kitchen remodels, you won't benefit from higher energy efficiency and reduced energy costs by greening a deck or patio. That doesn't mean that green outdoor living spaces can't save you money, however. Composite decking composed of recycled materials, for example, never needs to be sealed, treated, or painted like wood decking, which will save you money in the long run since it lasts several times longer than wood. Installing energy saving features like LED lighting, motion sensors, and timers can help reduce energy consumption, and you can make the case that you'll save money by avoiding irresponsibly harvested, and high priced, luxury decking materials such as ipe, a tropical hardwood. In the end, however, the true value of going green with these outdoor additions is best assessed by looking beyond the bottom line.

The True Value of Green Outdoor Living Additions
David Johnston is the founder of the green building consulting firm What's Working, Inc., author of Green From the Ground Up and the Nautilus Book Award winning Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, and he is also ServiceMagic's most trusted authority on all things green in the home improvement sector. He's also a torchbearer of the idea that the value of going green extends far beyond dollars and cents. By utilizing green building materials, green design philosophies, and environmentally friendly building practices, decks, patios, and porches can be more comfortable and enjoyable than traditionally built structures. They can also be healthier for your family, require less maintenance, longer lasting, and better for the environment as a whole. That being said, it's easy to see how factoring in the value of things like comfort and satisfaction, your time, and passing a better world onto your kids and grandchildren adds up to an outdoor living space that makes it easy to justify spending a little extra on your project.

David Johnston's Tips on Greener Outdoor Living Additions
If you think that going green is right for your upcoming deck, patio, or porch installation, you're in the right place. Here's a list of suggestions drawn from Johnston's own green remodeling wisdom to help you create the greenest outdoor living space possible.

Green Solutions for More Comfortable, Lower Maintenance, Decks, Patios, and Porches
One of the main goals of green remodeling is creating durable, comfortable, low-maintenance decks, patios, and porches that are environmentally responsible at the same time. Here are some specifics to focus on as you plan and design your new deck or patio addition.

  • Use composite recycled wood and plastic for decking materials. Composite decking materials last longer than wood decking, require little or no maintenance, and are flexible, allowing homeowners to create innovative deck designs that are not an option with wood decking.

  • Build with wood that is naturally resistant to moisture, sunlight, insects, and rot. Redwood and cedar top the list of ideal natural wood decking, though there are alternatives on the market. No matter what species you settle on, insist on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, so you know that it's been harvested in a responsible manner.

  • Avoid pressure treated lumber. Pressure treated lumber might save you money initially, but it has a shorter lifespan than redwood and cedar, won't look nearly as good when finished, and it can have toxic additives (see below).

  • Build a brick, stone, or ceramic tile patio instead of a deck or porch. Not only are patios more environmentally friendly than decks and porches, but brick, stone, and ceramic tile patios have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance than wood decks and porches.

  • Build south facing decks, patios, and porches. South facing outdoor living areas receive direct sun exposure 12 months a year, which makes them more comfortable and usable year round. They also heat up quicker in the winter months, facilitating snow melt, so you'll spend less time shoveling it off your deck.

  • Take advantage of natural shading provided by deciduous trees and shrubbery, and incorporate existing trees into your overall deck design. Deciduous trees and shrubbery provide natural shade during spring and summer, making your deck, porch, or patio a more pleasant place to pass the time. Building around existing trees adds character and originality to your deck design and eliminates the need to remove such a valuable part of your landscaping.

  • Make sure the grade slopes away from the home when your project is finished. Doing so ensures that water will run away from your foundation instead of toward it, the latter of which can result in moisture problems in your basement, as well as foundation problems and failure over time.

Tips for an Environmentally Responsible Green Deck, Porch, or Patio
The other side to green remodeling and outdoor living spaces is creating a deck, patio, or porch that is as good for the environment as it is for you. Don't underestimate the positive environmental impact you can achieve by going green on these projects, either. Decks and porches traditionally use high volumes of irresponsibly harvested, old growth wood species like redwood and cedar that are often clear-cut killing the forests they lived in. Choosing more environmentally friendly options not only reduces demand for these valuable natural resources, it also sends a message to builders, suppliers, and the lumber industry that responsible resource management and alternative building materials are as beneficial to good business as they are to a healthier environment. Here's a list of environmentally beneficial choices you can make as you plan and design your new deck, patio, or porch.

  • Use composite recycled wood and plastic or decking materials that include recycled, rather than virgin plastic, content. Ever wonder where all those plastic supermarket bags go when they're recycled? If you choose plastic or composite decking that includes recycled content, you'll find the answer right under your feet.

  • Use only Forest Service Council (FSC) certified wood. Purchasing FSC-certified wood ensures that the wood used to build your deck or porch has been harvested in a sustainable and responsible manner.

  • Avoid old growth and rainforest wood species, especially those commonly associated with irresponsible harvesting practices. Alaskan cedar, western red cedar, Douglas fir, and ipe are all wood species to avoid unless they're FSC-certified.

  • Use pressure treated lumber using ACQ treatment. Pressure treated lumber in the past contained arsenic, heavy metals, and other toxic additives that can leach into the surrounding environment. CCA (chromated copper arsenic) treated wood is particularly bad, and is actually considered a hazardous waste material by the EPA. Why? A single tablespoon of the ash of CCA treated lumber contains enough toxins to kill a full-grown cow! New pressure treated wood is much safer and healthier for children playing on the deck.

  • Brick and stone patios are better for the environment than decks or porches. Considering the lumber industry's record when it comes to environmental irresponsibility, reducing the demand placed on forests for lumber is an environmentally friendly choice.

  • Use indigenous stone from local quarries. Doing so reduces the amount of labor, time, and fossil fuels required to deliver the stone to your job site. You'll save on material and labor costs as a result, and it's better for the environment by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

  • Use drip irrigation in all new landscaping associated with your deck remodel and plant native species. Both help to reduce water consumption.

  • Plant deciduous trees to provide shade for your outdoor living space and to reduce summer heat gain inside your home. Strategically locating deciduous trees and shrubbery for providing natural shade is an excellent green solution for achieving more comfortable decks and cooler homes.

  • Save existing shrubbery and other plants for re-planting. Why waste money, time, and other resources on new landscaping plants when you can simply reuse the ones you already have? That goes double for trees. Build around them rather than robbing the world, and your yard, of such a valuable natural resource.

Choosing the Right Shade of Green for Your Deck, Patio, or Porch
The scope of green remodeling can feel a little overwhelming to some homeowners, probably because the greenest deck, porch, or patio is one that incorporates green philosophies and design into every aspect of the project—a practice that Johnston refers to as "whole systems building". Don't let that scare you away from committing to green remodeling on smaller scale, however. Whether you adopt a few green design features to achieve a more comfortable deck, focus on creating greener landscaping after the deck is completed, or purchase a more environmentally friendly decking material without adopting other green remodeling ideas, the truth is that any step toward green is a step in the right direction for you, your new outdoor addition, and the environment as a whole.

If you think green is the right choice for you, be sure to talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the perfect, and greenest, outdoor living addition for your home.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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