When is it Better to Use Untreated Lumber?

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Home renovation projects require the selection of appropriate materials. If wood is part of your project, you have to choose between treated and untreated lumber. Untreated lumber is less expensive than treated lumber and free from harmful chemicals. However, the use of treated lumber may be necessary for certain projects like playground sets or garden beds. The treatment process for lumber involved the use of dangerous chemicals like creosote, pentachlorophenol (PCP), and chromated copper arsenate (CCA). These chemicals are hazardous and can cause different types of cancer and even death. The most common type of treated lumber in the United States was CCA treated lumber, which contains arsenic, a known carcinogen. New techniques for treating lumber are safer but still require precautionary measures like wearing masks and protective clothing. It is important not to let treated wood come in contact with drinking water. If you want to avoid health risks, it is better to use untreated lumber. Untreated lumber is ideal for building playground equipment, lawn furniture, benches, raised garden beds, flowerpots, and making mulch. Using untreated lumber is also cheaper than using treated lumber.

When dealing with untreated wood, it is not necessary to take measures to protect your skin. However, it is recommended to wear a mask to prevent inhaling sawdust. Treated wood, on the other hand, requires adequate protection such as long pants, long sleeves, and eye goggles to ensure safety. After handling treated lumber, it is important to thoroughly clean any sawdust from your clothing and avoid breathing in any sawdust particles. A dust mask or facemask is a minimum requirement while working with treated lumber, and a respirator is even better if available.

Despite the health hazards associated with treated lumber, it has its advantages. Treated wood is designed to resist natural aging and can last much longer than untreated wood. It is also resistant to insects such as termites and can be made fire retardant. However, treated lumber should not be used where untreated lumber is sufficient.

If you decide to use treated lumber, it is important to match its treatment level with its intended use. Lumber that is in contact with the ground requires a higher treatment level than lumber that is not. It is also safe to use treated lumber if it is not exposed and in instances where it does not touch the ground.

When using wood, it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both treated and untreated lumber before making a purchase. In China, people use 45 billion pairs of chopsticks every year, which translates to about 25 million trees being cut down annually.

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Sources of Information

  • Austin, Gene. “Precautions still apply to treated wood.” HighBeam Research. The Record (Bergen Country, NJ). May 13, 2004. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-94521888.html
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Arsenic in Drinking Water.” (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic/index.html
  • Gegner, Lance E. “Organic Alternatives to Treated Lumber.” ATTRA. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/lumber.html#intro
  • Houlihan, Jane and Richard Wiles. “Poisoned Playgrounds: Arsenic in Pressure-treated Wood.” Environmental Working Group. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.ewg.org/reports/poisonedplaygrounds
  • McCabe, John and David Wolfe. “Sunfood Living.” Google Books. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=wMSOfOuoaXgC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=how+much+lumber+is+sold+around+the+world+every+year%3F&source=bl&ots=2yC8P2AgbP&sig=Faeg6D2dRAPKmYZa2CYJbvmANUQ&hl=en&ei=E2GjSYi5LYr2sAPa8sypAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result
  • McClintock, Mike. “Pressure-Treated Lumber: The Debate Continues.” HighBeam Research. The Washington Post. Feb. 7, 2002. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-323620.html
  • Morrison, Daniel S. “The New Pressure-Treated Wood.” Fine Home Building. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/how-to/articles/new-pressure-treated-wood-decks.aspx
  • Natural Handy Man. “Pressure-Treated Wood – Its Uses, Limitations and Safety Considerations.” (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.naturalhandyman.com/iip/infxtra/infpre.html
  • Viance. “How long will treated wood last?” (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.viance.net/main/faqs.php#2
  • Williams, Rose Marie. “Hazards of pressure treated wood. (Health Risks and Environmental Issues.” HighBeam Research. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. Aug. 1, 2003. (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-107201207.html
  • WiseGeek. “What is Treated Lumber?” (Accessed 02/22/2009)http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-treated-lumber.htm


1. What is untreated lumber?

Untreated lumber is wood that has not been treated with any chemicals or preservatives to protect it from decay, insects, or other environmental factors.

2. When should I use untreated lumber?

Untreated lumber can be used in situations where it will not be exposed to moisture or insects, and where it will not be in contact with the ground. For example, untreated lumber can be used for interior framing, trim, and furniture.

3. What are the benefits of using untreated lumber?

The main benefit of using untreated lumber is that it is more environmentally friendly than treated lumber, as it does not contain any harmful chemicals. Additionally, untreated lumber can be easier to work with and can have a more natural appearance.

4. What are the downsides of using untreated lumber?

The main downside of using untreated lumber is that it is not as durable as treated lumber, and is more susceptible to decay, insects, and other environmental factors. Untreated lumber may also require more maintenance to keep it looking good.

5. Can untreated lumber be used outdoors?

Untreated lumber can be used outdoors in certain situations, such as for fencing or decking, but it should be used with caution. It is important to choose a type of wood that is naturally resistant to decay and insects, such as cedar or redwood, and to keep the wood well-maintained to prevent decay and deterioration.

6. What types of projects are best suited for untreated lumber?

Untreated lumber is best suited for projects where it will not be exposed to moisture or insects, and where it will not be in contact with the ground. Some examples of projects that can be made with untreated lumber include interior framing, trim, and furniture, as well as decorative accents and crafts.

7. How can I protect untreated lumber?

To protect untreated lumber, it is important to keep it dry and well-maintained. This can be done by painting or staining the wood, or by applying a natural oil or sealer. It is also important to keep the wood off the ground and away from moisture, and to use wood that is naturally resistant to decay and insects.

8. Is untreated lumber more expensive than treated lumber?

Untreated lumber is generally less expensive than treated lumber, as it does not require the same level of processing and treatment. However, the cost of untreated lumber may vary depending on the type of wood and the supplier.

9. Can untreated lumber be used for structural framing?

Untreated lumber can be used for interior framing, but is generally not recommended for structural framing in areas where it will be exposed to moisture or insects. Treated lumber is typically required for structural framing in these situations.

10. How long will untreated lumber last?

The lifespan of untreated lumber will vary depending on the type of wood and the environment in which it is used. In general, untreated lumber can last for several years if it is kept dry and well-maintained, but it will not last as long as treated lumber.

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