Tools & Materials
What You Need To Know About Treated Lumber
What is treated wood?
There are basically two types of treated wood: preservative-treated wood and pressure-preservative-treated wood. Both types are treated with chemical compounds. These chemicals don’t make the wood water resistant, but they do reduce the wood’s susceptibility to deterioration caused by fungi (rot). Wood treatment chemicals also make the wood less appealing to potentially destructive insects.
How is wood pressure-treated wood made?
Pressure-preservative-treated wood is impregnated with chemicals while under pressure. During the application of the pressure-preservative application, the untreated lumber is placed in a large horizontal treating cylinder. The door is sealed, and a vacuum is applied to remove most of the air from the cylinder, emptying the wood cells in the process. The preservative solution is then pumped into the cylinder, and the created pressure forces the preservative solution in the wood cells.
Most treated wood is pressure-treated, but wood can also be surface coated. Surface coated means that the application of the preservative chemical is introduced by dipping, brushing or spraying the wood without being exposed to pressure. This is common when it’s necessary to treat the lumber or building components after they are installed.
Why does treated wood always seem wet?
Unlike most lumber, which is dried in a kiln, most treated wood is not dried after treatment. There are exceptions such as Foundation Grade lumber and plywood, which needs to be dried to a moisture content of no more than 19 percent for lumber and 15 percent for plywood. This is referred to as Kiln Dried After Treatment (KDAT).
Can I make my own wood treatment chemicals?
No! The American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC) Treated Wood Program, operating under the Board of Review, currently has accredited independent third-party agencies in the United States and Canada that regulate this industry. Monitoring of treating plant production takes place under standards written and maintained by the American Wood Protection Association (AWPA) and ALSC policies. In addition to that, all treated wood chemicals are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as pesticides, and all pesticides sold or distributed in the United States must be registered by EPA. With all of that regulation it’s unlikely your local building official will accept “home-made” treated lumber.
Who makes the rules?
The American Wood Protection Association (AWPA) is responsible for promulgating voluntary wood preservation standards. AWPA standards are referenced in both the International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Building Code (IBC). The Use Category System (UCS) designates what preservative systems and retentions have been determined to be effective in protecting wood products under specified exposure conditions. All wood products can be placed into one of five major Use Categories that clearly describe the exposure conditions that specified wood products can be subjected to in service. These are further broken down into sub-categories to define the associated degree of biodegradation hazard and product service life expectations. Below is a brief chart showing some of the usage sub-categories and their intended use:
What kind of treated wood should I use?
There are probably many builders out there who remember the percentage of Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) based on if a deck post was above ground or intended for ground contact or the level of treatment for the exposed deck joists. The advantage of this new Use Category System is that it virtually eliminates the need to try and remember which chemical treatments are intended for which specific use. Now, with a few saltwater exceptions, all you have to know is whether the wood is intended for above ground or ground contact.
How can I tell one treated lumber from another?
All treated lumber which should be clearly stated on the end-tag of the material.
Is there arsenic in treated lumber?
Yes there is, but not as much as there used to be. For many decades the most common preservatives used in the residential construction industry have been, Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ), Copper Dimethyldithiocarbamate (CDDC), Ammoniacal Copper Citrate (CC), Copper Azole (CBA-A and CBA-B), and inorganic Boron (borates), and Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA). And YES, Arsenate is a type of arsenic and is considered poisonous when in high enough quantities.
In the early 2000’s public concerns arose about arsenic-contamination in public children’s playgrounds which led to larger concerns about the overall safety of CCA treated wood. In 2003, the EPA arranged a voluntary agreement with manufactures of wood treatment chemicals to remove lumber treated with CCA from most residential construction uses. Chromated Copper Arsenate treated wood may still be used for permanent wood foundations, highway construction, fence posts, poles used as structural members on farms, marine construction, and lumber and timber for salt water use.
Do I need special fasteners when working with treated wood?
Yes, fasteners such as nails, screws, and bolts used on treated wood needs to be hot-dipped zinc-coated galvanized steel, stainless steel, silicon bronze or copper. Check the label on the fasteners
The IRC contains an exception for ½-in. diameter, or larger, steel anchor bolts. In other words, a 5/8-in. anchor bolt for a foundation sill can be untreated carbon steel.