We have a small lanai off of our master bedroom. There is a nice wooden pergola above it, and in the process of adding hurricane clips to secure the wood to the main rafters, we discovered that some of the rafter beams were rotted and needed to be replaced.
As we have discovered with home ownership ... one thing invariably leads to another. In order to prop up the beam during the replacement, we would need to prop up support equipment and joists at the lanai level, and because the lanai is not very durable and also rotting, we now need to replace the wood deck. Currently, it seems like you could step on it with a heavy boot and fall through.
Ugh, so what deck material to choose?
We had been offered several choices and all of them seem to have pluses, minuses, and after days of researching this I feel like I am choosing between the lesser of many evils.
FYI, I did look into Reuse Hawaii but all they had available was some low grade lumber (not good for decking). I also looked into bamboo but apparently there can be some rot problems during the rainy season.
Ultimately, are the two choices offered to us by our carpenter:
Composite decking, like Trex:
Forest Stewardship Council certified sustainable wood (more on that) like Ipe
Here are the problems I have encountered:
We live in Hawaii, so building materials have to be shipped here. We need to factor in the carbon footprint of shipping in any sort of eco-friendly wood. There are also materials that exist already on the island: namely, the Ipe wood and the Trex composite.
With the composite woods like Trex, any sawing or cutting will release the composite plastic bits into the wind and then into the ocean (unless we capture it all which seems unrealistic). However, the Trex people say their material lasts up to 40 or 50 years. There is no priming, painting, toxic sealants that need to be placed on this decking material: you just install and clean it off periodically. And, if we need to replace the material in 50 or so years the company claims to reclaim the material and recycle it back into new produce. But, what if they are not around? Then I have just put a deck's worth of composite plastic into the waste stream.
Ipe wood is a natural product from Belize and Central America that is as hard as stone. It works great in the tropics, and many people use it for decks -- it seems to last a long time and with regular maintenance stays looking and feeling nice! It is supposed to be "sustainably sourced". But how can I be sure that it has been really truly sustainably farmed, AND, how do I feel about cutting down rare rainforest wood? I looked into Ipe wood in detail. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies that wood is "sustainable", however their have been complaints that the FSC has certified old growth rainforest as "sustainable" wood.
As I dug deeper, I found that Ipe has fallen out of favor with environmental groups as well. I guess it is too hard to certify that what is sustainable is actually sustainable. Finally, I read this article in Architecture Magazine that put the nail in the coffin. The author went to Belize to trace the route of Ipe wood, and he found questionable practices.
Finally, I was talking to the kids and my youngest said, "if we use the rainforest wood, what happens if a bird or squirrel is in the tree when they cut it down?"
I shed a little tear, and we decided on the Trex composite.
In the end, there seemed to be very little waste. The footprint of the lanai is small, so we didn't have to buy a lot. We even had 1 extra board which our carpenter actually returned to the wood store. It looks and feels great, and I think it will last.