When choosing wood for outdoor construction, the battle always comes down to cedar and pressure-treated wood. They are both durable materials and can withstand harsh environmental conditions, making them last longer than other types of lumber.
Because of their functional similarity, choosing between these two kinds of lumber can be pretty challenging. Therefore, in this article, I compare Cedar Vs. Pressure-treated wood to help you choose the right one for your project.
Cedar ranks higher than pressure-treated wood when it comes to durability. It naturally resists moisture and insects; therefore, it doesn’t warp or develop rot quickly. It also needs less maintenance and is more eco-friendly because it has no chemicals.
On the other hand, pressure-treated wood has chemicals that repel insects and keep the wood from rotting. However, the treatment also leaves the wood vulnerable to moisture; therefore, you need to seal it frequently to keep water out. The treatment chemicals also leave the wood with a greenish-copper tint which is not as beautiful as the natural reddish hue of cedar.
Table of Contents
What Is Cedar?
Cedar is a softwood commonly used to make decks, furniture, fences, and other woodwork projects. Even though we classify it as “softwood,” cedar is highly durable and naturally resistant to moisture and rot. It also releases a chemical called “Thujone” that repels insects that eat through wood, messing with its physical strength.
This wood also has a smooth texture and tightly packed wood grain, making it dimensionally stable. This means that cedar can resist warping, splitting, and bending even with changes in its moisture content. It also produces a beautiful, distinctive scent, making it a favorite ingredient in essential oils, creams, and lotions.
There are several kinds of cedar trees in different sizes, forms, and colors; therefore, the lumbers cut from those trees also have differing properties. You must be able to identify the unique physical attributes of each wood to know which one will work best for your project. So let’s discuss the different kinds of cedar wood.
Types of Cedar Wood
Here are some of the types of cedar wood:
Terms to Know
Heartwood – the dense wood near the tree trunk’s center
Sapwood – the outer part of the tree trunk before you reach the bark.
Western Red Cedar Wood
The western red cedar has reddish-brown tones in its heartwood and creamy-white sapwood. It has low fiber density and is lightweight, making it easy to use with hand or power tools.
The western red cedar tree can grow as tall as 200 ft with a 10 ft wide trunk, producing large building boards. Therefore, it is a favorite for building large outdoor constructions such as decks, shingles, and pergolas.
Eastern Red Cedar Wood
The eastern red cedar is also known as the “aromatic cedar” because it produces the strongest woody smell of all the other kinds of cedarwood. Its heartwood appears reddish-violet tinted with a little brown, while its sapwood is pale yellow.
It also has refined, tightly packed wood grains that give it high stability, allowing you to work effortlessly with both hand and power tools.
Woodworkers use this wood mainly for making boat trims, closet linings, birdhouses, and other outdoor furniture. On the downside, the eastern red cedar has some knots; therefore, it isn’t as smooth as the western red cedar.
Moreover, it produces too much dust that can cause rashes and respiratory problems; therefore, always wear coveralls, gloves, and a respirator mask when handling it.
Northern White Cedar
Northern white cedar has light brown/tan heartwood and creamy white sapwood. It also has numerous small knots, making it appear less smooth than other light-colored cedars.
This type of wood is lightweight and much softer than the other cedars on this list; therefore, it is easy to shape with hand and power tools. However, its softness doesn’t allow it to hold screws firmly like its competitors. For that reason, the best fastening method for this wood type is mainly glue.
Yellow Cedar/Alaskan Cedar
Lumber from the yellow cedar appears yellow because both its heartwood and sapwood have varying shades of creamy-yellow. They merge seamlessly with each other, so it’s a little challenging to differentiate them.
This wood type is lightweight, but it is harder and denser than the other cedars. Therefore, it is a favorite for building light and durable decks, canoe paddles, railings, and interior paneling. It is also popular for making instruments such as guitars and violins.
Pros of Cedar
Some of the advantages that you get with cedar include:
Naturally Resistant to Rot and Decay
Cedar has unique chemical properties that repel insects that eat through the wood; hence, it can survive outdoors without treatment. You can seal it to maintain color or leave it bare if appearance doesn’t matter to your project.
It Doesn’t Warp Easily
Cedar has low-density fibers, making it flexible enough to expand and contract when the temperature changes. Its chemical makeup also makes it naturally weather-resistant – meaning moisture won’t penetrate the wood and cause it to swell and warp out of shape.
It Doesn’t Need Staining
Cedar has beautiful colors which stand out; therefore, there is no need to ruin the natural color with stain. The wood also produces a great smell which would go away immediately you apply a finish.
It Is Environmentally Friendly
Cedar is safe for the environment because it does not have chemical preservatives. It also has natural properties that protect it against rot, insects, temperature, and moisture damage. Therefore, you don’t need to apply any finishing coatings, which could potentially harm the environment.
Cons of Cedar
- It Fades and Weakens Over Time
When constantly exposed to harsh conditions, cedar loses moisture and the chemicals properties that make it weather-resistant. Eventually, the wood discolors and becomes prone to cracks. You will have to apply sealers to the wood every two years to maintain the wood’s properties.
- It Scratches Easily
Cedarwood is soft; therefore, it is easy to dent or scratch even with minimum force. You can apply a clear coat to protect the wood; however, the finish will take away the wood’s scent.
What Is Pressure Treated Wood?
Pressure-treated wood is lumber infused with preservatives that make it less susceptible to rot, water damage, mold, and pest infestation. During treatment, manufacturers place the wood in a pressurized holding tank which removes air between the wood fibers, replacing it with a chemical preservative. These treatments make pressure treated wood ideal for outdoor constructions like decks and fences.
Treated wood mostly looks green because of the standard copper component in wood preservatives. However, the color fades off slowly with constant exposure to the sun, causing the wood to have a silver-grey hue.
The amount of chemicals used to treat the wood directly influences the wood’s ability to withstand harsh conditions. Furthermore, it helps put pressure-treated wood into different categories to help you determine the best possible applications for the wood. Below is an in-depth look into all the different varieties of pressure-treated lumber.
Types of Pressure Treated Wood
Ground Contact Treated Wood
This variety has a higher concentration of preservatives; therefore, it is durable and can resist every element in soil that is likely to cause rot and decay. It is best for projects that involve wood being in contact with the ground. For instance, you can use ground-contact wood for making garden boxes or putting up structural posts and foundations.
Above Ground Treated Wood
These treated woods have the lowest amount of preservatives in them. They are less resistant to harsh elements like UV and won’t survive long when in direct contact with soil.
When using above-ground treated wood, you must ensure that the wood is at least six inches off the ground. Therefore, these types of wood are best for building deck rails, fence pickets, and beams.
Pros of Pressure Treated Wood
- Highly Resistant to Insects
The chemicals in treated wood repel insects like termites that eat the wood and prevent fungal decay. Therefore, they can last up to 40 years.
This type of wood is cheaper than most outdoor-grade wood such as cedar. It is not the cheapest, but it passes the affordability mark.
Cons of Pressure Treated Wood
- It contains harmful chemicals.
The copper and ammonia compounds used in the wood preservatives are dangerous to inhale or ingest. Therefore, it limits you to building your structures outdoors away from pets and children. You must also wear protective gear when handling treated wood to prevent exposing yourself to the chemicals.
- It warps and shrinks easily
During treatment, machines infuse the preservatives in wood in liquid form. Therefore, when the lumber leaves the treatment plant, it is still wet. As it dries out, it will either shrink a little or warp.
Things to Consider When Choosing Between Cedar and Pressure Treated Wood.
We consider several factors when scouting for building materials, especially wood. You’ll choose wood with a beautiful color and grain pattern if you intend to maintain the wood’s natural look for your piece.
On the other hand, you will need stronger wood when constructing structures that need to remain standing for years. We need structures like decks and fences to be durable; therefore, it is more logical to consider material strength than appearance.
Cedar and pressure-treated wood are both durable wood types ideal for outdoor applications. However, they each have unique properties that make them suitable for some projects more than others. The following is a list of things you should consider when you can’t decide between choosing cedar or pressure-treated wood for your project.
When it comes to appearance, cedar beats pressure-treated wood by far. It has a natural pinkish-red color that is unique. Additionally, it has a tight and even wood grain structure, making it the most attractive choice.
On the other hand, the treatment process of pressure treated wood dulls its natural look. The chemicals infused during treatment give it a greenish-copper tint, which is very different from wood’s natural brown.
It also has a wider grain structure; therefore, it won’t look as attractive as cedar and isn’t the best choice when going natural.
Cedar has the natural ability to resist harsh weather conditions, making it durable in all sorts of environments. It is also highly flexible and will expand and contract according to temperature changes. Consequently, it won’t crack or chip easily.
On the other hand, the preservatives used in pressure-treated wood make it insect and rot-resistant, just like cedar. However, treated wood is prone to cracking, splitting, and water damage.
During treatment, machines in the pressurized tank make microscopic incisions in the wood to ensure that the chemicals go deep. These holes do not close up after the process; therefore, the wood can absorb moisture.
The incisions are also the foundation of cracks in poorly maintained treated lumber. So, you must protect pressure-treated wood further by sealing it to keep the harmful elements away.
One of the primary disadvantages of cedar is that it is soft – even softer than most woods in its category. On the other hand, pressure-treated wood comes from various wood species, most of which are denser than cedar. Therefore, treated wood comes above cedar in terms of strength most of the time.
Even though the softness of cedar is a setback when you require structural strength, it comes in handy in other aspects. For example, cedar is easier to cut and manipulate. Its softness makes it lightweight, allowing you to transport it easier than pressure-treated wood.
The excellent qualities of cedar come at a cost. Even though it is cheaper than tropical hardwoods like teak, it still costs more than pressure-treated wood.
The cost of cedar varies from one region to another; therefore, the cost margins might be lower in some locations. For instance, cedar is cheaper in the areas where it grows. Whatever the case, it is still more expensive than pressure-treated wood.
Installing cedar is pretty straightforward. It accepts standard outdoor wood fasteners, and you do not need any special gear to handle it.
On the other hand, the chemicals in pressure-treated lumber can corrode standard wood screws; therefore, you need to work with special vinyl-coated fasteners. You must wear protective gear like gloves, safety goggles, and a face mask when handling pressure-treated wood. And you must also treat the cut ends of the lumber to prevent it from rotting.
Cedar is easier to maintain because it requires minimal regular cleaning to look great. You can also apply a protective topcoat once in a while to prevent it from losing color and boost durability.
Pressure-treated wood lacks the weather-resisting capabilities of cedar; therefore, you must clean, stain, and seal it regularly to keep it in good condition. You may have to reapply the protective coats yearly or every two years to make the wood last longer.
What Are the Best Uses for Cedar and Pressure Treated Wood?
Cedar and pressure treated wood are versatile and can be used for many purposes, some of the most suitable uses of these woods are:
We often use pressure-treated wood for fencing more than cedar because it requires ground contact. These fences can last decades without rotting, provided you use poles treated explicitly for ground contact.
Cedar can work for fences too, but not always. When you cut lumber dimensionally, you mostly end up with sapwood which is the part in cedar least resistant to pests and rot. Therefore, cedar poles will rot quickly when in constant contact with soil. You can use cedar as long as you keep the poles raised.
Cedar is the best choice if you’re making furniture. It has a beautiful appearance and is easy to maintain with little sealing every few years. Furthermore, cedar is lightweight, which means the furniture you make will be easy to handle. This trait also makes it easy to manipulate into different shapes and designs you want for your pieces.
I do not recommend using Pressure treated wood to make furniture because the preservative chemicals irritate the skin. They are also poisonous therefore making this application a non-option.
Cedar is the best choice for building a sauna because it can withstand the extremely high moisture and temperatures in saunas.
On the other hand, treated wood is an absolute no for building saunas. When you expose the preservative chemicals in the wood to the extreme condition of saunas, they create severely toxic compounds
Both pressure-treated wood and cedar make excellent decking materials. You can choose one according to your budget or your specific deck needs – either way, they are both excellent materials.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Some of the most asked questions on the subject of discussion are:
What Lasts Longer, Cedar or Pressure Treated Fence Posts?
Pressure treated fence posts will last longer than cedar posts. Even though cedar is more durable than treated wood, it decays faster when it stays in the ground for a long time. On the other hand, the chemicals in treated wood fend off insects and fungi for much longer; hence it lasts longer.
How Long Does Pressure Treated Wood Last?
Well-maintained treated wood can stay up to 40 years without rotting. However, the wood used in high traffic areas such as decks or flooring can only last up to 10 years. It could go up to 15 years if you repair cracked boards and seal the decks and floors every few years.
Does Cedar Need to be Treated?
No. cedar is naturally resistant to bugs, moisture, and rot. But you can apply a protective finish to maintain its color and prolong its lifespan.
Cedar and pressure-treated wood are the most commonly used building materials for decks, siding, and outdoor furniture. They are durable and can resist rot, fungi, and pests for decades.
All these qualities make them excellent exterior building materials; however, they also make it more challenging to choose which one’s the absolute best for your particular project.
Cedar Vs Pressure Treated Wood
Cedar is naturally resistant to insects and rot, and it decently withstands terrible weather for years. It can also withstand fluctuating temperatures without cracking because of its flexibility. However, this wood does not work well in ground contact applications and does poorly in areas with poor ventilation.
On the other hand, pressure-treated wood contains preservatives that fend off insects and keep the wood from rotting. However, you must stain and seal it regularly to keep off moisture and maintain its strength.