El fresco dining and entertaining are definitely “à la mode”, and outdoor rooms are becoming an increasingly popular feature, particularly to Australian homes. The indoors have been brought outdoors, and an increasing amount of consumers are investigating hard surfaces for their yards. An outdoor deck means less garden space and garden maintenance, but also more sweeping, washing down, and treatment coating to protect against the elements. If you’re considering a redesign of your backyard and installing decking, there are quite a few sustainability aspects to consider. The pitfalls of buying timber that is sourced illegally from valued rainforest habitats — both local or overseas — should be obvious to most of us. So what can you use to responsibly create the outdoor area of your home? There are a range of sustainable products available on the market in Australia.
Timber grows slowly, but can still be considered the most sustainable of all the building materials, because it takes virtually no carbon emissions to cultivate and produce the final product. During a tree’s maturation period, carbon sequestration is occurring, which definitely compensates for the carbon emitted in any flooring and decking process. Apart from kiln drying, there are virtually no inputs. Since the timber can be sourced locally, this reduces the mileage of the product.
2. Moso bamboo from southern China or Vietnam One benefit of bamboo is that it is a grass, meaning it grows much faster than timber and can be applied all around the home, for example for bread boards, furniture, food and even flooring. The trouble with bamboo flooring is that it requires a range of inputs throughout its life cycle, such as the application of fertilisers, pesticides, glue and heat treatment. There is also the cost factor of transporting bamboo to its desired destination, another environmental consideration.
3. Recycled timber and composite timber
This may or may not suit the customer’s aesthetic needs or their hip pocket. If possible, the most sustainable option is to go for a locally grown timber, known to be sourced from a soundly managed plantation. It’s best to avoid timbers with any form of lumber that’s sourced from old growth or protected rainforests. For example, a timber you should avoid using is Merbau, also known as Kwila or Taal. Merbau is a rainforest timber grown in many countries including Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and because of its affordability, is a popular choice for decking. The reason for this relative cost difference is that Merbau is usually (more often than not) imported illegally and often comes from a disputable supplier source. Also, since its sources from rainforests, there isn’t the usual cost involved in operating a plantation.
There is also always the option of down-sizing the decking to compensate for these relative sustainability elements of the product and its inherent costs. With any landscape design, the “hardscapes” (decking, retaining walls, fences, paving) will be a lot more expensive than the “softscapes” (mulch, plants, soil). This is one reason why it’s more economically–and environmentally–sustainable to include more area for trees, plants and soft surfaces. Ultimately, you’ll want to accomplish an outdoor design that it both aesthetically pleasing and in harmony with nature and your habitat.