When it comes to outdoor projects such as building a deck, the choice of woods you can use narrows down to only a handful of resilient types. Often, we always compare cedar vs pressure-treated wood due to their unique qualities.
Outdoor projects require wood that can withstand adverse weather conditions. And cedar and pressure-treated wood are some of the best choices in that regard.
Still, with these two competing alternatives to choose from—which way do you go? This write-up helps you decide by comparing pressure-treated wood vs cedar in terms of their distinguishing characteristics.
What is Cedarwood?
Cedar is a group of coniferous trees whose wood makes quality household furniture, decks, and numerous other applications. Cedar is classified as a softwood, even though the wood is highly weather-resistant and durable.
The tree has needle-like leaves and upward-facing cones that remain on the tree all year round. This is as opposed to tropical hardwoods that shed their leaves seasonally.
The cedar wood is naturally beautiful, with a distinctive aroma that appeals to various people. One other important aspect of cedar is its natural insect-repelling, rot-resisting quality.
These qualities make cedar pretty durable and useful across many areas of woodwork. In addition, it can withstand extreme weather conditions and remain resilient within external environments.
Pros of Cedar
Many woodworkers and DIYers love cedar for various reasons. Here are some of the leading reasons.
1. Rot and decay-resistant
The wood possesses special chemical properties that make it resilient against the microorganisms responsible for rot and decay.
Cedar, such as the Western red cedar and Eastern white cedar, naturally repels most bugs and insects. That is why it can be used within external environments without treatment.
Often, the wood is treated only for cosmetic purposes or to prolong its life further. But it can survive outdoors even when untreated.
Cedar is naturally resistant to regular cracking and warping due to changes in atmospheric moisture. Its low density makes it flexible enough to change with temperature and atmospheric pressure changes, keeping it from cracking.
More importantly, the wood’s chemical makeup makes it naturally weather resistant. This means water from precipitation or high humidity will not penetrate it and cause it to swell and warp.
However, outdoor weather can have its toll on untreated cedar wood over time. Exposure to direct sunlight causes the wood to lose its moisture content and chemical properties that protect it from weather elements.
The wood becomes vulnerable and subject to slight cracks and discoloration without adequate natural protection.
When this happens, you may want to refinish it if you want to prolong its service life.
3. Low maintenance
Cedar is historically known to require very little maintenance. This makes it ideal for various applications indoors and outdoors.
Since it is naturally resistant to rot and decay, you do not have to finish and refinish it from time to time to withstand weather elements.
As a result, furniture, decking, or other cedar items can survive with little maintenance regardless of their conditions.
Cons of Cedar
Before you run out and buy all the cedar lumber you can find, here are some drawbacks to consider.
Cedar may not be the most expensive wood on the market, but its price is still significantly higher than most woods.
In comparison, pressure-treated wood costs way less than cedar. So if you were to choose between cedar and pressure-treated lumber and cost is a factor, it may as easily be a deal-breaker for you.
Discolors as it ages
Cedar is naturally beautiful. Its pinkish-red color tends to stand out without necessarily requiring painting or staining. But unfortunately, the wood loses its color over time.
As it ages, cedar tends to become discolored, so you may have to apply cedar sealers to your items every two to three years to lock in the color and prevent discoloration.
What is Pressure-treated Wood?
Pressure-treated lumber is non-decay-resistant wood such as Southern yellow pine that has been infused with chemical treatment in a depressurized holding tank.
The holding tank removes excess air and replaces it with a chemical treatment comprising preservative agents and water. Pressure-treating wood helps protect it from rot, decay, and insect damage—often for use outdoors.
Woods with no natural resistance to weather elements are better suited for pressure treatment. Such woods include pine varieties such as the southern yellow variety.
The more the preservative in the wood, the more durable it becomes. So, a pressure-treated limber is only as long-lasting as the amount of chemical preservatives pumped into it during pressure treatment.
There are different types of pressure-treated wood based on the amount of preservative used in them.
Types of Pressure-treated Wood
Pressure-treated wood is designed for outdoor use. And the amount of preservative in the wood directly influences its resistance to weather elements and, eventually, its longevity. Here are the various types of pressure-treated wood you are likely to find in the market.
1. Above ground
These varieties have the lowest percentage of preservatives per square inch of wood. They are relatively less resistant to weather elements than other pressure-treated wood types.
When using above-ground pressure-treated wood outdoors, ensure they are at least 6 inches above the ground—just like the name suggests.
They should do an excellent job on deck railings, porch flooring, fence pickets, and beams.
2. Ground contact
These treated wood types are loaded with a higher concentration of protective chemicals, making them ideal for use on-ground projects.
They can withstand more moisture, rain, insects, vegetation, contact with soil, and just about anything likely to cause rot and decay. When you have a project that involves the wood being in contact with the ground, these are the best woods to use.
You can also use them in places with limited air circulation or projects within a tropical climate.
For instance, you can use ground contact lumber for putting up structural posts, foundations, garden boxes, and landscape walls.
3. Marine lumber
This is pressure-treated wood reserved for seawalls, docks, and other seaside applications. They are extremely resistant to saltwater damage and decay and will withstand any amount of water or moisture exposure.
If you have a project in an ocean environment, look specifically for pressure-treated lumber with the “marine grade” label.
The label indicates that the lumber can withstand continuous exposure to saltwater.
Pros of pressure-treated lumber
- They are highly resistant to rot and decay. In addition, the woods contain chemical compounds designed to protect them from decay, rot, and insect attack.
- It is less costly than most outdoor-grade wood. For example, pressure-treated lumber costs more than untreated wood but is less expensive than other exterior-grade wood such as cedar. Also, the wood is cost-effective in the long run since it lasts for a long time.
- The wood is insect resistant. Insects do not damage pressure-treated wood due to the chemicals in them. Instead, the chemicals act as repellents to potentially damaging insects like termites and ants.
Treated Wood Cons
- The wood contains hazardous chemicals. The copper and ammonia compounds in pressure-treated wood can be dangerous to inhale or ingest. So you often have to wear protective hand gloves, eyewear, and a mask when cutting or handling one.
- The wood is high maintenance. You must constantly maintain pressure-treated wood to get the best out of it. Decks, for instance, will require frequent staining, which can be time-consuming and costly over their lifetime.
Cedar Vs Pressure Treated Wood – Side by Side
As you can see, both cedar and pressure-treated wood have their share of pros and cons. For that reason, the best way to single out a clear winner for your purposes is to compare their individual features side by side.
Pressure-treated wood vs cedar: Color
Cedar is a genus of many wood species with beautiful colors and a similar aroma. The color can be anything from pale yellow to pink to a russet color. If untreated, cedar decking will lose its vibrant color and take on a silvery grey shade.
On the other hand, pressure-treated wood is generally copper in color. The chemicals used to preserve the wood are responsible for this color.
Like cedar, pressure-treated wood fades into a dull grey shade over time.
Both kinds of wood change color over time due to changes in their chemical compositions. The color change can be pretty quick for cedar if the wood is exposed to direct sunlight. Otherwise, it often takes time to lose its vibrancy.
Cedar wood vs treated wood: Decay resistance
One of the main strengths of cedar is its natural resistance to rot and decay. As a result, it can survive outdoors with zero treatment and resist fungi and other microorganisms responsible for rot and decay.
This natural resistance to decay is due to the wood’s chemical makeup. Its low density is a major adaptation that allows it to flex with temperature changes, allowing it to resist cracking.
With chemicals sealing its pores and its flexibility keeping it from cracking, the wood can survive for a long time outdoors without water entering it and causing it to decay. This is why cedar can last long in wet or humid environments.
Unlike cedar, inexpensive treated wood requires regular maintenance to last longer outdoors. In addition, the wood is more prone to cracking and splitting, so it can suffer more moisture damage than cedar.
Still, regular maintenance can prolong the service life of any pressure-treated wood, ensuring it lasts for decades.
Cedar or pressure treated: Appearance
Cedar has a distinctive pinkish-red colored heartwood and pale yellow sapwood. Its grain is straight, even, and narrow.
On the other hand, pressure-treated wood often has wider grain and copper color.
When they age, both wood types become grey, with their different grains structures remaining as the main distinguishing characteristic.
Cedar vs treated lumber: Smell
Most people love cedar for furniture, home improvement applications, and firewood due to its characteristic aroma. The cedar smell comes from its phenols, the chemicals that make it resistant to rot and decay.
On the other hand, pressure-treated wood lacks any specific smell. Sure, the chemicals used to treat the lumber typically carry some odor. But this is temporary and tends to wear off soon after installing the wood.
Cedar vs treated wood: Hardness & strength
One of the main disadvantages of cedar is its softness. The wood is naturally softer than most woods in its category.
While pressure-treated wood comes from various wood species, these are usually harder than cedar. So, pressure-treated wood comes above cedar nearly every time in terms of hardness and strength (tensile).
While the softness of cedar may be a disadvantage when structural strength is required, it is a major plus in some areas. For instance, cedar is generally easier to cut and work with. It is not only soft but also flexible, ensuring greater workability.
You can also transport cedar more easily than pressure-treated wood because it is comparatively lighter in weight.
Cedar or pressure treated: Durability
Cedar boasts natural weather resistance, making it extremely durable in any environment. In addition, the wood has natural chemicals that protect it from damage from moisture and insects, so it can last a long time.
It is also naturally malleable and will expand and contract with temperature changes, keeping it from cracking and warping.
The chemicals used to treat pressure-treated lumber make it nearly just as durable. Nevertheless, pressure-treated woods are prone to cracking and splitting, making the wood vulnerable to weather damage.
Often, you must seal the wood or stain it to protect it further. The treatment is crucial for helping prolong the wood’s service life. Otherwise, water can penetrate and damage the wood through rot and decay.
Cedar vs pressure treated cost
The premium qualities of cedarwood come at a cost. While cedar is less expensive than most tropical hardwoods, such as teak, it is still more expensive than pressure-treated lumber.
High-quality cedar wood, especially without cosmetic defects, is typically more expensive than pressure-treated lumber by a significant margin.
Still, these costs vary from one region to another, so the margin may be less in some locations. For example, cedar is less costly in places where it is more prevalent. Whatever the case, it costs higher than pressure-treated pine regardless of the region.
Cedar vs pressure treated posts: Lifespan
How you maintain both cedar and pressure-treated lumber will significantly influence its lifespan. The climate and how you use the wood will also play a major role in determining the lifespan of your chosen wood.
The amount of chemicals used to treat wood will also determine its lifespan. For instance, pressure-treated ground contact lumber used as poles can stay up to 40 years without showing signs of decay or rot.
When similar pressure-treated wood is used on decks and flooring, their lifespan greatly reduces to ten years. This only indicated how use influences the wood’s lifespan.
You must also apply water-repellent sealers to your pressure-treated deck annually to prolong its service life. In contrast, cedar decks and flooring can last for a minimum of 20 years if you clean them annually.
The wear and tear sustained over time will eventually cause your cedar to start showing signs of decay from water penetrating it, but this typically does not happen for at least two decades of use.
So, cedar has approximately double the lifespan of pressure-treated decks.
Pressure-treated wood vs cedar: Availability
Places such as North America have plenty of cedar deck boards compared to the Southeast.
Pressure-treated lumber is equally widely available across North America and beyond. So the two wood types can pass and are relatively at par in terms of availability.
Cedar vs treated lumber: Installation
Cedarwoods are pretty straightforward to install. It typically accepts standard deck fasteners rated for outdoor use. You do not need any special protection to handle cedar either.
When working pressure-treated wood, you must wear protective gear, including protective hand gloves, eye protection, and a face mask. The face mask is especially crucial when cutting these treated pieces of wood.
Once cut, pressure-treated pine requires treatment of the cut ends to protect them from rotting. You also need special, vinyl-coated screws to fasten pressure-treated wood. The chemicals in these boards corrode standard screws, hence the need for coating.
Cedarwood vs treated wood: Maintenance
Cedar is way easier to maintain than pressure-treated decking. It needs only minimal cleaning regularly to keep it looking pristine.
The wood turns silver-grey with age, and you only need to give it a thorough cleaning with soap and water every once a year.
If you want your cedar to last even longer, you can apply a sealer or other protective topcoats that enhance durability.
Pressure-treated decking requires more maintenance in annual cleaning and regular staining and sealing.
You may have to apply and reapply the stain more than once a year to make the wood last longer.
Pressure-treated wood vs cedar: Environmental friendliness
Like any wood in its natural state, cedar is eco-friendly and will not impact the environment negatively.
In contrast, pressure-treated pine contains chemicals that may be hazardous to the environment. Therefore, burning these types of wood is not recommended.
The recommended way to dispose of it involves bringing it to a site reserved for treated wood disposal.
Cedar and Pressure-treated Wood Best Applications
Both kinds of wood are typically used on different outdoor projects, including fencing and building decks, due to their resistance to the elements. More specifically, here are the best cedar and pressure-treated wood applications.
Pressure-treated vs cedar fence
Pressure-treated wood is more commonly used in fencing than cedar. Applying a higher percentage of chemical preservatives to the wood makes it better suited for ground contact.
Cedar may be great, but ground contact does not sit well with its natural rot resistance. Moreover, dimensional cedar lumber nearly always has sapwood, which is less resistant to decay and rot. So cedar poles can rot relatively quickly if in contact with the ground.
One option for a cedar fence is to keep the poles raised, but raised fence brackets may not be the look you want.
So, most people prefer a pressure-treated fence to a cedar fence. The pressure-treated wood can last several decades on a fence without any signs of decay or rot. Just ensure the poles are specifically for ground contact. Such lumber usually has a higher percentage of preservative chemicals per cubic foot.
Cedar is an excellent wood species for building outdoor furniture. It is not only beautiful but also low-maintenance. It is also lightweight, making it easier to handle the furniture.
The wood is also malleable. This characteristic makes it a breeze to manipulate cedar into various shapes and designs for outdoor furniture.
Treated wood is not typically used for furniture. The chemicals in the wood can irritate the skin upon contact, making them a non-option for this application.
Both cedar and pressure-treated wood make excellent pergolas. The structure typically sits above the ground, so there is no worrying about ground contact.
You might prefer cedar over pressure-treated wood or vice versa purely out of preference and not functional purposes.
Cedar can be a more durable option for pergolas than treated pine which typically lasts about a decade, while cedar can double that service life.
Treated wood is not recommended for saunas because these structures are meant for human contact. The chemicals in treated wood can be hazardous to the skin, so it is never safe to construct saunas with pressure-treated wood.
Extremely high temperatures and moisture also characterize saunas. Exposing the chemicals in treated lumber to such temperatures can create toxic compounds in various ways.
This explains why only cedar is typically used to construct saunas. The wood is naturally resistant to the moisture associated with saunas and can withstand high temperatures.
Cedar deck vs pressure treated
Pressure-treated wood makes low-cost decking boards compared to cedar. On the other hand, cedar decks last nearly twice longer than treated pine.
So, when comparing cedar vs pressure treated deck, you will want to consider whether long-term savings or immediate term are your main interest. Then decide from there.
Which is better, cedar or pressure-treated wood?
Cedar ranks higher than pressure-treated wood in many aspects. Cedar is stronger and durable, resists warping, and requires less maintenance than treated wood. Cedar is also more eco-friendly, easier, and safer to work with. Save for its relatively higher cost, cedar is the better choice.
Is cedar pressure treated?
No, cedar lumber is naturally resistant to moisture damage, insects, rotting, and decay, so it needs no pressure treatment.
Is cedar weather resistant?
Yes, Cedar is weather-resistant due to its chemical properties. Cedarwood repels most bugs and can withstand different weather conditions without getting damaged from that exposure. However, exposure to direct sunlight causes cedar to turn grey.
Is pressure-treated wood cheaper than cedar?
Yes, treated lumber generally costs less than cedar and can last a similar period if maintained properly. Overall, cedar will cost more money upfront but will require less maintenance than pressure-treated wood over its lifetime.
Is cedar good for a deck?
Cedar is highly durable and naturally weather-resistant, making it an excellent decking material. Even without treatment, it will resist attacks from most bugs and not rot or decay.
Does cedar wood rot?
Cedar is naturally weather-resistant and repellent to most bugs due to its chemical properties. However, direct contact with the ground can break its resilience and eventually cause it to rot and deteriorate.
Does cedar need to be treated?
No, cedar lumber is naturally resistant to most bugs, moisture, and water damage. These characteristics make it a durable option for exterior and interior construction projects, but you can always apply a protective cedar finish to prolong its service life further.
How long does cedarwood last?
Cedarwood lasts about 15 to 20 years as decking boards compared to 10 to 15 years for pressure-treated wood. Notice that its longevity heavily depends on how you use it and the location.
Which is better for fence posts – cedar or pressure-treated?
While cedar is stronger and more durable than pressure-treated lumber, it is not the ideal candidate for fences. The contact with the ground can accelerate the aging of cedar posts causing them to rot and decay sooner. So, pressure-treated lumber is generally more ideal for fence posts.
How does cedar weather?
Cedar tends to crack slightly over time and develop a fuzzy surface texture unless it is periodically refinished. The wood can also darken dramatically into a grey color when exposed to sunlight, so you may want to apply a light coat of sealant to preserve its color and texture.
Is cedar wood waterproof?
Yes, cedarwood is waterproof. Cedar is a water-resistant material because the oil in the wood naturally resists decay and repels water. Use an oil-based finish on cedar rather than a water-based one, as the water-based finish will not be as effective at protecting the cedarwood from moisture.
Pressure-treated vs Cedar Final Verdict
Choosing between cedar and pressure-treated wood should be more straightforward when you know where and what to look for. This article has provided you with everything you need to consider in detail.
We hope it helps cut out your work and simplify your choices for your next project.
Next, Read on Pressure Treated Plywood vs Marine Plywood