Add a porch or deck and chill at home this vacation, free of worries about carbon offsets and gas prices. Heck, a deck's a great outdoor platform for any time of year. If you're thinking of building or refurbishing, you can choose materials that don't come from endangered forest ecosystems, and are free of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, which often taint the glues that bind composite woods.

Another toxin to watch out for: If your existing porch or deck was built before 2003, and the wood has a sickly greenish streak, it may contain chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which was commonly used as a preservative and insect-proofing until the Environmental Protection Agency started phasing it out for residential uses that year.

Here are some tips for finding sustainable, healthy decking materials and/or sealants, if your old deck is getting worn and splintery, and dates from the era of CCA-treated wood.

Decking

Cedar and tropical hardwoods bearing the Forest Stewardship Council label, which means they came from well-managed forests, can be found at Ecohaus (formerly the Environmental Home Center, where you can also get stainless steel fasteners). We recommend asking Ecohaus' knowledgeable building consultants about how to find the greenest, least toxic and most affordable options for your deck, whether it's new or reclaimed lumber or composite. Also see the FSC offerings at Certified Wood

Decking made from recycled plastic composite boards, as well as other greener materials, is discussed on the Building Green website. 

Reclaimed as well as FSC certified flooring/decking is the specialty of Pioneer Millworks.

Low-VOC Sealants

AFM Safecoat makes weatherproofing sealers that will also keep toxins pent up. 

Bio-wash Natural Deck Oil

You can buy a CCA test kit from Environmental Working Group. Note: If your deck is made of CCA, no need to panic and be in a rush to replace it. In a similar vein to old lead paint, you may want to let it lie, so long as it isn't flaking or chipping. Never sand or saw CCA-treated wood, because the toxin will become airborne. Instead, seal it. When in doubt, talk to a professional. We'd start with Ecohaus, above.

Get your deck set for parties and star-gazing, now through Indian Summer and beyond.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008