Mr. Handyman Discusses Alternatives to Wood

As a lifelong woodworker I’ll note up front that I love wood. Exotic woods with beautiful wood grain patterns always get my mind working on what I can do with them. I’ve made beds, tables, fireplace mantels, shelves in many styles, Adirondack chairs for the patio and many other things of wood.

All that said, one of the most common things we do at Mr. Handyman is replace rotten and damaged wood. Termite’s eat wood. Algae & fungus break wood down. Water causes wood to rot.

Given all this, folks seek out alternatives to wood. They do exist and I thought I’d share a few insights.

Alternatives to traditional wood were created for two reasons; 1) to find cheaper alternatives than wood; and 2) to find weather resistant alternatives to wood.

These two reasons lead to very different products. When looking for cheaper solutions, manufacturers often use wood chips, sawdust or scrap wood that can be formed into larger pieces. These larger pieces might become finger jointed pine trim, particle board cabinets, Oriented Strong Board (OSB) sheathing, and the like. By using what was historically waste, prices are kept down.

Unfortunately, these products do not play well with water and generally swell when wet. Cheap kitchen cabinets made with particle board don’t hold up to water leaks and spills in the kitchen. There is no way to compress particle board once it’s saturated and swollen, it must be replaced.

Alternatives to wood that are specifically designed to resist water can get wet. These products include vinyl and fiber cement siding, PVC trim, composite decking and fiberglass doors. These products are generally more expensive than wood but should last longer and require less maintenance.

Note that these newer water-resistant products are not maintenance free, nor indestructible. While you won’t have to paint the exterior of your home if you have vinyl siding, it will fade, must be cleaned, and can be damaged by weed eaters or other abuse.

Fiber cement siding must still be caulked and painted periodically, and can be damaged (say, by kids bouncing a ball against the home) but requires less maintenance than similar wood siding; and bugs won’t eat it. As with anything in Florida, siding will get a green haze where it doesn’t get regular sun. Combined with pollen, spider webs and mud daubers, a regular pressure rinse is often required, and non-wood siding will hold up better when this is needed.

Brick and stone were the original alternatives to wood, but it is impractical (and expensive) to retrofit a home to brick or stone. You can cost effectively retrofit a home to vinyl or fiber cement siding, with PVC trim and vinyl soffit. As fiber cement gains in popularity vinyl sidings popularity is fading, but vinyl is still in use.

Wood is natural and sustainable but has challenges. For your next wood rot repair, explore alternatives, or call Mr. Handyman for help. There’s simply no one like us!