Redwood is one of the most versatile and durable woods available today. With its natural resistance to rot, insects, weather, and fire, redwood is an ideal choice for many outdoor projects. But how well does it hold up over time? And how does it compare to other popular outdoor woods like cedar or teak? This article delves into the properties that make redwood popular for outdoor use.
An Introduction to Redwood
Redwood refers to a few species of coniferous trees in the cypress family. The most common species used for lumber is the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), native to the Pacific coast of North America. Redwood trees can grow over 350 feet tall and live over 2,000 years!
The wood is lightweight yet strong, straight-grained, and ranges from pinkish-red to a deep reddish-brown. It has a smooth, even texture and is easy to work with using hand and machine tools.
Redwood has been used extensively in California and along the Pacific coast for everything from house framing to outdoor decking. Its natural durability and aesthetic appeal make it a timeless choice for residential and commercial outdoor structures.
The Popularity of Redwood for Outdoor Projects
Several key factors make redwood a consistently popular choice for outdoor applications:
Natural Resistance to Outdoor Elements
Redwood contains natural chemical compounds that act as preservatives, making the wood resistant to moisture, decay, insects, weathering, and fire. Here are some of its stellar natural properties:
- Moisture resistance: Redwood has a high density and resin content, making it difficult for water to penetrate the wood. This moisture resistance prevents swelling, cupping, and rot.
- Rot resistance: The tannins and phenols in redwood act as natural pesticides, protecting it against fungal decay and insect damage.
- Insect resistance: Redwood is naturally resistant to termites and marine borers, unlike many common softwoods.
- Weather resistance: The dense cell structure helps redwood withstand expansion and contraction from sun, rain, and other weather patterns. It resists cracking and checking when exposed to the elements.
Durability and Low Maintenance
The natural durability of redwood is one of its biggest assets. Since it resists rot, insects, and weather damage, redwood structures can last 50 years or longer with minimal upkeep.
- Redwood’s longevity means you don’t have to replace damaged boards, posts, or beams frequently. This saves time, money, and labor costs down the road.
- Maintenance is limited to occasional cleaning, light sanding, and removing splinters. When used outdoors, redwood does not require painting, staining, or protective sealants.
- Dings, scratches, and small blemishes blend into the wood over time, adding to its rustic, natural look.
Redwood’s subdued and elegant grain pattern naturally complements outdoor living spaces.
- When exposed to the elements, redwood weathers to a soft, silver-gray patina over several months. This helps it blend in with natural surroundings.
- The consistent reddish-brown tone and moderate grain pattern gives redwood an even, refined look. It provides a warm, inviting feel to outdoor structures and furniture.
- Redwood is versatile enough to match any design style, from traditional cottage to contemporary minimalist. Its timeless appeal suits modern and historic landscapes.
Using Redwood in Outdoor Structures
Redwood is well-suited for just about any exterior building application thanks to its dimensional stability and durability. Here are some of the most common uses:
Pergolas, Arbors, and Trellises
Redwood is naturally resistant to the constant moisture in shaded areas, making it ideal for pergolas and garden structures. The posts, beams, and lattice hold up for decades without sagging, cracking, or decay.
Patio Covers and Canopies
Use redwood for open-air patio covers and canopies. Its weather and insect resistance allow it to withstand year-round exposure demands.
Fences, Gates, and Screens
Redwood’s strength and shrink/swell resistance allow it to withstand decades of wind, rain, and sun with minimal upkeep required.
Decks, Planters, and Benches
Redwood’s beauty and stability make it the perfect choice for decks, planter boxes, and outdoor furniture. It brings warmth and style to any outdoor living space.
Beyond the Outdoors: Redwood’s Versatile Uses
While most commonly used outdoors, redwood has many applications inside the home. It brings beauty, strength, and richness wherever it’s used.
Construction and Framing
Redwood framing won’t shrink, warp, or twist as the building settles. Use it for interior and exterior walls, support beams, sheathing, subflooring, doors, and cabinetry.
Finish Carpentry and Trims
The fine grain and workability make redwood ideal for crown molding, baseboards, window casings, and door trim. It gives a room warmth and timeless elegance.
Interior Design and Furnishings
Show off redwood’s glow and texture for paneling, ceiling treatments, feature walls, shelves, and handrails. It’s also ideal for chairs, tables, beds, and other custom furnishings.
- Musical instruments like guitars, violins, and pianos
- Turned items like bowls, pens, candlesticks
- Water tanks, hot tubs, and steam room benches
- Shingles, siding, and exterior sashes
As you can see, redwood has many diverse indoor and outdoor applications. But how well does it truly perform, and does it live up to its reputation? Keep reading for an in-depth look.
Is Redwood Good for Outdoor Use? A Deep Dive
Redwood’s popularity stems from its unparalleled natural resistance to the elements. Let’s examine how it withstands some of the most demanding outdoor exposure conditions.
Natural Weather Resistance
From hot summer sun to freezing winter sleet, redwood stands up admirably to extreme weather shifts year after year.
- Sunlight: Redwood contains plentiful amounts of cedar oil and tannins that act as natural sunblockers. It resists damage from UV rays, slowing the oxidation and graying process.
- Moisture: The dense grain repels liquid water while allowing interior moisture to ventilate. This prevents cupping, swelling, and rotting.
- Temperature: Redwood expands and contracts minimally with temperature changes compared to other woods. It resists splitting or checking despite cold winters and hot summers.
- Wind: The strong, lightweight wood withstands forceful winds and storm damage. Its flexibility and density prevent it from becoming brittle.
- Salt air: Seaside projects do not match redwood, as its resins repel salt air corrosion better than common softwoods.
Redwood’s cellular structure makes it uniquely equipped to handle sun, rain, ocean spray, and everything. No special treatments or sealants are needed to help it withstand the elements.
Strength Against Insects and Decay
Two enemies of wood are fungi and wood-boring insects. Fortunately, redwood has natural defenses against both.
- Fungi: Redwood contains fungicidal extractives that ward off decay from mold, mildew, and wood-destroying fungi. These compounds penetrate deep within the wood.
- Insects: The tannins and resins act as natural pesticides against termites, carpenter ants, wood wasps, and wood-boring beetles. Redwood is not preferred food for destructive insects.
- Marine borers: Resistant to shipworms and limnoria, redwood holds up in dock pilings, retaining walls, and other waterside uses.
Redwood’s resistance remains intact whether used above ground, underground, indoors, or water. It will endure decades of exposure without succumbing to fungi or boring insects.
In wilderness areas, redwood trees depend on low-intensity fires to thrive. Similarly, redwood lumber exhibits an unusually high degree of fire resistance.
- The thick bark insulates the core from heat penetration. In structures, this helps slow the spread of flames.
- Redwood forms a protective char layer that resists fire damage when burned.
- The wood takes longer to ignite than other conifers and hardwoods. This gives more time for fire response.
- Redwood stops burning once the flame source is removed. It isn’t easy to re-ignite.
While no wood is completely fireproof, redwood has distinct advantages that increase safety and survivability in a fire emergency.
Sustainable and Eco-Friendly
Using redwood brings environmental benefits:
- It’s sourced from responsibly managed forests with strict reforestation standards. This ensures healthy future tree growth.
- Redwood is naturally biodegradable and non-toxic. It won’t harm soil as it decomposes.
- The long service life reduces waste and the need for replacement materials.
- Less energy is needed for protective treatments and coatings during redwood’s lifecycle.
- Local sourcing minimizes environmental impact from transportation. Much redwood comes from California and Oregon.
Redwood’s merits go beyond just physical performance. Choosing it over tropical or non-sustainable woods helps preserve our forests for generations.
How Does Redwood Compare to Other Outdoor Woods?
Redwood has earned its reputation as an enduring outdoor wood. But how does it stack up to alternatives like cedar, teak, or pressure-treated pine? Here’s an overview:
|Wood Type||Rot Resistance||Termite Resistance||Wind/Rain Resistance||Sun/UV Resistance|
|Western Red Cedar||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Moderate|
* with chemical preservative
Redwood is comparable or superior to these woods in its natural weather resistance. Without special treatments, it endures rain, sun, wind, and moisture cycling.
Redwood also bests most other woods when it comes to fending off fungi, termites, ants, borers, and beetles naturally:
|Wood Type||Decay Fungi Resistance||Termite Resistance|
|Western Red Cedar||Very Good||Moderate|
* with chemical preservative
Redwood keeps insects and fungi at bay thanks to its tannins and resins. No harmful poisons or preservatives are needed.
For fire safety, redwood is a standout performer:
|Wood Type||Ignition Resistance||Burn Rate||Char Formation|
|Western Red Cedar||Fair||Slow||Moderate|
Redwood’s natural fire resistance provides an extra layer of protection. It ignites slowly and forms insulating char layers to help containment.
Redwood does come at a higher initial price point than other common decking woods:
|Wood Type||Cost Per Linear Foot (Decking)|
|Western Red Cedar||$3-$5|
However, redwood lasts longer with minimal upkeep, so its long-term cost is competitive, especially for permanent structures. There’s also value in its beauty and environmental benefits that justify the premium price for many.
Conclusion: An Unmatched Outdoor Performer
Redwood remains a top choice for discerning builders, architects, and homeowners wanting the ultimate weather-resistance, beauty, and longevity. Here are some key takeaways:
- The natural durability of redwood is unmatched, allowing decades of service with no chemical treatments required.
- Maintenance is minimal, saving time, money, and labor over the structure’s lifetime.
- Redwood ages gracefully to a refined, silver patina that blends with natural surroundings.
- The wood offers strength, dimensional stability, and versatility across many outdoor (and indoor) applications.
- Redwood provides environmental benefits, as a sustainable, locally-sourced, and biodegradable material.
While redwood does come at a premium price, its many advantages make it well worth the investment for projects built to last. Few other woods can rival redwood’s merits for outdoor exposure and beauty. It remains a beloved American woodworking tradition with good reason.
What’s Your Take on Redwood?
Has this overview helped explain why redwood is widely used and recommended for outdoor structures? Do you have experience using redwood for a deck, outdoor kitchen, fence, or other project? What were the benefits or drawbacks you observed?
It’s worth carefully weighing the longevity, appearance, maintenance needs, and cost considerations for your specific project. There may be times when a less expensive wood species makes more sense.
But when you desire wood that endures, satisfies, and graces your landscape for generations, redwood remains in a class of its own. Its unrivaled qualities are the product of millennia of adaptation – likely to be cherished for centuries more.