Have the Healthiest Home on the Block: The Patio

Enjoy the outdoors on a nontoxic, earth-friendly deck.

By Leah Zerbe

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Healthy Homes: The PatioThere is nothing quite like lounging on the patio on a sunny Sunday morning, newspaper or magazine in one hand, coffee in the other, with birds singing all around you. No matter if you live in the city or the country, or somewhere in between, the deck or patio connects you and your home to nature, which studies have shown can decrease your stress and increase your attention span.

Whether you’re looking to build a deck or patio from scratch, want to make better use of your outdoor space, or just need some new outdoor furniture, these tips can help make your decisions ones that are healthy for you, your family, and the environment.

Build it green
If you’re building a deck, look for untreated wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). That means it’s taken from a sustainable timber operation that meets forest management standards. Cedar is a good choice because it is naturally weather resistant. Also consider plastic lumber made from recycled content. Just make sure to look for types made with UV stabilizers that will keep the material from breaking down, and select ones made completely from No. 2 (HPDE) plastics.

Install a thirsty patio
Instead of paving or putting down concrete to create an area for patio furniture, either just let the area stay grassy, or choose gravel, stone, or permeable pavers that will allow rainwater to soak through. Turf, concrete, and asphalt create a huge volume of runoff that drags pollutants into your drinking water supply and overwhelms stormwater systems. Surround the space with plants native to your area to help control runoff, and enjoy the beneficial bees and other insects that will pollinate your garden—don’t squish or zap them, they’re good news.

Seal in toxins in an older, pressure-treated deck
Copper arsenate pressure-treated wood was banned in 2004 because of health problems linked to the arsenic it can release, but if your deck was made of this type of lumber, there are a few things you can do to keep it from leaching the toxic heavy metal:

1. Keep your vegetable garden away from the deck area, and replace it with native plants that you won’t eat.

2. Always use a tablecloth when eating on a treated picnic table or surface.

3. Seal the wood with low- or no-VOC water-based paints or sealants. Avoid types that say they are antimicrobial or will prevent mold or mildew growth. These contain other harmful chemicals.

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