When you want to use wood that is not naturally decay resistant in a wet application (outdoors, for example) or where it may be at risk for insect attack, you need to specify preservative-treated wood. This is lumber that has been chemically treated to make it unattractive to fungi and other pests. In the same way that you would specify galvanized steel where it would be at risk of rusting, you specify treated wood where it will be used in a setting conducive to decay.
Wood does not deteriorate just because it gets wet. When wood breaks down, it is because an organism is eating it as food. Preservatives work by making the food source inedible to these organisms.
Properly preservative-treated wood can have 5 to 10 times the service life of untreated wood. This extension of life saves the equivalent of 12.5% of Canada’s annual log harvest.
Preserved wood is used most often for railroad ties, utility poles, marine piles, decks, fences and other outdoor applications. Various treatment methods and types of chemicals are available, depending on the attributes required in the particular application and the level of protection needed.