Avoid using pressure-treated wood in living spaces
The Natural Handyman
We had a builder finish our basement and he used pressure-treated wood during the framing process anyplace where the frame hit the basement floor. On your site, you mentioned that pressure-treated wood should not be used indoors. Is this safe?
TR from Burlington, MA
Pressure-treated wood (PTW) using arsenic-based preservatives (CCA) is not supposed to be used in living spaces, so technically he shouldn't have used that product in your home. In some circumstances, it has been used atop foundations, but only if approved by the local building code.
Everything I have read leads me to believe that arsenic will not migrate into the air in your basement. It is also generally accepted that the most risk from PT wood is in the construction phase, where fine arsenic-laced saw dust is easily inhaled or comes in contact with the skin.
Actually, the logic of using PTW in a "finished" basement is flawed and I find it amazing that so many contractors use it. The only purpose of the preservative is to prevent rot and insect infestation. If there is enough moisture leaking into your basement to rot wood, it stands to reason that wallboard, paneling, furniture, carpeting and other items will become moldy and smelly over time, too!
Moisture abatement must be accomplished before any basement renovation. This includes elimination of active water leaks and a combination of wall coatings, floor coatings and heavy plastic sheeting to slow the migration of water from the outside to the inside. Sometimes, repairs outside the home are helpful, such as re-grading, exterior foundation repair or even something as simple as cleaning the gutters or redirecting downspouts. Below-grade basements typically have a little extra moisture than the rest of the home, regardless of the amount of preparation. The trick is to control it as much as possible and use mechanical dehumidification as seasonally necessary.
Frankly, if a basement has severe moisture problems and the cost of proper repair is too high, renovating may lead to a smelly and unhealthy environment. I have been in enough mildewy basements over the years to have strong feelings on this issue. When I tell people that the only way to remove the odors is to completely tear out all existing framing, walls and carpets and throw away the furniture, I am met with stunned silence, anger or both. Anger not directed at me, of course, but at the former owner who didn't do his homework!
Perhaps you didn't know, but sale of arsenic-based PTW for residential use will be banned through voluntary agreement with the PT industry after Dec 31, 2003. Fortunately, there are alternative products that will be arriving at your lumberyard soon, if not already. Here is a link to the information on the EPA website.
Of course, the alternatives may or may not be banned years from now as they are more widely used. (It's happened before!) We'll have to wait and see.
Have a small home repair question for THE NATURAL HANDYMAN? Just click here NaturalHandyman.com/aitikia. For more home repair information, visit NH's growing list of original home repair articles and quality links NaturalHandyman.com. If this information has been valuable to you, please consider making a small donation to support NH's free service to the home repair community! For more information, please visit our "Friends" page NaturalHandyman.com/Friends.
The Natural Handyman Site Directory
- Home Repair Articles naturalhandyman.com/iip
- Home Repair Links Library naturalhandyman.com/linkslibrary
- NH's Bookshop naturalhandyman.com/bookshop
- Find a handyman at naturalhandyman.com/network
- Win unique home repair gifts and prizes at NaturalHandyman.com/Contest. Please read the important copyright and disclaimer information located at NaturalHandyman.com/Copyright.
Take the Next Step
- Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!
More Money-Saving Tips for Your Home
- Should I use a HELOC for home remodeling and repairs?
- Should I refinance my mortgage?
- Compare HELOC rates
- Check for a lower homeowners insurance rate
- 3 ways to use a mortgage calculator
- Mortgage calculator: Calculate your payment and more
- Home equity calculator: HELOC vs. line of credit
- How much can additional payments save me on my mortgage?