I love the look and smell of cedar. It’s a popular building material for decks, fences, sheds, shutters, pergolas and gazebos—all kinds of outdoor structures and exterior finishing. It’s the classic go-to lumber because it’s naturally resistant to rot and insect damage, which means it requires less maintenance than other woods like pine or spruce—and even pressure treated (PT) wood.
Cedar is also resistant to temperature related stresses, which makes it ideal for building projects in areas where there are changes of season and where humidity, temperature variations and splitting are a common problem. Other types of wood will warp when exposed to moisture but cedar doesn’t. This makes it great for outdoor structures and exterior siding.
Unfortunately, it’s expensive. It’s more expensive than PT wood—no question. One way of saving money if you like the look of cedar is to build structure and support out of PT wood and use cedar for the surfaces of the structure. This is what we did for the Jamie Bell Playground. On that project, most of the money for building materials came from donations. That meant we were on a tight budget and we wanted to stretch every dollar as far as we could.
There are lots of reasons why I wanted cedar for this build. First, I love wood playgrounds. The problem is that they usually require a lot of maintenance. Since we were dealing with a public structure I figured it was important for me to build a playground that needed minimal maintenance. And cedar was the natural choice.
Cedar is a low-maintenance lumber. You can clean it with a mild detergent and water. But never use a pressure washer. Cedar is soft enough to be damaged this way.
Unless cedar comes into direct contact with the ground—which it shouldn’t if it’s built properly—you won’t need to treat it with preservatives at all. Cedar can be weathered to a grey colour—or you can stain it. But once you stain it, you’ll have to maintain it regularly. That’s why we decided not to stain the cedar for the playground. Not to mention, I really like the look of weathered cedar.
It has other convenient qualities too, like noise absorption. This is because it’s porous. Noise absorption is important when you have a playground with a ton of kids playing at a time. It can take the abuse of stomping, banging, knocking, jumping and even yelling.
The playground we built is a lot like a maze of different levels, platforms, stairs, and walkways. We built out the core structure using PT wood for its strength, durability and price. But for looks we went with cedar. We paneled over top the core PT structure. Along with the outer structure we used cedar for the banisters, railings and staircases. Not only did this highlight cedar’s great qualities- namely look and smell – but the paneling worked to reinforce the entire structure without compromising on beauty. That playground was built right and made to last.