(This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1.)

Last week, we answered a reader’s question about maintaining the color in her newly installed wooden deck. The deck and fence were built with ipe, one of the exotic South American hardwoods. The homeowner was thrilled with the result — initially.

Her contractor applied a penetrating finish to the deck and fence, believing that it would help the wood maintain its color. Unfortunately, a few months after the installation, the finish peeled from the deck and the wood began to weather to a natural gray.

Our reader notified her contractor that the finish failed. The contractor came back to sand and refinish the deck, not once but twice. After a few months and two different brands of sealers, the deck turned gray again.

Both the contractor and our reader were at wit’s end. She did not blame the contractor and neither do we. He made a good-faith effort to make the job right, and he should be commended.

She sent us an e-mail with her story and asked if we might be able to provide a solution. As it happens, we had recently attended the Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. At the show, Kevin spoke with a representative of Duckback, a company specializing in manufacturing deck sealers and preservatives.

Kevin mentioned our reader’s problem to the rep, who told him that Duckback recently developed a product specifically for use on exotic hardwoods. The product is a coating, not a penetrating stain and, according to the rep, has performed well in prolonged weather testing. We passed this information along, suggesting that the reader might want to look into this option.

As we’ve come to expect when we mention exotics, we got immediate feedback from readers who are environmentally sensitive.

One e-mail was especially vitriolic, accusing us of a conspiracy to destroy the rain forest and of being part of the “corporate media monopoly — the death knell of democracy and the planet.”

The writer had equally mean-spirited words for our reader, calling her a “conspicuous consumer from San Carlos” and laying responsibility at her door: “A fifth of the Amazon rain forest is gone because the clueless in suburbia want tropical hardwood decks.”

We submit that this viewpoint is a bit extreme. We believe that natural resources should be used, but not abused. They should be managed for enjoyment and utility, and should be sustained.

The forest-products industry in the United States and Canada is making great efforts to strike a balance between use of forest products and their sustainability. This may not be the case in South America. For those of you in the market for exotic hardwoods, do some research and consider the effect your purchase could have on the environment.

Another writer eschews the use of exotics because of the damage done to the rain forest and recommends two alternatives to ipe: cypress and composite materials. He goes on to praise these choices as environmentally friendly and maintenance-free.

This writer also took a swipe at our reader’s contractor, calling into question his expertise.

“Did you ever notice that when you read or see a so-called ‘expert’ expounding on something that you know a lot about, that most times it is clear that the ‘expert’ is not so expert after all. This is just the case with that homeowner’s contractor. Obviously he knew little about the proper wood for the deck and fence and far more about trying to please the homeowner, and getting paid.”

We take issue with this point of view. The “new composition products for outdoor use” he mentions can hardly be characterized as environmentally friendly. Nor are they maintenance-free.

Composites are manufactured from recycled wood fiber and either polyethylene film or polypropylene. In 50 or 75 years, imagine our landfills with tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of board feet of this material laced through them — not decomposing.

Finally, we received e-mail from a reader who has no ax to grind and is happy. “I have a hardwood deck and luckily am a slouch, as my contractor told me to do nothing to the wood and it would gray out. I have done exactly as instructed and the deck looks beautiful and gray.”

Sometimes the best action to take is to take no action.

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