When Pressure Treated Wood Is Required By Code

Wood and the elements do not mix.  Stroll through any forest and you'll see how nature can make short work of massive fallen timber.  Insects, UV rays, fungi, moisture--all conspire to turn that once-proud column of wood into a hollowed-out log, and then into wood chips.

Nice in the forest; not so nice when it's your deck, basement exterior wall, or retaining wall.  One way, of course, is to build those 3 items with non-organic materials:  metal, CMU blocks, and masonry retaining wall...MORE blocks, respectively.  

Not Just a Good Idea--It's Required

But if you want wood in those aforementioned places, pressure-treated wood isn't just the answer to your woes--it's required.  You know the stuff.  It's at the far end of the home improvement store and pocked by incision marks.  Those incisions are not where preservative was injected into the wood.  Rather, they help open the wood and allow the preservative to be forced into the wood cells under high pressure in metal tubes up to 150 feet long.

While pressure-treated wood is easily twice or even three times more expensive than conventional kiln-dried lumber, your gain is the peace of mind in knowing that your project will not be affected by moisture or pests.

Building code requires pressure treated wood in many instances, but here are a few selected times you might need it for do it yourself home remodeling projects.  

  • 01 of 05

    House Siding

    Shake Siding 1000 x 800
    House Shake Siding. Christopher Sessums/Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    Wood house siding less than 6 inches from the earth must be pressure treated.  

    In places where there are horizontal masonry (brick, concrete, etc.) elements, the siding can be lowered, but still no less than 2 inches from those elements.

     

  • 02 of 05

    Any Direct Contact With Earth

    Direct Contact With Earth Use Pressure Treated Wood 800 x 600
    Direct Contact With Earth Use Pressure Treated Wood. Roger Mommaerts/Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    Earth, no matter how dry it appears, isn't dry.  And even the driest earth will eventually accumulate moisture, and this moisture will be transferred to your wood.

    That's why pressure treated lumber is required whenever it is embedded in, or in direct contact with, earth.

     

  • 03 of 05

    Basement Masonry Walls

    Framing Timbers On Basement Wall 1000 x 700
    Framing Timbers On Basement Wall. Ken Dyck/Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

    Pressure treated wood is required whenever you attach framing lumber (as shown here) or furring strips to concrete or other exterior masonry walls below grade.

    Take note that this is only for exterior walls, as these may wick moisture onto the lumber.  Interior walls are within a climate controlled environment and are presumed to be free of moisture.

    This requirement is especially relevant to basement finishing.

     

  • 04 of 05

    Posts On Masonry

    Basement Finishing
    Basement Finishing. David Papazian/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    When you have a vertical wood post (or column) on masonry or concrete, and that concrete/masonry itself rests on the earth, then that post must be pressure treated.

    You don't need to use pressure treated wood if an impervious moisture barrier and a 1-inch metal or masonry pedestal separate the post from the earth by a total of 6 inches in basements or weather-exposed locations.

    As with the previous requirement, this is meaningful in basement finishing applications, but this time with regards...MORE to structural support.

     

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Retaining Walls

    Wood Retaining Wall 1500 x 1130
    Wood Retaining Wall. CC-Licensed; Flickr User JR

    If you build an exterior retaining wall from wood, that wood must be pressure-treated.

     

When discussing "earth," we are referring to the actual dirt on the ground. This is not an exhaustive list of all instances when pressure treated wood is required. See ICC IBC (2012) 2304.11. Building code allows for any type of preservative treated wood, not just pressure treated. It also allows for what they term "naturally durable" wood. The American Wood Council says that cedar, black locust, and redwood are a few of these types of woods.