Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Product Review: Ecolife

by Pauhl Gazlay

Green is the new Gold. It seems that every company out there these days is clamoring to push out new products labeled as "green", "eco-friendly", or ""all natural" onto the market as quickly as possible. The question is, "is green always good?"

One of the newer products on the market is something called Ecolife Stabilized Wood. Made by Chemical engineering giant Viance, it has essentially been powered onto the market to replace traditional pressure treated wood as the new standard for rot and insect resistant outdoor lumber applications.

The good news is that traditional pressure treated wood needed replacing. It was effective, but contained a number of toxins which were unfriendly to people and the environment. The bad news is that the jury is decidedly "out" on Ecolife's effectiveness and eco-friendliness.

As a wood-working professional my personal opinion about Ecolife is that it is an inferior product. Here is why...

First and foremost, it doesn't work! As you can see by the picture above, mold is pervasive on ecolife products. We often find ecolife lumber covered with mold before it ever makes it off the shelf at the lumber yard. The product pictured above was less than 6 months off the shelf when the photo was taken! Should 6 month old wood be covered in green and black mold?

As far as being insect resistant. I have noticed that fresh Ecolife wood takes on the aroma of a sewer (yes, that's right, a sewer) when it gets wet. When we have used Ecolife lumber on projects, our stacks of lumber seem to attract large numbers of insects. Specifically, cockroaches, bottle-flies, and ants. This calls into question whether it is effective against carpenter ants and termites.

In addition, the epoxy stabilizers in the wood treatment make the lumber more prone to splitting and cracking than traditional treated lumber, as the stabilizer prevents the wood from expanding and contracting naturally. This can allow moisture to infiltrate the wood and cause rot over time.

If you are thinking of using Ecolife for a do-it-yourself project you can expect to have a difficult time cutting and shaping the lumber accompanied by a high degree of wear and tear on your tools.

So what is one to do for outdoor building projects? There are some alternatives. Treated, stabilized lumber such as Ecolife remains the cheapest option, so if cost is the determining factor, we recommend spraying a mist of 6 to 1 water/bleach solution on Ecolife prior to using it outdoors.

Otherwise, for applications where the lumber is not in direct contact with the ground, Cypress, although more expensive, is a great alternative. It is beautiful, and has a natural resistance to insects and decay and can be stained to add additional protection. A bit more expensive, Cedar also provides similar natural protective traits, and is a visually attractive wood.

In the end, consumers will determine the fate of Ecolife. There needs to be an environmentally responsible, yet effective, treatment for lumber. Let your contractor, lumberyard, or home improvement center know that Ecolife is not the answer. In time, it can result in a better, more effective alternative.