Decked Out

Greener Patios
July 2008

For many people, summer is the time to take the cooking and parties outdoors. If you want to create the perfect patio environment, keep the natural environment in mind as well; by choosing products that conserve resources and minimize pollution, you can enjoy your outdoor surroundings while also preserving them. Here are some ideas:

Building material

  • If you’re buying lumber for your deck, look for labels that indicate the wood comes from sustainably managed forests. (See the Related Links for a list of forest certification programs.) Or, consider composite lumber made from recycled plastic and wood wastes. Avoid pressure-treated wood if possible, as it is treated with chemicals that can leach into local water supplies.
  • For ground-based patios, choose bricks or paving stones; compared with poured concrete they allow better water drainage, minimizing storm runoff, and are easier to replace if damaged.


  • Consider the lifespan of the furniture you purchase. Durable, well-made products will last longer, avoiding the need for frequent replacement. In addition, some materials (such as metal) will likely survive the elements far longer than wood. Buying used furniture, or furniture made from recycled materials, is another good option as it keeps materials out of the waste stream.
  • If you are considering new wood furniture, look for products made from reclaimed or FSC-certified wood.


  • If you are shopping for a new grill, consider a propane-fired model. According to the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, propane generates about half the carbon emissions of charcoal briquettes per hour of grilling, and one-third the emissions of electric grills (the emissions for which are generated at power plants). Charcoal also generates particulate matter (soot) that pollutes the air and can aggravate respiratory problems.
  • Already own a charcoal grill or prefer the taste that charcoal imparts to your food? Lower your impact by choosing lump charcoal harvested from sustainably managed forests. Avoid charcoal briquettes if possible, as they may contain coal dust or other additives as binders. (If you use briquettes, be sure to dispose of the ash in the garbage instead of scattering it outside, where trace elements in the ash can harm plants.)
  • Whether you use lump charcoal or briquettes, light up your grill with a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the 46,200 tons of lighter fluid used per year in the United States produces approximately 14,500 tons of smog-forming pollution.


  • When the sun goes down, turn to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for floodlights and outdoor fixtures. CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescents to provide the same amount of light, and last longer, too.
  • If you use string lights around your patio, look for LED (light-emitting diode) versions, which use less energy than mini twinkle lights.

Insect Control

  • Eliminate areas of standing water around your home (such as birdbaths, puddles, or gutters), which are prime breeding locations for mosquitoes. If you maintain a birdbath or fish pond in your yard, be sure to change the water frequently or use a pump to keep the water circulating.
  • Avoid using electric or propane-fueled bug traps, which contribute to global warming. Instead, consider natural alternatives to repelling pests such as burning citronella candles or surrounding your patio with plants that repel insects (such as marigolds or geraniums).

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