An Ounce of Prevention

Thanks to Grant Kirker for writing this article spotlighting how homeowner’s can better maintain their wood decks. Kirker is a Research Forest Products Technologist at FPL in the Durability and Wood Protection Research unit.

The experimental test block setup used to examine the role of accumulated leaf litter on material performance and wood durability in aboveground exposure. The test block is surrounded by untreated pine and the channel between the block and frame is filled with leaf litter. The two black fittings on the top are able to take repeated moisture measurement using a pin-type moisture probe. USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, which suggests that taking steps to avert a problem before it starts is far better than taking corrective steps after the problem arises. Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) Wood Durability and Protection researchers, in collaboration with research partners at Oregon State University, attempted to apply this concept to a situation close to home for many homeowners—the wooden deck.

The global wooden decking market in 2020 was valued at $15 billion USD, of which the North American markets made up about 35%, or $5.25 billion USD1. In a 2019 National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) survey2, 20.3% of all new houses included decks. Although this estimate is lower than historical averages, the global pandemic has led to an increasing interest in outdoor living spaces, which will likely cause this market to increase. Wood is an excellent building material for outdoor decking because of its  reasonable cost and low maintenance requirements; if properly installed and maintained, a wood deck can provide a long-lasting benefit to the homeowner.

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A Salty Tale of Wood Damage Research and Discovery

A tenacious fungus, a conspiracy theory, a historic ship, a unique gift from Princeton University, and two Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers, Grant Kirker and Samuel Zelinka, collaborating with researchers from Germany and Canada all converged in the right order of events to produce some of the most significant advances in wood salt damage understanding in over twenty years.

Samuel Zelinka – Supervisory Materials Research Engineer
Grant Kirker – Research Forest Products Technologist

A recent publication, “Salt Damage in Wood: Controlled Laboratory Exposures and Mechanical Property Measurements,” is the result of all of these circumstances and characters clashing and aligning.

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International Collaboration and Competitive Rivalry Push FPL Scientists to Excellence

There was nothing earth-shattering found—though some hypotheses were discarded and new research launching points were identified. And that’s extremely important because science, research and development are not linear. Sometimes there isn’t a “Eureka!” moment, just insatiable curiosity, grit and determination that push scientists to explore and discover the unknown.

And sometimes there’s a very human element that pushes scientific discovery—healthy human rivalry.

That’s the exciting part of this story—it’s what readers won’t learn from the recent publication from Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers, “Effects of Wood Moisture Content and the Level of Acetylation on Brown Rot Decay.”

Samuel Zelinka
Supervisory Materials Research Engineer

In the world of wood moisture science, there are very few scientists at the top. FPL’s Samuel Zelinka is one of the top scientists in his field. In Denmark, Emil Thybring, another top wood moisture researcher, is challenging Zelinka. Both are trying to puzzle out one crucial question—why wood moisture behaves the way it does in acetylated wood.  

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