What is the best way to protect wood from the elements?

I am looking to build a couple of things from left-over wood from a recent addition to our house. I was thinking of Bird houses and Bat houses, as well as cold Frame and a vegetable garden fence. But I have a couple of questions. 1) Is it safe to use building contruction wood (plywood, studs, etc.)? It is very likely that some of teh wood has been traited with various chemicals... (I have no way to verify that...) 2) What is the best way to protect the various items from the rain, sun, etc? What is the best paint? dye? etc. Anything that would be safe for the environment? 3) Also I have leftover shingles (with an asphalte base), would these be safe for the roof cover of the bird/bat houses? Any suggestions is welcome! Thanks. Save_Antartica
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On Mon, 10 Sep 2007 22:46:21 -0700, save snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Don't use pressure treated materials. You can tell by smelling the wood--it has a chemical smell. Untreated wood smells "natural." Interior ply and studs are safe. Use exterior paint, but only for the exterior of the birdhouse. The inside should be left unfinished. A shingle on top will extend the life of the birdhouse. Allow the birdhouse to age a few months before use.
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The plywood is held together by glue. I guess (based on wikipedia) that it is usually urea-formaldehyde glue (interior plywood) or phenol-formaldehyde glue (exterior plywood). I didn't look up a material safety data sheet or anything too detailed, but even if this stuff isn't super for the environment, I don't think it will poison your birds (at least, many birdhouse plans call for it), plants, etc.
As for the studs, assuming they are indoor studs (whiteish and smell like wood) they aren't treated (not much anyway). The nasty treated stuff is greenish and smells like, well, chemicals for lack of a better word. Your builders might have used it for the bottom of a wall (in contact with the foundation), exterior work like decks, etc, but they shouldn't have used it for normal framing of walls and such. It lasts longer outdoors but I don't use it. Too much potential hazard for the plants, me, the dogs, beneficial insects, etc.

One good choice for the environment is just to leave the plain wood. It will turn grey but won't rot especially fast as long as it stays dry. Where you are likely to get rot is where the wood is in contact with the soil (paint can only help so much with this) or anything else that will not let it dry out.
Linseed oil is generally considered the environmental choice if you do want a finish.

If you were shopping for shingles and an eco-friendly product were your priority, you might choose something else (see http://www.greenlivingjournal.com/page.php?p 08 for a long discussion with lots of pros and cons). But I don't think there is anything especially toxic about the asphalt.
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My thoughts are a garden fence is seldom a privacy fence, so you're talking fence posts. Not rails, stiles, and such. If that's the case, treated lumber is needed.
Most treated lumber has a greenish tint to it. But, not all. Any hardware used for attaching anything to treated lumber should be stainless steel, or zinc coated steel at the least. Should not be used to frame a birdhouse as chemicals in it tend to gas and leech from the wood.
All wood will eventually rot, including treated lumber. More so left out in the weather.
All painted, varnished, and water-sealed lumber should be left to dry in sun for a few months if for a birdhouse. Do not expose to rain or excessive moisture conditions during that time.
All painted surfaces exposed to weather will eventually need repainting. Sometimes, an overlooked area will flake before noticed resulting in rot and exposure to the elements. A wood that will hold up best is cedar or redwood so you can catch it in time.
For a birdhouse, I would not worry about the small amount of residue from any coating I used on it affecting the environment. More important, will it affect the birds themselves?
Both asphalt and composition/fiberglas shingles have asphalt in it. Both are safe for the roof covering of a birdhouse. Google "birdhouse plans". Dave
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