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Q.I'm pricing cedar for a replacement deck that was formerly built with treated yellow pine. A local supplier is telling me his "northern white" cedar will last far longer than "Alaskan" cedar, which I can purchase for about half the price. Is there really such a dramatic difference?

A.Paul Fisette responds: According to all my reference materials and based on my own experience, Alaskan, northern, Atlantic, and Port-Orford cedar are similar in durability. Keep in mind that only the heartwood is resistant to decay. Sapwood is not at all reliably durable. One difference with Alaskan yellow is that the heartwood color — yellow — makes it easier to distinguish the heartwood from the sapwood, which is pale yellow. With the other cedars, there is not a great difference between sapwood and heartwood colors, so it can be more difficult to tell if you have in fact purchased durable heartwood or nondurable sapwood.

Paul Fisette is director of Building Materials and Wood Technology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a JLC contributing editor.