Decks in Harsh Climates require constant on-going Maintenance and will often have to be re-done on a yearly or bi-yearly basis depending on elevation, exposure, previous condition, prep, and type of Coating applied.
Let’s examine the challenges facing all Contractors when looking to Re-furbish or Re-coat a Deck. The biggest challenge of all is trying to meet elevated expectations that homeowners often have as to final finish appearance and ongoing durability of their newly coated Deck. Very often, the larger task of painting the actual home itself will be overridden by scrutiny to an attached deck project. The mission of any good contractor with decks is to EDUCATE the homeowner as to these expectations in advance so as to establish a clear understanding of what to anticipate with the final end result.
The following factors will contribute significantly to what will need to be done to a deck and what the end result will ultimately be.
1. What Type of Coating Is on the Deck Now?
If you have a Semi-trans Oil Toner Base product on a Deck now where you have a basic wood tone type color, like redwood to cedar, stick with it. If you have a Solid color or Semi-Solid Oil Stain on the Deck where the Color is more solid in nature but the grain of the wood still is quite prevalent, stick with that as well. Why? Oil Products will more so fade and chalk and will just require less maintenance in regards to peeling. They just naturally wear better in my opinion and keep wood “oiled”, preserving it better in this dry climate. If you have a Solid Color Acrylic Stain on a Deck, you will need to re-coat the Deck with the same as sanding this coating out of the Grain of the Wood is effectively really difficult in order to convert it to the Semi-trans. Oil. You could also have issues with proper penetration and compatibility of Coating as you attempt to apply the Oil over any measure of residual acrylic coating that may still exist. If the existing Deck has had an oil product on it previously & has turned black due to years of neglect and effectively sanding the horizontals and the pickets would be difficult to do consistently, the Acrylic Stain option may be viable to achieve a better cosmetic final product. Once the oil has evaporated out of the wood thru the years you will not have a compatibility issue here in that regard. If Acrylic Paint has been applied to the deck it will need to be scraped and sanded off as paint is not designed for decks and lacks proper penetration and will most often peel off in sheets and be an ongoing nightmare to deal with. NEVER apply Paint to a Deck especially to the bottom Support Structure. Paint is intended and designed to adhere to a primed and sealed surface. It is NOT DESIGNED TO BE A PENETRATOR like an acrylic or oil stain! This is less critical with Hand Rails as they are principally vertical in nature but make sure primer is applied first under the Paint. Regardless, top horizontal handrail surfaces will peel and require regular maintenance whether the paint is applied or acrylic stain. They cannot and will not withstand harsh weather conditions.
2. Pre-Existing Condition of the Deck- How Old Is the Deck? When Was It Last Coated? What Elevation Does It Face?
South and West Exposures are brutal on Deck Life. They are super hot & lend themselves to more fractured and cracked horizontal surfaces. They allow more natural penetration of moisture which makes these cracks larger providing for constant expansion and contraction and ongoing peeling as moisture/vapor moves out of the wood into the atmosphere. The older the deck, the more you will have to simply maintain it. Typically, areas of the deck, especially hi traffic areas, will need to be re-rolled or brushed every spring for sure. This goes for either a Semi-trans oil product or a Solid Color acrylic product. Areas of Dry Rot where a Fungus has set in and is eroding the surface of the Wood or to some depth of the Wood need to be removed. Not to do so would only make these areas worse and coatings do not adhere or penetrate into dry rot appropriately.
Let’s talk about what to expect once a coating is applied, especially a Wood Toner oil-based Semi-Trans. type of product. Wood, especially weathered wood, has different grains, existing cracking/fissures, and absorption rates. No particular area on a horizontal deck or a vertical handrail corner to corner will absorb a coating exactly the same. This is just the nature of wood, period. In arid climates like Colorado most often a 2 coat application of a Semi-trans. or a Solid Color Stain will be needed to properly protect the Deck. The 1st Coat will seal the porosity and left alone will not typically be cosmetically pleasing to the eye and will not weather well. The 2nd Coat will effectively seal the deck; provide better water resistance and longer life. The second coat is typically back brushed or rolled out to areas that will pool up due to these different absorption rates of wood mentioned above. The end result typically will be what can best be described as areas of variable look or sheen or better described as “Shiners. This is just the consequence of sealing most any deck with most any coating. To expect a uniform look corner to corner is going to be unrealistic and unfair to your Contractor as is expecting these same horizontal surfaces not to have some sort of failure or maintenance even within the 1st year. Intense moisture in the form of ice, snow, sleet, hail & rain along with 80-100 degrees Sun, heat, and UV is simply not going to allow a protective liquid to not have issues sooner than later. However, these “Shiners” will settle down as the UV and sun start the natural weathering process.
4. Sand or Not to Sand?
For Acrylic Coated Decks Scraping and Power washing loose coating is usually sufficient. If the Deck has been painted inappropriately, then it will need to be sanded off as much as is possible followed behind with a quality penetrating ACRYLIC STAIN, again NOT PAINT! Once you have an acrylic stain product on your deck, you are pretty committed to it. Again, really tough and expensive to convert to oil and you will experience varied results for sure. In regards to the Wood Toner base Stains and products, better overall results can be achieved with Sanding. This also assists in removing Blemishes and Circle patterns due to Umbrella Stands, etc. Once again, it may not eliminate the blemishes completely but will improve the overall appearance. Keep in mind that as these Horizontal Surfaces are sanded that it may open up the grain differently from plank to plank or area to the area again affecting absorption rates and final finish as described above. Areas of the Deck that have more protection than others will also likely sand differently and provide for a varied finish as well. Understanding the varied and different nature of wood will assist you in accepting more so that decks are just going to lend themselves to an improved, pretty but overall varied and sometimes rugged final appearance. Sanding is less critical with Solid or Semi-Solid(Sometimes described as Semi-Trans in Product Lit.- talk to the Paint store personnel to seek clarification as to the final finish and look ), as they will be more solid in nature when re-applied. Vertical Hand Rails, posts, and Pickets typically do not need to be sanded. However, once sanding to a vertical picket or post is started, it must be done so top to bottom as it will surely stain differently to the sanded area vs. an un-sanded area.
5. When Should I Use a Wood Brightener or Bleach/TSP Type Products?
This option is more cost-effective than sanding and is used really for mostly Wood Toner base Semi-Trans. Oil products. This approach will brighten up and clean the deck but will ultimately produce varied results especially to existing blotchy or spotty areas. If this is OK with you and a more varied and uneven look is OK then this is a viable option for you. The more varied and weathered the deck is now, the more varied the end result will be with the cleaning route. Again, Keep in mind as well that no area will clean the same corner to corner or blank to blank creating absorption rate issues that we continue to speak of aforementioned. The solution is applied and back scrubbed but areas with greater protection like under overhangs will just clean differently, period. TSP is great to apply for certain specified oil coatings to open up the grain of the wood better and provides for even better coating penetration.
Understanding Decks and what to expect with a final finished product can be confusing and frustrating for both a contractor and the consumer. Maintaining a Deck is the Key here. The longer you let it set, the shorter the life of the re-stain, the more varied the final appearance you will have, and the more maintenance that will be required. Just temper your expectations and understand that it is impossible to make a deck look perfect, uniform corner to corner, and not require yearly maintenance of some sort. Quality products, the right product, the right specification for the given deck and appropriately setting expectations with your contractor will go a long way to a better final experience and the end result with a deck re-staining project.