With skies clearing, temperatures warming and flower buds forming, it won’t be long before you find yourself yearning to spend more time outdoors. What better place to enjoy summer than out on your deck, unless of course, it looks weathered, worn and unsightly. Doing a deck tune-up, while not effortless, can be a very rewarding experience because the improvement in appearance can be quite dramatic.
First off, it’s best to make sure the deck is sound, as it doesn’t make much sense to improve the appearance, if repair work is required. Obviously if the deck or railings feel unstable in any way, you may want to get a professional opinion or structural assessment about what can be done to improve that. But if it feels sturdy and the framing is accessible, inspect it to make sure that the connections are tight and that there are no obvious signs of rot, insects or other damage. Older decks in our neck of the woods are sometimes constructed in part or even completely of untreated Douglas Fir, a strong wood when protected from the elements, but highly susceptible to rot and insects when exposed to weather because it lacks the natural protections found in Redwood or Cedar.
Clean loose debris from between the deck boards with a putty knife and leaf blower. If the deck boards are too tight (less that 1/8” apart), you may want to make adjustments because the boards need air to circulate around them to avoid rot. Next check the nails, screws or clips that attach the deck boards to the frame. If they are loose or not flush, reset them to tighten them up.
If the boards are extremely weathered or splintering, sanding the deck will be the only way to smooth them out, but you may want to consider getting professional assistance if this level of repair is required. Next it is important to have a few days of clear, dry weather before and after cleaning and finishing to make sure the finish material makes a good bond with the deck.
As a rule, decks should be stained/sealed rather than painted because stain penetrates the wood and erodes slowly over time, but paint is a relatively thick surface coating that with traffic and exposure can lose its bond and chip off. Once painted, it is very difficult to remove the paint and go back to stain, so if it is painted, the surfaces will need to be well prepped and cleaned prior to applying new primer and paint.
If re-staining, a good, clean, and dry surface is important. Commercial cleaners are available and typically their active ingredient is oxalic acid. Pre-rinsing the deck will loosen the largest particles and help the deck accept the cleaner. The cleaner can be applied with a broom or brush then allowed to sit for several minutes to remove stains and ground-in dirt. Persistent stains can be given a second cleaning, but be sure to “feather in” to avoid a spot-cleaned appearance. Then a good rinsing is in order with a strong spray (not stream) of water. Avoid pressure washing unless you have had a lot of practice as it is easy to scar and even shred the wood surfaces with the high-pressure spray.
Once the deck has dried out for a couple of days (and there are a couple of dry days in the forecast ahead), a new stain/sealer can be applied. The other extreme of direct sun should also be avoided. Finishing the deck early in the day will give the stain/sealer a chance to penetrate deeper into the wood before the heat begins to dry it out. To avoid variations in the finish, it is important to keep a “wet edge”, and doing a section at a time with a clean break such as at a deck board or other termination point will yield consistent results.
Of course, if this all sounds like too much work to you, don’t let that stop you. Harrell Remodeling would be happy to lend a hand because we know that properly maintaining a deck will add many years to its life, saving a lot of money in the long run, as well as providing a pleasurable place for you to enjoy those lovely days of summer and warm nights ahead!