Decks — published on May 7, 2008
Long Life For Your Deck
Sweep for Long Life
Sweep your deck clean on a regular basis—weekly or more often if leaves, pine needles, or other debris tends to collect. It’s the simplest, most important thing you can do to prolong its life. Debris collects moisture, and moisture promotes rot and encourages termites. So pay particular attention to nooks and crannies where debris can collect, like the bottoms of posts. Get the broom bristles between the deck boards to remove debris that can collect on top of the joists below the decking.
Select the Right Cleaning Solution
Deck cleaners are designed to clean away grime and to remove loose wood fibers on the surface of the deck boards and railings. There are a variety of formulas to choose from at your home center or hardware store. Some cleaners contain only detergents; others may contain oxalic acid or bleach or a combination of these ingredients. Unless you have mildew, moss, or berry stains, you won’t need a cleaner that contains bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Avoid the bleach if you can; heavy concentrations of it can damage the wood. Read the labels and choose a cleaner that best suits the discoloration or staining problems on your deck.
Your Deck: To Finish Or Not To Finish?
You can be taken aback by the variety of deck-finishing products that you’ll find at the hardware store or home center. But just like the 30 varieties of yogurt you find in the supermarket diary case, there really aren’t many variations in suitable wood finishes. In fact, you really only have three choices:
One choice is to apply no finish. This is a perfectly valid choice if you live in a relatively dry climate and you don’t mind the deck turning gray.
The most popular finishes for decks are clear penetrating wood finishes, sometimes called sealers. These usually darken the wood’s natural color in a way most people find pleasing. Clear finishes contain a water repellent—usually paraffin wax, as well as a mildewcide and ultraviolet stabilizers to slow deterioration from the sun. Clear finishes need to be reapplied each year. It’s easy—just use a paint roller attached to a pole for the deck boards and a natural-bristle brush for the railings and anyplace else the roller can’t reach. Use a roller designed for textured paint finishes—it holds the most finish.
If you want to change the color of your deck, you can use a semitransparent stain. The major difference is that the pigment in the stain provides more protection from the sun than a clear finish can provide. You’ll need to recoat only about every two or three years. To apply, use the same technique as for a clear finish.
Don’t Paint Your Deck
Paint and solid-colored stain (essentially thinned paint) form a film on the surface of wood rather than a penetrating layer. This is fine for vertical surfaces like the side of your house, and it provides the most protection from the sun. It’s also okay to use these finishes to add some color to the railings of your deck. But they are not a great idea for deck boards. Foot traffic wears away paint and solid-colored stain, and these finishes become unattractive in a hurry. Water eventually finds its way under the finish, causing it to crack and peel. Worse, the trapped moisture promotes rot. There are paints, usually labeled “porch paints,” that are designed to stand up to foot traffic, but these should be used only on surfaces that will be protected by a roof.
Vent Your Deck
Water dripping from the roof can cause deck boards to rot with surprising speed. The best solution is a gutter to carry the water away. But if that is not possible, consider installing a grill vent along the drip line to let the water drip through.
Keep It Tight
When your deck was built, the wood probably wasn’t completely dry—especially if pressure-treated wood was used. As the wood does dry over several years, connections that have been bolted together (beams or joists to posts) or nailed (deck boards to joists) can become loose. Besides being disconcerting, a deck that wobbles and creaks can cause parts to break eventually. Plus, loose connections collect debris that stays wet and causes rot. If you have this problem, get underneath the deck and tighten every nut and bolt you see. Tighten nails with a couple of hammer whacks, using a nail set to avoid denting visible areas of deck boards and railings.
Flip Deck Boards
Deck boards getting worn, weathered, and splintery? Just take them up, flip them over, and reinstall. You might still have to replace a few, but it’s a cheap way to double the life of most of them.