Spring is a time of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, the weather is getting warmer, and you can finally get outside. On the other hand, it’s probably time to take a good, long look at your cabin and decide what spring maintenance is needed. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ease the pain of spring maintenance each year. The secret is to spot any problems early, before they get worse, and take the proper steps to repair them. Then, by addressing the problems with the proper cleaners, stains, sealers and other products, you can work to prevent greater maintenance problems down the road. Let the list below serve as a starting point.
Visually inspect the exterior.Identify any problems that need to be addressed. John Ricketson, a project manager with Hearthstone in Macon, Georgia, says you may find problems on the roof such as missing or damaged shingles, or failed caulking or sealant. Doors and windows can be other problems areas, as the flashing can become damaged and allow moisture or insects to enter. The exterior, of course, is important as well. For a log cabin, problems can occur around doors and windows, at corner joints and on the upper portions of the logs themselves. “You’ll want to inspect all the logs, especially logs underneath windows and doors and lower logs off deck areas,” says Michael Santamaria, customer service and specialty sales manager at Beaver Mountain Log Homes in Deposit, New York. “Checking on the upper radius of logs can allow for moisture to well, which can lead to rotting.”
The quality and durability of a cabin’s finish can take a big hit over the winter as well. Fortunately, Ricketson says, it’s easy to test.
Test the durability of the finish.
“Splash some water on the wood in several different areas,” he suggests. “If it beads up and runs off, you have a moisture barrier in place. If it just sits there or soaks in, you are definitely ready for a stain job.” Mark Feder, vice president of sales for Appalachian Log Structures in Ripley, West Virginia, adds that any wood that looks worn or gray is a surefire sign that it’s time to clean and refinish the wood. And also be wary of any signs of rot in wood: this will need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Clean the exterior.If a cabin is finished properly, the finish should last you a few years. Still, Feder recommends cleaning wood annually. “After the trees have bloomed in your area, it’s a good time to give your home a ‘bath,’” he says. “Any dirt, mold, mildew and pollen that have accumulated over the past year should be cleaned off the wood to help maintain the life of the exterior finish. Typically, the process may only involve spraying the wood with a cleaning solution and rinsing with water. Pressure washing is typically not needed unless the finish has broken down and you are ready to re-stain.” Ricketson adds that using the right cleaner is critical. “Never use chlorine bleach,” he cautions, because of its high alkaline content. “All stains are formulated to work on wood, which is naturally slightly acidic. Bleach (and its residue) will remain in the wood, causing it to be hostile toward the stain. Instead, use an oxygenated cleaner with a low alkaline content to clean the wood, and even that needs to be rinsed very well to keep the pH low.”
Apply long-lasting stains and sealers.If a stain and finish is needed, it’s important to clean the wood properly in preparation, then apply the stain and sealer correctly to ensure a finish that will last for years. “I suggest that a waterborne acrylic stain with high concentrations of fungicides and UV inhibitors be used,” says Ricketson. “Over that, a clear top coat can be used. This clear coat protects the stain and prolongs the life of the stain tremendously.”
Check your outdoor living spaces.Decks, patios and other outdoor living spaces are other areas that may need a touch of care in the spring. Ricketson says you might find mold or mildew on stone surfaces or retaining walls that have shifted over the winter. For concrete surfaces, pressure-washing followed by the application of a concrete sealer can do the trick. Decks are often a problem area in the spring. “Decks are the hardest areas to maintain because water and snow just lay on top of them with no slope to create runoff, and they have 100-percent exposure to the sun and foot traffic,” says Ricketson. “The formulation of wall stains is for vertical surfaces and does not perform very well on the horizontal deck surface, which requires a deck finish that is very glossy to keep it sealed against water.” He recommends a darker deck stain, which has greater UV protection and lasts longer than lighter colors.
Manage vegetation.It’s good practice to keep trees, shrubs and other vegetation away from the cabin’s walls, roof and other wood surfaces. This contact is a good way to promote decay and rot. Plus, the cold winds of winter may cause large tree limbs to sway and even come crashing down, leading to damage. Of course, even if you followed these rules when first planning your landscaping, trees and bushes will continue to grow — and get closer to the home than you had planned. That’s why the spring is a good time to assess your yard’s vegetation and trim things up as needed. Get professional help, if needed. The ambitious do-it-yourselfer can handle many spring maintenance tasks, such as cleaning walls, decks and concrete surfaces, caulking and sealing around doors and windows, and trimming back shrubbery. But if you encounter a bigger problem, such as rotting logs, a failing finish or severe roof damage, there’s no shame in calling in a professional. It can prevent problems like rot from getting worse if the issue is not addressed properly the first time.
Spring Maintenance Checklist
- Visually inspect the exterior.
- Test the durability of the finish.
- Clean the exterior.
- Apply long-lasting stains and sealers.
- Check your outdoor living spaces.
- Manage vegetation.
- Get professional help, if needed.