Keep your deck looking as good as new.
Outdoor living is almost synonymous with cabin life. A deck (or two) makes a great spot to eat, entertain or just relax. Because it’s a horizontal surface, wood decking is subject to constant wear and tear from exposure to the elements, foot traffic and accumulating debris. Keeping your deck looking as good as possible for as long as possible requires some maintenance.
The first step to re-finishing your deck is easy: Check the local weather forecast to find a stretch of clear, mild weather. Most products are best applied in temperatures that are not too hot or cold, and not in direct sunlight. It’s ideal to have no rain for several days. “If rain can’t be avoided, be sure to protect the stain from direct rainfall for one to two days after the stain is applied to prevent it from being washed off the surface,” suggests Sashco, a building products supplier located in Colorado.
Choosing a Product
A variety of products are available for use on your deck: some are water (acrylic)-based and others are oil-based. If your deck has been treated previously, it’s best to stick with a similar product when re-treating, unless you plan to strip the wood completely.
Fans of water/acrylic-based products appreciate the products’ ability to breathe and flex with wood’s movement. They also like the easy clean-up. Some people prefer the way oil-based treatments penetrate the wood’s surface. Newer wood finishes on the market combine the best of both water and oil-based formulas.
You can also choose how opaque your wood finish will be, depending on the look you prefer. In general, according to Cabot, a wood stain manufacturer, there is a range of options. A colorless weather-protecting wood finish will screen harmful UV rays, help your deck repel moisture and preserve the natural grain and beauty of the wood. Some products provide all those benefits and add a bit of color in the form of a wood stain. A semi-transparent stain may resist fading a bit longer. Weathered wood decking may require a more full-bodied finish to extend its useful life. Explore your options in local home improvement stores and online. If you have a log home, you may want to sample deck stains to ensure color compatibility with your cabin’s log walls.
Before you can apply any stain or wood treatment, you should clean debris from the surface of the deck and between boards. You can use a broom or putty knife or pressure washer on a low setting. Unless you have rough, degraded wood planks or stained decking, you should not need to sand, strip or chemically clean the deck.
Once you’ve prepped your deck, plan to start staining fairly soon. Raw wood can be damaged by UV rays in just a few weeks. A clean deck is key to your wood treatment product adhering well and standing up to exposure.
Use a sprayer, brush, roller or stain pad to stain one or two entire boards, Sashco says. Then back-brush the stain into the wood, giving the stain good penetration and an even appearance. Less is better than more: A too-heavy coating of stain can result in a sticky or spotty finish. Applying two coats can help the stain last longer.
Allow the wood treatment to dry before walking on the deck or replacing furniture. To help prolong the life of your stain, try to sweep dirt, pollen and leaves off your deck regularly, Sashco suggests. The company recommends sweeping light dustings of snow off the deck, or removing heavier snow with a plastic shovel.
Your deck maintenance routine may vary depending on the type of wood treatment you use. Follow the instructions provided with the product, or visit the manufacturer’s web site for further information. Some companies recommend re-treating of decks every one to two years. If you’re unsure if it’s time to re-stain your deck, Cabot suggests spraying a bit of water on the surface. If your stain repels the water, it’s still working.
While you may not look forward to deck maintenance, remember the old saying about an ounce of prevention: Sticking to a regular schedule of treating your deck will keep it from degrading so much that it will require a major, time-consuming refinishing job.
A Good Start
A new deck can enjoy a long life if its builder follows good construction practices. If you plan to do the work yourself, make sure you understand your local building codes as they relate to decks and railings. Read and follow the instructions on deck hardware and fasteners.
You want to ensure that water or soil doesn’t remain in contact with your deck’s structural posts and joists. Flashing and post caps can help create physical barriers that will prolong the life of wood—even pressure-treated lumber.
Care should also be taken when installing the actual decking. Wood-care product manufacturer Perma-Chink Systems says their crew members sometimes see mistakes in the orientation of decking boards. “Wood most often warps in the direction of the growth rings,” according to Perma-Chink. If those growth rings face down, the boards will “crown,” creating a high spot in the center of the board that tapers to lowered edges. This curve helps the board shed water. Attach the boards with growth rings up, and the boards may cup, leading to water pooling on the boards and contributing to failing wood treatments and decay.
If contractors will build your cabin’s deck, talk to them about what steps they will take to help the deck last longer.