Friday, March 10, 2006
Spruce up your deck for spring
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
You can't have a 60-degree day in March and not become seriously ill with spring fever. The weather is warming and snow is turning to rain, giving us hope that we will survive another winter. Spring and summer means outdoor living for many of us, so it is time to talk about creating outdoor spaces to accommodate our warm-weather lifestyles.
And what is warm weather without a patio? There are many kinds of patios, including concrete and stone. But our focus for the next couple of weeks will be on wooden decks.
This week we'll start with existing decks. After a winter of snow and rain, your deck probably needs a facelift. Decks generally require annual attention, which includes three basic steps: cleaning, color restoration and refinishing.
If you haven't cleaned your deck for a while, it may take some real elbow grease to get down to the actual wood surface. Debris that builds up between the boards retards air circulation. This should be removed with a strong spray of water. If this does not do the trick, try a saw or a putty knife to dislodge the accumulation of leaves, dirt and whatever the cat dragged in.
We don't have too much trouble in our climate with mold and mildew, but we do have trouble with sunlight. The sun's harsh ultraviolet rays degrade the binding element that holds the wood cellulose fibers together. This gives the boards a tired gray surface. You will want to remove both the dirt and the old cellulose fibers. This is done by scrubbing the deck with a stiff brush or deck broom and a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate) or another deck cleaner. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and protective goggles. After scrubbing, hose off the dirt and solution. (You may also be able to skip the elbow grease altogether by renting a power washer.)
After the deck is clean, you can return the deck to almost-new coloring by applying oxalic acid, a brightening agent sold in many paint and hardware stores. The more time the brightening agent spends drying, the more effectively it will work, so apply it in the early morning or on an overcast day rather than in full sun.
Applying a clear water repellent or wood preservative completes the maintenance. By keeping the wood from readily absorbing water, you'll prevent swelling, cracking, and warping. Older decks will absorb more sealant than new wood, so it will take more sealant to do the trick. And as with the brightening agent, do not apply the preservative in full sun.
Finally, if you want to maintain the "new wood" color on your deck, try a semitransparent stain. This will slow the wood's natural aging as it helps to block the sun's ultraviolet rays. Stain needs to be reapplied approximately every two years.
As the weekends get warmer, put on your rubber gloves and safety goggles and get going on that deck. The hours you spend cleaning and maintaining it will pale in comparison to the hours you spend enjoying it. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.