By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
If you haven’t noticed from our columns over the past couple of weeks, we are ready for summer. We have discussed outdoor kitchens, patios in all their shapes and sizes, and porches. This week we will focus on another outdoor-living favorite: the classic wooden deck.
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 wood 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. Debris should be removed with a strong spray of water. If this does not do the trick, try using a saw or a putty knife to dislodge the accumulation of leaves, dirt and whatever the cat dragged in.
Decks may need cleaning and refinishing after the winter.
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. Remember, a pressure washer is strictly for cleaning; it is not a restoration tool, and when using one, never exceed more than 1,300 psi.
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. The worst thing you could do it your wood deck is paint it … think stain, not paint.
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.
If you have neglected your deck for too long, you may want to hire a professional deck-restoration company. Such companies can fix any structural problem your deck may have as well as sand and stain every slat to make it look like new.
Whether you have to completely restore your deck or just clean it up a bit, there is no doubt you will spend more hours enjoying it than you did sprucing it up. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.