Deck Care!

Decks are a great way to add value to your house. They can be expensive whether you do it yourself or contract it out. Here are some tips on how to keep them clean and beautiful.

1) Make any necessary repairs.

Begin by inspecting the entire deck. Pay special attention to any part of the deck that is in direct contact with the ground, such as the posts, stair stringers or joists that are at ground level. Graf uses a screwdriver to check for structural damage. “If you can sink the tip of a screwdriver into a post or joist, it means the you’ve got rot and it’s time for a major renovation,” Graf says.
If you need to rip replacement decking to match existing boards, use a table saw. Ease the sawn edge using a router fitted with a ⅜-inch round over bit.
Also, inspect the deck-to-house connection. “Screws and bolts can loosen and rust,” he says. “Without the proper use of spacers and flashing, moisture can cause your band joist to rot.”

Tighten the fasteners that attach the deck to the house, look for any missing, bent or rusted flashing and carefully inspect inside and out for any telltale black stains that suggest moisture is working its way into your home.

2) Clean the surface, here are a few suggestions.

Sodium hypochlorite: This chemical—chlorine bleach—is good for removing mildew but isn’t effective on dirt or other stains. So mix it with an ammonia-free detergent. Thoroughly rinse the deck after using this chemical because it can eat away at the wood, resulting in fuzzing and premature graying

Sodium percarbonate: When mixed with water, this chemical forms hydrogen peroxide (an oxygen-based bleach) and sodium carbonate, which acts as a detergent. It is good for removing dirt, mildew and weathered wood

Oxalic acid: This is effective in removing iron stains and the brown-black tannins that frequently occur with cedar and redwood decks. This acid is commonly found in deck brighteners. Oxalic acid isn’t effective against mildew, so you may want to use it after cleaning the deck with a bleach-based cleaner.

Sodium hydroxide: Also known as lye, this is the key ingredient in most finish lifters or removers. Don’t leave it on too long, or it can eat away at the wood.

Be very careful when working with any of these chemicals, especially when they’re in their most concentrated (premixed) form. Wear the proper safety equipment and follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter. Rinse the surface thoroughly and allow it to dry before refinishing.

3) Apply new stain

Once all of the repairs have been made and the deck is clean, it’s time to apply a protective finish. Clear finishes and transparent stains are fine for new wood, but for older decks, Starling recommends using a semitransparent stain.

“The grain still shows through, but the pigment gives the old wood a clean, uniform color and helps the new wood blend in,” he says. The pigment also provides extra protection from the damaging effects of the sun and will last longer than clear finishes. Unlike paint, stain is absorbed by the wood and does not form a film on its surface, so it will not peel or chip.

Starling uses a sprayer and 2-in. brush to apply the stain. “Spraying is fast, and puts more stain on the wood than rolling or brushing,” Starling says. Most painters and homeowners are better off spraying on a generous coat of stain and then following up with a roller or brush to spread out puddles and work the finish into the wood. Starling, however, uses a modified technique. “Rollers push the stain off the wood and down the cracks,” he says. “I don’t get paid to paint dirt beneath the deck.” Starling sprays on a light coat, most of which is quickly absorbed into the wood. He uses the brush to remove puddles. “If the stain’s too thick, it dries blotchy,” he explains. Starling recycles the excess stain for use on exposed end grain.

Starling recommends starting at an inside corner and working out, applying the stain parallel to the deck boards. To avoid staining the nearby brick, he uses a small piece of cardboard as a spray shield; the brush provides even more control around deck railings and posts.

This 700-sq.-ft. deck required about 5 gal. of stain — almost twice as much as the estimates indicated on the can. Explains Starling, “Old wood can get thirsty. On some decks, I’ll need to apply two or three coats of stain in order to get a uniform finish.”

Subsequent coats should be applied while the first coat is still wet or they will not be absorbed into the wood. Stain won’t peel, but it can wear away, especially in high-traffic areas. Starling recommends applying a fresh coat every other year. A clear water repellent can be applied between staining’ for extra protection.

4) Redoing the Railings

Because the original railing on their deck was in such bad shape, the Johnsons decided to replace it with a maintenance-free railing system. They chose Fiberon, a vinyl-coated wood-plastic composite that costs about $70 per 6-ft. section. It’s available in premade panels or as kits. The Johnsons liked the contrast the white railing offered.

For an existing deck or concrete slab, Fiberon makes a surface-mount bracket, as shown below. For new decks, the manufacturer recommends installing the posts before the decking and using metal brackets that attach to the joists. To conceal any minor gaps where the balusters meet the bottom rail, Graf recommends using a mildew-resistant acrylic caulk

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