When good weather hits the Pacific Northwest, it’s time to fire up the grill and spend more time out of doors. A deck is an ideal extension to any living space but must be considered like all other parts of a home as an investment that requires regular maintenance. Here are some tips to maximize both the life and enjoyment of your wood deck.
Clean thoroughly once a year
Your deck needs an annual scrub down so protective sealers can seep deeper into the wood. The best time to do this is when it’s dry and moderately warm (60 to 70 degrees). Apply a deck cleaning solution with a roller or sprayer to kill mold and bacteria. Use a utility brush to scrub the deck in places that are especially dirty especially in areas where mold or mildew might lurk. Areas that get little direct sunlight or get large amount of tree debris often need extra attention.
Beware of pressure washers!
Power or pressure washers are the quickest way to clear residue, but in the wrong hands risk gouging the wood and causing long term damage to a deck. A garden hose outfitted with any nozzle that has a hard-stream setting will work well without the risk of gouging.
Best technique is to sweep the nozzle along the wood grain at a slight angle about 8 inches from the deck surface. Move the nozzle continuously while the trigger is engaged.
Cover nearby plants and bushes before you begin
The chemicals in cleaners and sealers can harm or kill plants that are hit with overspray. Cover all nearby vegetation with a tarp or plastic sheet before you start, but drape it loosely to allow air circulation.
No chlorine bleach!
This will strip the wood of its natural color and damage its cellular structure. Oxygen bleach is an all-purpose alternative that won’t wash out colors or harm plants, but it’s still not appropriate for redwoods.
Lightly sand your deck before sealing
It can take up to 48 hours for the deck to fully dry. After it is fully dried, lightly sand the surface to remove splintery or fuzzy patches caused by pressure-washing the deck. A pole sander with 80-grit sandpaper will suffice. No need to bring out the power sander! The final step is to seal the deck to protect from cracking, cupping, and warping. A clear sealer lasts longer; a tinted stain or sealant fades quickly with lots of foot traffic.
DON’T use paint to seal a deck
Paint can look nice when first applied, but will show wear and tear quickly especially in high traffic areas. If you later decide to refinish the deck with an alternative sealant you will need to remove all the paint with a stripper or sander, a very messy and time consuming process.
Also avoid finishes that leave a film rather than penetrate the wood like varnish and lacquer. These will peel and crack over time. Consider using synthetic sealants as some oil-based products attract mildew and algae. Semi-transparent finishes protect the deck from sun damage and add color to the wood.
Remember to clean the deck at routine intervals
The room and walls of your home protect its interior from rain, snow, sun, and wind, but an uncovered deck endures whatever Mother Nature drops upon it. Regularly sweeping away puddled water, leaves, branches, and other debris will help prevent moisture damage.
Pressure-treated wood is NOT maintenance-free
It might resist rot and insect infestation, but pressure-treated wood still needs to be cleaned and sealed to withstand water and solar damage. Use products made for pressure-treated wood.
Regularly inspect your deck for damage
Inspect for soft or splintered spots, loose nails or attachments, and split or rotten planks. These can often be quick fixes to keep your deck safe and usable.
Do not use natural materials under deck furniture
It’s good to protect a wood deck from scrapes inflicted by chair and table legs, but don’t use rugs made of natural fibers such as jute and bamboo on uncovered decks. These rugs will absorb and hold moisture which can cause mildew and rot. Rugs made of recycled plastics don’t cause these problems, and will last longer.
A little bit of preparation and work each year will allow you to enjoy one of your home’s best features for years to come!