Would like to try to make deck low maintenance
2 July 2005
A. When I was in the Navy the ships were made of steel and the deck crew were always chipping and painting so I think your nostalgic memories of laying on a couple of coats of carefree paint, Navy-style, needs a bit of updating.
A ten year old pressure treated wood deck that gets a steady diet of sunlight will begin to split and crack with the surface wood fibers breaking down under a steady assault of UV rays from the sun. An aggressive cleaning will remove the top layer of su n-damaged wood cells and the deck surface will be somewhat restored to a new looking finish for, as you say, a couple of years-- if youíre lucky.
Some people will attack a faded wood deck surface with a pressure washer and, in the hands of an unskilled user, will inadvertently damage the deck surface by forcibly raising and splitting the wood grain under the force of the high pressure water. You know when youíve done that because after the deck dries it looks like itís grown a peach fuzz of tiny splinters. The deckís not ruined but in order to get rid of the fuzz you almost have to sand it out and thatís work.
If you are contemplating paint as a solution to extend the time between aggressive deck washings then let me disabuse you of that notion before you do something you might regret. Remember paint is a film and the whole point of using paint, cosmetics asid e, is to present a barrier between what you want to protect-- the wood decking-- and the elements. That works in theory but ten year old deck lumber thatís never been painted will take an enormous amount of paint to present that film continuous and unbr oken by cracks and splits in the wood. And I guarantee you wont do a perfect job. The result will be that over a couple cycles or two of seasons with sun, rain, ice and snow some of that paint will begin to chip, peel or pop off. Now youíve got a deck that looks bad, the protective film is compromised and here you go marching back outside with brush and paint can in hand. Once youíve entered into the painting cycle there is no breaking it. Iíve seen folks who have inherited a painted deck through a h ouse purchase try to blast the old paint off to get down to bare wood but thatís a job that usually doesnít have a lot of real success attached to it.
What I suggest you do is just what you have been doing with some added components. You can use the cheap and easy deck wash that I suggest that is a cup of liquid laundry bleach plus a quarter cup of automatic dishwashing detergent into a gallon of hot water that you scrub onto the deck surface with a plastic bristled brush on a long handle to save your back. Then, waiting until itís almost dry, just hose it off with a garden hose. You can buy commercially prepared deck washes that do the same using ot her chemical bases but the results are about the same using what youíve already got at home without laying out any cash. Then take a ride to a good paint store or home center-- or even go on-line-- and research a good wood deck sealer that has a UV inhib itor prominently advertised on the label. There is a on-going debate in the industry as to which sealer is better but for my money it really just boils down to marketing. Usually the average coverage per can of sealer is listed on the can but, again, w ith a ten year old deck you'll use at least a third more than they say you will. Donít go cheap. Read the directions and follow them diligently. Be careful not to slop any sealer onto deck furniture, house siding or nearby vehicles. Then you can kick b ack for a couple of years or more and admire your nice wood deck.