Four Common Deck Finishing Pitfalls
Recently, a customer was proudly explaining to me that she stains her deck every year with two coats of semi-transparent deck stain, whether it needs it or not. When we asked how long she'd been maintaining her deck this way, she said, "8 years, and it still looks great!" we were happy that her deck finish seemed to be holding up, but didn't want to tell her that when her finish started to fail--and it would start to fail sooner rather than later--it would really be a mess. Staining a deck takes time and none of us want to do it more often than necessary. So, here are our top four deck finishing mistakes:
- Overcoating. Transparent, semi-transparent, and semi-solid alkyd stains are single coat systems that are designed to penetrate into the wood. Extra coats are often applied in the mistaken belief that they will add more durability, but what actually happens is that the stain just sits on the previously coated surface, leaving a slight sheen because the stain hasn't fully soaked into the wood fibers. As this layer dries out, it will flake and peel away from the decking. So read and follow your stain manufacturer's directions; if your 2-year old finish is still in good shape, don't just throw another coat on--you might end up having to remove everything the following year.
- Moisture. We also cringe when we hear a customer say that they're planning on pressure-washing and refinishing their deck over the weekend. Pressure-washing is a great way to clean a deck, but it also forces water into the wood fibers. If the decking isn't allowed to dry thoroughly, the water will be trapped by the new stain; as the moisture eventually dries out, the stain gets pulled off along with it. That's why it's always better to spread a deck refinishing project out over at least two weekends: do the cleaning and prepwork the first weekend, and then staining the following weekend, allowing a week of dry weather for the decking to dry out.
- Hot Weather. Direct sunlight can cause deck stain to dry too quickly, leaving unsightly lap marks. To avoid this problem, start in the morning as soon as the dew has dried off, stopping around 11 when the sun gets high in the sky. Then start staining again in the afternoon when the sun is lower, staining 2 or 3 boards at a time their entire width. A good temperature range for staining is 50 to 90 degrees F--if wood is too hot to leave your hand on comfortably, then it's too hot to stain. Pay attention to humidity too--the higher the humidity, the longer the drying time. And if it's windy, you may find that dust and debris gets blown onto the stain.
- New Pressure Treated Wood. To give it rot-resistance, pressure treated wood is saturated with a chemical solution; when you pick it up at the lumber yard, you don't know if the wood is fresh from the mill, or whether it's been sitting there for 6 months. The temptation, of course, is to finish the deck as soon as possible after completion, but if you do that, the solutions used in pressure treated wood may not have had a chance to dry out. In this case, and in any other case where moisture may be an issue, check the moisture content in the wood with a device called a moisture meter before applying any stain. Moisture content should always measure below 12%, regardless of the type or age of the wood. Probe-type moisture meters are easy to use and can be found at most rental supply stores