Expert Advice: Coaching a Pro Team
"You may delay, but time will not." —Ben Franklin
The days are getting shorter, but my list of projects around the house just keeps getting longer. One thing I definitely want to get done before winter sets in is cleaning my deck and treating it with a waterproofing coating. If your deck needs attention too, but it's late in the fourth quarter and the clock is running out, it may be time to call in the special teams. Think about hiring a professional decking contractor to get the job done for you.
Even if you've always handled your deck maintenance yourself (and done a pretty good job of it), it may be worthwhile to draft a seasoned professional to help you out. This is a busy time of year for most of us, but depending on where you live, the "window" for deck cleaning projects closes firmly in the fall. Deck coatings generally need to be applied when the temperature is no lower than 40-50°. Any cooler than that, and there is a chance they won't dry properly. And while you're waiting for warm weather to return, winter snow and ice can damage unprotected wood due to the expansion and contraction that comes with cycles of freezing and thawing.
Getting to Know You
As more and more decks age, many professionals have recognized the need and opportunity to help homeowners keep their decks "ship shape." In fact, some businesses are completely dedicated to repairing and treating decks. Other builders and painting contractors offer deck maintenance among their services.
Of course, it's always a good idea to ask people you know for referrals - neighbors, friends, real estate agents, employees at your local hardware store.
But no matter how you gather leads, take the time to talk with prospective contractors about their specific deck maintenance experience. Check references and if possible, look at pictures of their work or (even better) visit some of their recently completed projects.
Before any work begins, be certain that you have a detailed and signed estimate. This should cover several phases - structural assessment and repair (no use "polishing firewood," as the saying goes, if your deck needs major repairs first); then cleaning and finally, sealing the wood to protect against water damage. The contract should include exactly what products will be used and approximately how many gallons will be needed. (See the rest of this column for more information on your choices in cleaning and waterproofing products.) It's also a good idea to include a starting date and a target completion date, but whenever you're dealing with an outdoor project, you'll have to be flexible about unavoidable weather delays.
Before the deck cleaning begins, the crew should cover all stationary surfaces and plants so they aren't exposed to the cleaning solution. The "drape and tape" method will keep surfaces around your deck free of "oversplash" and subsequent damage. This should include windows, walls, siding, hot tubs and benches that won't be treated, and even concrete walkways leading from the deck. Plants can be thoroughly wetted down before treatment and then rinsed again when finished.
The cleaning step is key to the deck restoration process. In fact, it's not uncommon for it to take more time to clean the wood than to finish it. This just makes sense when you imagine how easily a new coat of waterproofer will go down on a well-cleaned deck. The waterproofer also adheres and performs better when applied to a properly cleaned surface.
The type of deck cleaning solution used for your deck will vary based on the condition of the deck. For instance, is it just dirty or does it have an existing coating? And if so, what kind of coating, and approximately how old is it? (This Web site gives detailed information on the complete line of Thompson's® WaterSeal® deck cleaners. Additionally, your contractor will probably use a pressure washer for additional cleaning muscle and rinsing. This is a great tool in the right hands. However, since a too-high pressure setting can "feather" the wood (fine splintering of the wood surface), you may want to make a quick inspection after the first few boards are cleaned, before giving the "ok" to finish the rest of the deck.
The Finish Line
When it comes to the deck "finish", you have four basic choices:
- Clear waterproofers - use when the natural beauty of wood is desired; clear multi-surface waterproofers don't contain pigments or UV absorbers, so wood will weather over time to a silver-gray color. Clear wood-only waterproofers include agents to resist color fading so natural wood color will be maintained.
- Tinted wood-only waterproofers (also called toners) - use to add natural wood color without hiding the wood's grain; they have waterproofing and a fade and mildew resistant coating.
- Semi-transparent stains - use for a wider range of color choices that still allows the wood's grain and texture to show through; offer waterproofing and a fade and mildew resistant coating, and have more pigment than toners (the more pigment in a formula, the more UV protection they provide).
- Solid stains - use for rich opaque color that hides the wood's natural grain; offers waterproofing and a fade and mildew resistant coating.
Each of the four basic waterproofer types is available in a traditional oil-based formula or a water-based formula. (Find out more about Thompson's® WaterSeal® waterproofers.
After cleaning, the deck will need to dry anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the waterproof coating being used. If you've chosen a tinted waterproofer or an exterior wood stain, keep in mind that the actual color of the product on your deck may vary from the color brochures. This is because the color of your deck wood actually contributes to the final overall color when the waterproofer is applied. Ask your contractor to brush out some of the product in an inconspicuous corner of the deck and let you approve it before finishing the entire deck.
Once your deck is finished, you'll have the peace of mind that your deck will be protected from damage all winter long. And even better, when next spring comes, you'll be relaxing on your deck, instead of having "deck maintenance" on that project list. (In fact, if you wanted to ask your contractor about helping with some of those other projects on your list, I'll never tell!)
— Jeff Wilson