Deck Maintenance

Deck Restoration

Charlene Sarver set out to restore the deck of her log home on her own. But after a half-hour of spraying vigorously with a power washer, only one little board of her three-quarter wrap-around deck was clean. Restoring the behemoth to its former beauty proved to be far more time-consuming than Sarver realized, so she went to the professionals and never looked back.

“It’s worth it,” Sarver says of the nearly $5,000 it will cost to complete the job. “We stay pretty busy and it’s worth it, one, to get it done and, two, to have it done right.”

While growing in popularity, decks are what Guido Bernstein calls a “maintenance nightmare.”

“If people don’t keep up on the maintenance end, it can be a real headache,” said Bernstein, of Bernstein Decorative Finishes, LLC.

Do-it-yourself seems attractive when you consider paying a fraction of the cost of a professional job. The downside is the process is time-consuming, and it’s difficult to get the spotless look of an expert restoration.

“We are so much faster, so much safer, and the results we get are so much better,” Bernstein said.

This is not only because of experience. Bernstein carries tools of the trade that aren’t available to laymen. Case in point, a toxic sodium-peroxide solution that stripped the wayward stain splotches from Sarver’s deck in a snap.

“It looks like a brand new deck,” Sarver said.

“And all we’ve done is pressure-washed it,” adds Bernstein. “It’s amazing in itself. We could stop right there and walk away it looks so good.”

The pressure-wash removed mildew and dying wood layers to reveal “a bright, beautiful, clean wood in excellent shape,” Bernstein said.

That’s not always the case. Before Bernstein attempts a restoration, he must be certain the wood is not too rotten, split, warped or twisted to handle it.

“I’ve told people to replace it,” he said of troubled decks that might also become a danger. “There’s no point in people throwing money away (to restore it.)”

Bernstein charges, on average, between $1.50 and $2 a square foot for deck restoration, but depending on complexity, the cost can be higher. For maintenance, Bernstein recommends pressure-washing once a year, which can cost as little as $200 for a well-maintained deck.

“Keeping up with it is easy,” Bernstein said. “Stripping coating is expensive. It’s that ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure.”

Sarver, who purchased her rural Carbondale home in October, says she plans to keep up with the maintenance because the deck is one of the most important areas of her house.

For her, it’s the ideal setting for so much of the year in Southern Illinois. Warm springs, breezy summer nights and crisp yet mild autumns are all perfect for gazing over her five wooded acres. Her husband Ed prefers the rustic porch for rocking and strumming his guitar.

Bernstein will add the finishing touch, a rich red-brown stain, to the deck this week. Next week, Sarver plans to host a neighborhood barbecue on her newly restored deck.

“We’re really looking forward to spending time out there and entertaining,” she said.

If you want to try restoring your deck yourself, take these tips from the experts.

Make sure your deck is in good condition to restore. Old decking boards that need to be replaced can be removed simply by prying them up. Poking wood with a screwdriver can reveal whether boards have rotted or not. Popped nail heads can be driven back below the surface with a nail set and hammer. Check for surface wear, popped nails and cracked boards. Surface mildew, mold or discoloration of the wood should be noted. Post beams and joists should be scrutinized closely as theyare at or near ground level and are prone to rot.

Look for a biodegradable deck cleaner. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use. Generally, you mix the deck cleaner with two gallons of water and apply it with a sprayer. Keep the surface foamy and work it into the surface with a scrub brush. Once clean, rinse thoroughly with water.

If deck cleaner is not enough, use a pressure washer. Keep the tip four to six inches from the wood surface, because the water pressure could damage the grain of the wood. Look for a washer that is no more than 1,000 psi (pounds per square inch). Use short, sweeping motions and keep the spray tip moving.

The wood must dry out before stain can be applied. The leading cause of coating failure is moisture. Bernstein uses a tool called a moisture meter to make sure the moisture level in several separate wood pieces of the deck is below 14 percent. About 12 percent is ideal. Without a moisture meter, do-it-yourselfers should wait after cleaning for a few consecutive days of dry weather before staining.

Keep in mind the darker the stain, the more the stain will retain the heat of the sun. Make sure the stain is water-repellant and stirred well. Apply a uniform coat of stain with a sprayer starting at the railing. Use a drop cloth so drops of stain won’t spot the deck.

Use a paintbrush to brush out any puddles, drips or runs. Once the railing is done, apply stain to the decking boards. Apply stain parallel to the decking boards, keeping the spray nozzle in constant motion.

Have your deck pressure-washed at least once a year to maintain the deck’s beauty and prolong the life or your stain.

Do not be tempted to believe manufacturer’s claims that promise your stain will last either, Bernstein says. Expect it to last two to four years.-

Sources: Guido Bernstein, of Bernstein Decorative Finishes