Common Causes of Deck Deterioration
The sun is always present, always sending down UV rays in different degrees, depending on the immediate weather. These rays eventually break down the lignin in the wood that keeps the wood together. That is why old, UV damages wood can sometimes have a dusty type of finish on its outmost layer. Left unprotected, most woods will eventually get either brittle or punky and lose its strength.
Fungus, Mildew & Algae
Fungus, mildew, and algae are common enemies here is the Portland Metro area. Even without being a source of potential damage to the wood, they can cause hazards. Slippery decks from algae send many homeowners to the hospital every year with broken and bruised bones. Mildew most commonly stays on the surface of the wood, not causing too much damage. However, there are plenty of times that it goes deeper, causing rot that structurally weakens the wood.
Finally, water damage, whether the result of damning or just sitting water, shortens your deck’s life. Deck wood that stays wet for excessively long periods, having no protection against water, will be much more susceptible to rot. Once wood starts to absorb excess water and hold it for too long, rot is not far away.
One often forgotten item to remember is that even composite decking can accumulate algae, fungus or mildew and since many are ultimately plastic based, are also susceptible to some UV degradation.
All these effects work together to reduce the lifespan of your deck.
How Deck Maintenance Helps Preserve your Deck
Preparing the Deck
A deck always has to be prepared prior to applying a stain or sealer, otherwise you will just be sealing in any pollutants and harmful organisms that are currently present on the deck. In addition, it would look hideous.
Gently washing off these elements prepares the wood for treatment. Often, the addition of a brightener will further help the deck become even more receptive to a new coat of stain or sealant by helping the wood obtain a good pH.
Staining the Deck
Next, after adequate drying time, the application of a stain or sealant is needed. We recommend stains over sealants because a stain has everything that a sealant does, plus UV protection. Clear seals, with few exceptions, rarely offer UV protection. If your desire is to have the wood maintain as much of it’s current color as possible, as stain with very little pigment is recommended.
Quality Stain Elements
A quality stain has several elements. The most obvious is the pigment, which makes a deck look beautiful. As noted above, pigments can range for barely perceptible to very dark and heavy. There are different classifications of stains, from transparent (called tints by some manufacturers), to semi-transparent, to semi-solid and finally, solid. Transparent stains are best described as making your deck appear as though you were looking at it through our favorite color of sunglasses – you can still see the grain but it has coloration. At the other end of the spectrum, solids look like an exterior paint. The completely cover the woods grain. Texture is still evident but the wood grain is lost.
Prevent Organic Substance Growth
A good stain should also have a mildewicide to help slow the re-growth of organic substances. I use the word slow versus prevent because the success of the mildewicide varies greatly depending on the location of every specific deck. A deck located low to the ground in a heavily forested setting will see the return of mildew, fungus and algae much sooner that a balcony deck that gets full sun exposure. But regardless of the deck’s location, the onset will be much slower than if there had been no mildewicide at all.
The waterproofing component of a stains help keep water from being absorbed into the wood. Some stains and seals work by a repellant action (when you see the water bead up on top) and others by a sheeting action (less beading, but allow the water to slip through faster, in effect, without lingering.) Solutions heavier with waxes and acrylics tend to more often repel and those with penetrating oils most commonly tend to sheet.
Protection from the Sun
Finally, there is the UV protection component. As mentioned above, seals generally do not offer this yet UV rays are commonly the most damaging element. A quality stain will help the wood withstand the constant UV pounding through employing the equivalent of sunscreens. Decks will resist graying out and the outer fibers will stay much stronger. Other effects of UV damage, such as splitting and cupping, will also be reduced.
There is one last item to note. These different components dissipate at different rates so it is very hard, if not impossible, to say how much of a given element remains. For that reason, plus the desire for our decks to look nice, regularly planned service intervals are recommended. Different stain classifications have different intervals.
The bottom line is that regular maintenance can easily double your deck’s life. If you want your deck to receive some TLC, call us right now for a free evaluation and estimate. 503-590-9274.