Options for Deck Finishes

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, even the best built decks can’t escape the elements. Sun, rain and even insects can damage your deck’s surface.

    TOM: Ah, yes. But a good finish can help keep Mother Nature from ruining your deck. Here to review the options is This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.

    Welcome, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

    TOM: So decks, by their very nature, get a lot of wear and tear. They get a lot of exposure to the weather. What’s the best way to protect those finishes?

    TOM SILVA: It’s really a matter of what you’re looking for. What kind of a look are you after? Do you love to celebrate the wood or do you care about just really protecting the deck? Is it going to be used a lot? So there are all types of finishes from oil-based finishes to acrylics and latex finishes.

    TOM: Well, let’s start right there. The traditional thinking is oil-based is always more durable than acrylic latex products. Do you agree with that or has that changed?

    TOM SILVA: I think it’s changed. It used to be that the oil was the way to go. But the oil – a lot of people will just stain a deck and they think they’ve protected it. And the staining of a deck with an oil-based stain is really the least amount of protection that you can, because it’s so watery and so thin.

    The more pigment that you have – let’s say, for example, paint. Paint has a lot of pigment. You can’t see the wood but it’s going to give you the maximum protection. So you can get to a semi-transparent stain, you can get into a solid-body stain or you can just get into a stain that’s going to celebrate the color of the wood or change the color of the wood.

    LESLIE: You know, I think that’s interesting because so often, people want to put paint on a deck. And that’s just something that’s going to sit on the surface. And I think, in the very nature between a paint and a stain, a paint’s just meant to sit on top where a stain will actually penetrate the surface. So if you’re looking to properly protect the deck but also get some hint of color or even just a slight indication of color, how do you determine what the best product is to use to get the duration out of the product and the deck itself?

    TOM SILVA: Again, that’s the more pigment, the better the protection. But if you want to see the wood, then you want a stain with a color in it. It’s like people will say, “Well, I’ve just painted my deck.” Did they paint it or did they stain it?

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM SILVA: Some stains look like paint.

    LESLIE: And I think the other thing that a lot of people will get confused about is when you’re dealing with a brand-new deck, let’s say, what’s the story with allowing it – is the term to weather or sort of …?

    TOM SILVA: Air out a little bit?

    LESLIE: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah.

    LESLIE: How quickly can you put something on top of a new deck?

    TOM SILVA: Well, if it’s a new deck and you want to use an oil-based stain …

    TOM: And we’re talking about pressure-treated decks here as opposed to, say, a cedar or a redwood deck.

    TOM SILVA: Right. And you want to put a stain on it? Oil-based? You can’t. You’ve got to let it dry out, sometimes, six months. If it’s not in the sun, sometimes even longer because the oil will not stick to any moisture. But if you want to put an acrylic or a water-based stain on it or a latex stain on it, you can put it on a couple of days later. Just let it really get wet. If it’s really wet, let it dry out a little bit. But the water-based stain will adhere to the moisture that’s in the wood. And so you’ve got some protection.

    LESLIE: But will it affect your color? If you’re dealing with such a new deck in a pressure-treated lumber, sometimes they’re green.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. It will definitely make a difference in the color. You’ll actually see that green come through that stain.

    LESLIE: Oh, yeah.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, absolutely.

    TOM: And one common mistake that I see folks make is that they love to pressure-wash their deck before they stain it.

    LESLIE: So get it super wet.

    TOM: As in Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon. But it just doesn’t dry out that fast.

    TOM SILVA: I’m not a huge fan of pressure washers because people use them incorrectly. If you use a pressure washer with, let’s say, under 1,200 PSI and you keep the nozzle off the deck at least 12 inches and you go quickly with it, then alright. I would rather clean the deck with a cleaner and scrub it with a brush and then hose it off than use a pressure washer. Same with the house.

    TOM: And then, of course, you do have to let it dry and dry well.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Because it’s got to dry because the pressure washer is driving the water into the grain. And sometimes, when you use a pressure washer, you use it too close. You’re actually damaging the grain. You’re hitting it so hard that you’re actually damaging the fibers and it can’t take on any finish because the grain is too compressed.

    LESLIE: So now, when it comes to maintaining this look of your deck or the color or the finish of the deck, I guess it’s going to vary by what product you ultimately choose to put on there?

    TOM SILVA: Absolutely. They’ve done tests in the middle part – I can’t remember exactly where they do these tests. These labs do testing grounds and they have these decks in the hot sun and the weather and the rain and everything. They found that the deck that holds up the best is the one with the solid-body paint. Will hold up better than anything.

    LESLIE: A solid stain or a solid paint?

    TOM SILVA: A solid-body stain or a paint will hold up better than a semi-transparent or a transparent.

    TOM: I think solid-color stains are underrated. People think it’s the same as paint but it’s not. You do see the grain of the wood through it but as you say, you get more pigment. That means it lasts longer.

    TOM SILVA: Right. More is better.

    TOM: More is better. Words to live by.

    Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for being a part of The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: Always a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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