Decked Out

by Jim Williams

PPG Architectural Coatings, SIKKENS(R) PROLUXE(TM) Wood FinishesDon’t you love baseball-movie analogies, especially if Kevin Costner has any role in it? “If you build it, they will come.

Many homeowners across the country are saying the same thing, and there are no bats or balls or gloves in sight.

If we build it, people will come … to entertain, to relax, to enjoy. The next great American pastime is most likely already in millions of Americans’ backyards … and it comes in the form of an outdoor deck.

Patio and deck construction is big business to the tune of $885 million in annual revenue, according to IBISWorld, an international market research firm. Up 2.6% since September 2014, it’s a trend driven by a slow but steady housing market recovery.

There is no denying the popularity of decks. In recent years, they have become a haven for outdoor entertaining and enjoyment as homeowners seek to extend their indoor living space outdoors, which is as much about lifestyle as it is expansion. And it’s this quality-of-life factor that is driving many homeowners to turn to the pros to bring new life to their aging decks.


The most consistent and obvious truth about deck projects is this: no two deck projects are alike.

When considering any job, whether it’s refinishing a deck or building a new one, it’s important to manage your customers’ expectations, says Bill Gradisher, East Coast field technical services rep for PPG Architectural Coatings.

Some factors in a new deck, says Gradisher, are things such as which side of the home the sun rises and sets on. “This will help determine the amount of sun exposure the deck will receive and, as a result, which type of stain is ultimately needed,” he says.

Gradisher also says pros should take note of any awnings or pergolas that might hang over the deck, as well as expected foot traffic on the deck. “This will also help determine the type of stain that should be used, based on expected wear and tear.”

Contractors and homeowners should discuss the look they’re hoping to achieve, he says.

“When the project is complete and the homeowner is having a barbecue, it’s important to consider what they want to look at. A transparent, clear-coat stain will provide a clear sheen, whereas a solid stain will provide an opaque look,” Gradisher says.


“I think the first step is to consider the current state of your deck,” says Bret McGowne, a field operations consultant with Renew Crew, a Springfield, MO-based outdoor-surface restoration company.

“New wood has different requirements than old wood and a deck that already has some type of finish on it may require a different finish than what you had planned on.”

McGowne says the second step is to understand that all deck finishes offer you a middle ground between the life of the product and the appearance of the product. “Different finishes also offer a compromise in terms of ongoing maintenance.”

Gradisher says maintenance is an important factor. “Transparent stains tend to require maintenance more often than solid stains.”


One of the most important keys to any successful deck-refinishing project is deck preparation, says Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services for Sherwin-Williams.

“It’s important to prepare the deck properly before you do anything,” Watson says. “Lack of preparation is the cause of 90% of failures. Our product is only as good as what is underneath it. When refinishing a deck, it’s important to bring the wood back to its original substrate.”

Gradisher concurs.

“Many times, contractors use water from a pressure washer to clean decks,” he says. “This does not clean the wood, and it can actually cause damage to the wood if the pressure is too high or the nozzle is too close to the wood. Using cleaners designed specifically to clean the deck will eliminate the possibility of damage and provide a much cleaner surface to stain. This can be thought of in terms of washing a car. Cleaning it with a garden hose will get off some dirt, but it certainly isn’t worthy of a wax after simply being rinsed with the hose.”

Jeff Spillane, the senior manager for training implementation at Benjamin Moore, agrees. “Whether a new or old deck, previously stained or bare, surface preparation is the key to success. If you have never prepared a deck to be stained before, ask a manufacturing expert.”


McGowne says one of the common mistakes a pro can make is to rush through the cleaning process or not even do it all.

“Many people will choose to wash their deck with just water or a water/bleach solution. Neither of these will do a proper job of cleaning, and using bleach has the added detriment of being environmentally unsafe,” McGowne says. “A poor job of cleaning and prepping the deck will cause the most expensive deck finish to look bad or even prematurely fail.”

Experts from the wood-care team at PPG’s Olympic Paints & Stains advise that proper cleaning can affect penetration, adhesion and ultimately, the durability of the coating. Removing dirt, mildew and loose wood fibers significantly improves the adhesion of stain to a wooden deck. Cleaning with the proper deck-cleaning product has a big impact on the final color and on the regrowth of mold, mildew and algae.

Coatings that have not been applied sufficiently and stain that has been applied over dirty wood or mildew is definitely a problem, says Gradisher. “In some cases, mildew is dormant within wood. Once a water-based stain is applied, the mildew germinates and causes problems.”

Gradisher says application errors are also common mistakes he sees in the field.

“If lap marks, drips or runs are visible from previous staining jobs, the stain will need to be removed before new stain can be applied,” he says. He suggests using a wood stripper product to remove latex, oil, semitransparent and solid stains to prepare wood for a new finish.

“In addition, contractors should always ensure the deck has a sound surface and is in good repair,” Gradisher says. “Protruding nails should be removed and replaced with deck screws and Liquid Nails Subfloor & Deck Construction Adhesive whenever possible. Using a construction adhesive is a great way to add reinforcement to the board itself.”

Many pros believe that new wood shouldn’t be treated for a minimum of 12 months, which is simply not true, says McGowne.

“New wood does need to cure but waiting 12 months or longer is too long. Give new lumber a minimum of three months to ‘dry out.’ You may find that some boards will start to warp and you should replace those. In that three- to 12-month window after installation is the best time to get your first protective finish applied. I would recommend a penetrating, water-based sealer for new wood.”

Another misconception, says Gradisher, is that homeowners don’t know to call their contractor back every year for a thorough deck inspection and cleaning.

“This is because they tend to believe the deck needs to be stained every time it’s cleaned. It’s important for contractors to set up annual maintenance check-ins with their customers to evaluate exterior wood and clean as necessary. This is a great way to build the relationship and secure business the next time the deck needs staining.”

Watson says one of the best pieces of advice he can give a pro to avoid a costly mistake is perhaps the simplest. “Read the label,” he says. “Not all products are alike. Simply read the label to see how the product should be applied. What we did 5, 10, 15 years ago is not the same as what we do today. Technology has advanced so far.”

Watson also suggests getting the product data sheet. “These are always available at the store where the product is sold, and also online.”

One trick of the trade, says Watson, is something he calls the water test.

“Once you’re done preparing the surface, we suggest sprinkling water over the deck. If the water penetrates into the wood quickly, the wood is ready to finish. If the water beads up or does not penetrate, allow the wood to weather longer, or use a stain and sealer remover to remove existing finishes.”



While every customer wants a better-looking, longer-lasting deck, pros don’t all share the same idea of how that’s achieved. Fortunately, a number of manufacturers have been working on new products that offer a variety of finished looks and attributes for the most common decking surfaces.

Sherwin-Williams’ new SuperDeck Deck Care System features premium Duckback technology, and includes products for staining, sealing, stripping, cleaning and restoring decks. It can be applied on a variety of substrates including new, uncoated, pressure-treated or weathered lumber, cedar and redwood.

Sikkens ProLuxe Cetol SRD RE, has been reformulated within the last two years to provide a low-VOC option. Part of Sikkens ProLuxe Wood Finishes, it provides a premium, furniture-like finish.

Rust-Oleum’s Restore Deck Start Wood Primer simplifies the project preparation and can be topcoated with any solid-color coating, which boils the process down to three easy steps: clean the surface, prime and coat. When applied over existing coatings, it eliminates the need for sanding or stripping. And it can be applied directly to the deck, locking down the surface while promoting topcoat adhesion.

The newest Olympic family of stains, Olympic ELITE Advanced Stain & Sealer in One includes clear, toner, semitransparent, semi-solid, and Woodland Oil. A super-pigmented semitransparent stain, Woodland Oil comes in four colors that use only transparent iron oxide pigments to deliver intense color and durability.

Benjamin Moore manufacturers a variety of stains under the ARBORCOAT umbrella. Two of the newer products are the translucent and semitransparent deck and siding stains. Made with a blend of acrylic resin and a waterborne alkyd resin, they offer the best of both worlds, delivering the penetration properties of an alkyd stain and the protection and UV stability of an acrylic stain.

As an alternative to stain, BEHR PREMIUM DECKOVER Wood & Concrete Coating is 100% acrylic resin, fused with ceramic microspheres. The coating dries four times thicker than conventional stains and fills cracks up to 1/4.” Ideal for weathered decks, this product requires the usual prep and two coats to create a smooth, water-repellent and slip-proof surface.

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