Pressure-treated or not, a wood deck needs care

HOMEWORK

May 16, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

SINCE LAST November, Karol's "new" deck has been the province of dogs, cats, birds, spiders and squirrels -- or whatever critter it is that's digging in the gutters and knocking wet leaves and debris all over the place.

But now that the weather's nice and people can use it again, she's been out to sweep off the leaves -- and she is dismayed by the amount of wear it's already gotten. It's only about a year and a half old, but there are stains on the deckings, and some cracks and splits in the railings.

The truth is, all kinds of things weather a deck -- rain, wind, sun, people walking on it. And even though pressure-treated wood has a much longer life span than ordinary wood, it will still, eventually, rot. Treating it will definitely lengthen the life of a deck -- and it's a project that even a rank beginner can manage.

(By the way, the same thing applies to wooden fences. Most people like the silver-gray look of weathered fencing, but fences, too, will rot if they're not treated.)

However, you can't treat a new deck. Decks have to weather some before you can do anything to preserve them. The pressure treating wears off the boards in three to six months; you can't seal the deck before that, because the sealer won't stick if the chemicals are still there.

If you have a new deck that's properly cured, that's still in good shape, and still looks nice, you can simply apply a water sealer. You can use a brush or a roller to put it on. Depending on the weather (and how much you use the deck), the finish should last a year, or possibly two. Then. alas, it will have to be done again.

If you have an older deck that's been weathering for a while, it should be cleaned before you seal it. Deck cleaners and brighteners will restore it nearly to the original color.

It's best to use a stiff brush and brush on the cleaner. That will knock the dirt loose, and out of crevices in the wood. Then use a power washer to rinse it off. You can rent power washers, but they're a little like floor sanders -- tricky to use until you get the knack. If you wash too long in one spot, you can damage the wood. You can also use an ordinary garden hose with a nozzle. (The deck will get cleaner if you scrub it before rinsing it off.)

Let the deck dry thoroughly before applying finish or sealer. If you want some color, you can apply a wood-tone stain, or color it to match the house. If the color is not also a sealer, let it dry thoroughly before applying the sealer.

An update

A lot of people have been asking about the SpacePak duct air-conditioning system we mentioned in a recent column. The system uses 2-inch, high-pressure ducts that are easily retrofitted in older houses. Here's how to get more information. There is a local distributor, covering Maryland, Washington, and Virginia. It's Harry Eklof & Associates Inc., 3401 Pennsy Dr., Landover, Md. 20785. You can call 800-556-7556, fax 301-772-0319, or check the Web site at www.spacepak.com.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at hw@renovator.net or Karol at karol.menzie@baltsun.com. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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