WHO WILL ANSWER THE CALL?
Deck Staining is usually not worth my time. There is plenty of other work that doesn’t require me to crawl on my hands and knees under a hot summer sun. Additionally, I don’t like cleaning up other Painters’ messes. More often than not, the previous Painter used a product that I consider inferior. When it failed, they left the customer holding the bag.

As a Painting Contractor I receive calls every year from people looking to have their decks re-stained. By the time I hear from them, many of these potential clients are exasperated from trying to find someone (anyone) to handle this task for them.

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So while the customer is waiting for their deck to be re-stained, their current deck stain is flaking off in large flappy pieces, exposing the wood by degrees. This eyesore becomes a daily reminder to them of things left undone (or…of things coming undone, as it were).

I feel their frustration, but easier money is to be had elsewhere, and with less “liability” (ie., unhappy customers calling in a year or two when their deck starts peeling again). I don’t enjoy taking work that I know will fail - it is disheartening, and does not meet my definition of maintenance.

THERE IS A LOT OF WORK AVAILABLE
I see Deck Staining as a potential market niche waiting to be filled. There is at present abundant work and the promise of return customers. However, it comes with…baggage.

The Industry-wide move towards “environmentally friendly” deck stains (ie., water-based stains), have left us with stains that only last about two years. A tough sell for the customer who paid to have it refinished this year, knowing they will have to do it again in two years, and then again in another two years. It is a sobering thought when considering the life the deck. Not only that, but these modern deck stains don’t just need to be re-stained… they usually need to be scraped before they can be re-stained.

Are wooden decks destined to be seen as a relic of bygone times, or exclusively on the homes of those who can afford to maintain them?

IS LOW-MAINTENANCE BETTER?
The outlook of homeowners has changed over recent decades. The average homeowner now wants a product that requires little to no maintenance. It seems to come down to: cost, a busy schedule, lack of necessary skills to maintain their home, rising cost of lumber, ongoing maintenance, having other priorities, and effective marketing campaigns.

Wooden homes of the past have given way to products like Aluminum siding, Vinyl siding, Cement Board, and most recently “Smart Siding” (lol!). There has been a shift in products available for Residential Decking as well.

Wooden decks have gradually fallen out of popularity, in favor of low-maintenance Plastic and Composites. Homeowners like Composite Decks, and Builders like installing them. Many clients have shown excitement about switching to Composites, and I have sometimes agreed with them. One things is for sure: Composite Decking are here to stay (at least for a while).

THE LOW-DOWN ON COMPOSITES
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Nothing is perfect, and that is true of Composites. Composites have a life expectancy of about 25-30 years - about the same as a Cedar or Redwood Deck.

While it is true they require little maintenance during that time, there have been some known problems, such as: warping and sagging, UV damage, delaminating, dark colors being much warmer than wooden decks (sometimes 10-15 degrees hotter than wooden counterparts), can be slippery when wet, and unable to repair damaged areas. There is no large scale method to recycle Composite decks, because the wood and plastic cannot be separated, so the majority of them will end up in a landfill. Some of these problems have been addressed, while others are inherent to the materials.

GOT WOOD?
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There are times and places where wood decks are simply not appropriate, for example: areas that are in extreme shade, excessively moist areas that don’t dry out, and of course when the customer is adamant about having Composite. But most of the time, I prefer Wood Decks.

I like the way wood decks look, and I like the way they feel under foot. Real wood lends authenticity, naturalism and rustic charm to a home and landscape that cannot be replicated with Composites. Wood is a renewable resource that adds organic interest, and intrinsic value to a property. It can be refurbished, repaired and repurposed when the deck has reached the end of its life.

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There are many varieties to choose from: Treated Pine (generally speaking has a15-20 year life expectancy with routine maintenance), Cedar (25-40 years w/ maint.) and Redwood(30 years w/ maint.), and others. There are also exotic hardwoods, like Ipe that have a service life expectancy (without being treated in any way) of 40+ years.

PAINTERS SHOULD KNOW BETTER
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Clients who choose to build a wooden deck, will want to know how to care for their investment. More often than not, they will look to their Painting Contractor, and to the local paint store for answers and services. As Residential House Painters, we will be expected to know and be able to offer options regarding the care and maintenance of their favorite backyard hangout.

Will we advise them to skip the stain, and just replace the deck when it rots out? Will we start them off with an Oil Based Semi-Transparent stain, and educate them about how they can gradually move into an Oil Based Semi-Solid, and eventually into an Oil Based Solid-Stain as the deck ages?

Or, will we start them down the path of Water-Based disappointment?

Confusion and disinformation surrounds Deck Stains like news from a bad politician. It extends from the manufacturer, to the supplier, to the tradesman, and to the homeowner. The Marketing Strategy seems to be to tell the customer that “Our Stain is the next big thing” and “Ours is better than the other guys”, but fails to explain why theirs is better. In reality most of the modern deck stains are pretty much the same.

Here it is: If it sits sit on top of the wood, it will fail. The way it will fail is to peel. It is inevitable. The thicker the build, the worse it will look when it fails, and the more difficult to refurbish.

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WATER BASED STAINS:
GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, BAD FOR DECKS.

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Water-based deck stains are “film-forming”, meaning the stain sits “on” the wood (unlike the “penetrating” oil-based deck stains of yesterday that sit “in” the wood). Film-forming stains form an obvious film, that (when peeling) can be picked up and flexed somewhat like a rubber band. No such film is formed with oil based stains.

Because of the nature of decks, and of deck boards, it is not possible to fully seal all six sides of every stick of lumber. Moisture always find a way into the wood through nail holes, splits, cracks, and etc... This moisture is then wicked through the capillaries, in the same way a tree moves water from the roots to the leaves. Once water is in the wood, it eventually needs to find a way out... this causes film-forming stains to be pushed off the surface. This action is sped-up when you have snow and rain sitting for long periods of time, and when you have shovels and boots scraping at the surface.

Water Based Semi-Transparent stains fail less dramatically when compared to Water Based Solid Stains- which tend to peel in large flakes. The painter will have to “fix” this surface before it can be re-stained. One might ask if these modern stains create more problems than they solve? There are ongoing class action lawsuits involving major paint manufacturers of some of these stains, addressing this very issue.

OIL BASED STAINS - MADE WITH DINOSAUR EXTRACT!
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In the past most wooden decks were stained with oil-based stains (otherwise know as “penetrating” stains). Oil-based deck stains are being gradually phased out industry-wide. If they haven’t been phased out in your area yet, the writing is on the wall. Environmental concerns, government regulations, consumer demand, and marketing at retail levels, have sped up the deletion of what is (in my opinion) the only suitable finish for exterior horizontal surfaces.

*Note- this rule does not apply to siding, as water does not collect and sit on the surface. Latex stains are superior to traditional oil based stains for wood siding: They have better color retention and remain flexible.

Oil Based Deck Stains don’t peel, because they are penetrating, and for that reason they are very easy to maintain: simply clean and re-stain. They look good, even when they were ready to be re-stained (because they fade away rather than peel away).

These stains, are easy to apply (with a natural bristle deck brush), they are durable, they look good, and they are available in custom colors. Oil is also naturally water-repellant. However, they can be prone to Mildew blooms when used in shady locations, as Mildew feeds on oils.

Oil Based Deck Stains have an expected lifespan (under optimal circumstances) of: 1-2 years for Semi-Transparent, 3 years for Semi Solid, and 3-5 years for a Solid Oil Based Deck Stain.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF DECK MAINTENANCE?
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When possible, as far as I have a choice, I only used Oil Based Stains on decks. Now I am asking… “ What I will do when I can no longer obtain the stain I use and trust?”. I have had to explain to long-time customers that I am having difficulty sourcing the stain to maintain their decks, and price increases have driven costs higher. One product was entirely discontinued this year, with no substitute available.

I predict we will be asked with more frequency to fix a badly peeling deck as this shift towards Water Based stains leaves us with few other options. How will we answer that call this year, and in upcoming years?

Do we offer to strip the peeling deck, and re-stain in Oil Based stain, knowing that the stain may not be available in the future? Do we run for the hills as fast possible, and throw a slower painter in our wake? Or, do we simply scrape the peeling deck, re-stain it with the same Water Based stuff, and offer a tail-light warranty as we drive away?