Exterior Deck and Wood Coating Failures WHY?

Exterior wood coatings have changed over the years making what was already a “more difficult than it looks” process down right miserable.
The problem starts with the expectation prior to starting a project. There are four main factors to consider when restoring the wood surfaces. The first is appearance which everyone wants it look great when completed. The second is to preserve or extend the life of the wood. Third, is the durability or shelf life of the coating. Then there is the fourth factor, and most important, what will be the future maintenance and how easy will it be to maintain in coming years? It is impossible to have one product that is number one in each factor. When you go for durability you will lose in ease of future maintenance. When you go for an easy future maintenance product you generally will sacrifice longevity of the coating.
Consider this scenario; Year one a light cleaning and a natural sealer, next time a light cleaning and it doesn’t look bad but you go with a tinted sealer or lightly tinted stain, next time out there are a lot of imperfections so you go with a semi-transparent or solid stain. Then in today’s market some folks are using the textured thick coatings that companies state will restore gray or old wood. Now there is a peeling mess that will not strip off with anything over the counter in the paint or hardware store. Sound familiar?
Of course, it does to many. There are two main reasons coatings fail today. One is the coatings themselves and the focus of the industry. The second is the prep work that is performed prior to applying a coating.
Let us address the coatings and the industry focus. The major manufacturers that everyone is familiar with are focused on durability and longevity of the coating. They feel these are the selling points to the consumer. A major issue with this is that you may be happy for a few years with the appearance and the longevity but as it begins to peel and NOT wear away you realize that a detailed process of stripping and possibly sanding prior to re-coating is necessary. This process is usually labor intensive, grueling, and expensive. With the newer products on the market by Behr, Olympic, Rust-Oleum, and others it may actually be cheaper to replace the wood than to remove the coating. There is no stripper made for these types of coatings and with the rough texture and ceramic microspheres in the coatings they will tear up sandpaper in short order. Remember, these products are not made to come off immediately and if they peel within months you have a major issue. On an old expiring deck, it could mean the end of the road. Without getting into the lawsuits that have popped up regarding these coatings, you can perform an internet search, the biggest failure it that these coatings are film forming and stiff. If you put a stiff, more permanent type of coating on top of wood that is constantly moving by expanding and contracting what are the expectations? The more durable they make them the harder they are to remove but easier to “pop” and “peel” from the wood surface leaving the consumer with a headache. It is best to look at products that will wear away making it easier to clean and re-coat even if it is more frequent.
Next, we should discuss the preparation of the wood surfaces prior to coating. It must first be recognized that the better the prep the better the end result. Poor preparation is magnified in the end result once a coating has been applied. We begin with a deck that is gray or worn from exposure and the sun. To properly restore the wood surfaces we must remove the layer of grayed wood. These wood fibers are not bound to the “good” wood underneath. You can actually scrape the grayed fibers with the end of your finger or a light tool. To remove this layer of gray wood a very light amount of pressure or sanding is used to expose the good wood. Now the coating you apply will last longer and wear evenly. In today’s market you will find many people who call themselves “professionals” or “experts” and insist on “soft washing” your wood surfaces to clean with. Some of these contractors will tell you that they stain when done or that it is “stain ready” for you when completed. This process can actually damage the wood. Many of the soft washers are using a stronger than industry standard chemical, usually bleach. If chemicals are not rinsed out of the wood well and left in the wood when completed it may lead to a quickly failing coating and will dry out the wood prematurely over a lifetime. In this process, they are merely “bleaching” the wood to look like new but as previously mentioned they have not removed the loose gray wood fibers they merely bleach and re-coat afterward or leave it for you to re-coat. In either event, the end result will fail because the coating has bonded with the loose wood fibers that will pull away from the wood sooner than later leaving you with a blotchy appearance.
These are the two main reasons coatings fail today so a consumer is faced with a decision as to what is best for their wood surfaces. While there is no perfect product we should take all of the previous information into consideration. We need to make sure the preparation is being performed correctly and that the contractor, or whoever, is performing the work has an understanding of what proper industry standards are and that they will meet your expectations. You do not want someone who will make it look good today and get a check and in a few months, you are facing buyer’s remorse for your decision. Then we must consider that if the wood is constantly moving and it gets a lot of traffic and wear it would make sense to find a product that also “moves” with the wood and will wear. This makes future maintenance a light cleaning and re-coating and keep the price down. If manufactures do not get on board with the simple fact that they are frustrating the wood deck consumer into making decisions to move to composite decking (which have their own problems) they will lose a huge part of their end users. There are many great products out there many of which you need to research online and not sold in paint and hardware stores. The research can be overwhelming but look for ease of future maintenance over longevity for less future headaches.
Written by Everett Abrams “Wizard of Wood”, Shamong NJ
Deck Restoration Plus, www.deckrestorationplus

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