By Angie Hicks
One of the joys of early fall is deck time on the last few warm days. That is, of course, unless your outdoor structure has become a debris-laden, splintering eyesore.
A wood deck can last a lifetime, providing it’s well maintained. If you want to keep yours — or get yours — in good shape, follow tips our research team gleaned from highly rated deck pros:
Do an inspection. Review the deck annually, searching for such safety hazards as loose bolts, nails, rails, handles and floorboards.
Keep it clean. At least once a year, clear your deck of leaves, twigs, branches and other material.
To remove mold, mildew or other stains, use a deck-cleaning solution and a stiff brush. Power washing is another option, but use a light setting; high pressure can splinter wood.
Stain or seal. Depending on how much time your deck bakes in the sun or is exposed to other extremes, it will need to be stained or sealed every two to four years.
Start with a thorough cleaning, making sure the deck dries for a full 24 to 48 hours before applying the first coat of stain or sealant. Two coats are recommended, as deck wood, over time, will develop cracks that will expand with the passing of the seasons.
If deck wood is new or in good shape, consider a transparent stain that lets much of the grain show through. A semi-transparent stain will reveal less grain and a solid color will cover completely. Solid stain is recommended if wood is splintering or otherwise showing signs of damage.
Whatever product you choose, be sure it repels water and contains a UV protector to resist fading. Also, look for a water-soluble or oil-based stain. Oil-based products will last from three to five years.
Apply stain or sealant evenly and watch for drips, especially on vertical services. Be sure to “back brush” as you apply, pushing the material into the cracks of the deck boards, making sure it’s absorbed completely.
If deck upkeep is more work than you want to do yourself, there are many companies that provide deck repair and maintenance services.
The price of hiring a professional can vary greatly, depending on the size and shape of your deck, as well as the materials used.
Basic maintenance — cleaning, wood repair and staining or sealing — ranges from $400 to more than $1,000.
If you decide to hire deck help, get several bids, check references and confirm that the company is appropriately licensed and insured. In addition, make sure the company has a plan for covering and protecting plants and other areas from cleaners or stains.
And when all is done, celebrate with some well-deserved downtime on your now-delightful deck.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care; www.angieslist.com.