I thought I’d expand some from an earlier post of eClean Magazine featuring our Deck Stripping: A Visual Guide photo gallery. So here’s some information for those of you considering having your existing deck stripped or, if you’re considering putting a finish on your deck, read this first to avoid having to have it stripped later.
Film forming finishes damage the wood. These types of finishes not only flake and peel off, but hide the fact that the wood is being damaged underneath them as they trap and hold water. You may not see it right away, but they start to fail in their first year because in Connecticut we have extremes of temperature that expands and contracts our wood in winter creating the cracks in the finish that let moisture in.
Stripping finishes off wood is a very difficult process. The chemicals used need warm weather to work their best and homeowners need to understand they may have to wait for those warm days to arrive before the job can be started. If it’s a new finish they want removed, we may suggest they wait a year, depending on what was applied. If many layers of finish are on the deck it may take a few applications to remove it. The stripping chemicals also need time to do their job. After we remove the bulk of the finish with a stripper, we apply a neutralizer to the wood to deactivate it. Then it’s time for sanding and buffing, sometimes with large floor machines. Oftentimes we have to set the nails or screws in lower to be able to use these resurfacers. Lastly an oil preservative is used.
We never put a film forming finish on decks. We’ve spent too many hours restoring wood decking to it’s natural beauty to ruin it with paint, acrylic sealers, etc. After we bring these older decks back down to the wood, we treat them with oil preservatives. And here is another area where we may differ from many companies. We will apply the oil to the deck until the wood cannot hold anymore. We do this because it’s the oil in the wood that keeps out the water which will rot, crack and cup your boards. That’s why some of the decks we maintain are 25+ years old and are still beautiful. Using this much oil brings the cost of materials up on a job which may make us more expensive upfront, but less when it’s time to do a future deck maintenance.
What to take into consideration when stripping your deck.
First, when you get quotes from companies, they should do a test spot to see what stripper will work best. Lately we’ve been using an environmentally friendly stripper and we’ve been very happy with the results. But different strippers are for different products and someone with experience in the business will be able to choose the right one for best results on your deck. And by all means, if you know what was applied to your deck and how long ago, let them know. The test spot also helps them judge how many coats of finish are on the deck. This is not full proof, as painter’s have a bad habit of overlapping product or even using paint as a filler in uneven boards. Sometimes there are more coats on some areas of the deck then others and there’s no way to know that with just one test spot, after all, we can’t put twenty test spots on your deck.
After the test spot the company should be able to give you an idea of how much finish can be removed. Sometimes, as with paint, the very deep cracks in the wood will still have some paint in them after it’s stripped. A lot of that depends on the grain in your wood. Most of that will work it’s way out during the first year as the oil that’s applied will loosen it from underneath. But that is where you as a homeowner has to be patient as some things just take time.
Second, ask what finish is to be put on, it should be an oil preservative and they should be able to tell you about how much oil your wood will take. Some woods like Ipé will barely take any (but that’s another post) where others take gallons upon gallons. The key here is to make sure the company is going to apply enough oil to preserve the wood and not just color it. Color can be worn off, but even if it is, as long as a deep application was made, the oil is still in the wood preserving it. A year or two later a maintenance coat of oil can always be applied after a cleaning to make the color pop again.
And lastly, decks need to be maintained, once you go through the effort of restoring a deck, you should have the company come back every couple of years to clean the deck off and put a light coat of oil on it to keep it beautifully preserved.