How to Spruce Up a Worn-out Deck
Give those tired old boards a refreshing makeover in six easy steps
By the time contractor Stephen Bonesteel arrived on the scene, the condition of this pine deck was bleak. Twenty years of harsh upstate New York weather without a lick of care had turned its once-bright boards a weatherbeaten gray, flecked with slimy algae and black leaf stains.
Still, even wood this neglected can be brought back to respectability, as Bonesteel demonstrated for This Old House. Over the course of a week, he power-washed and hand-scrubbed the deck back to a semblance of newness, then brushed on a protective coat of semitransparent stain.
Between refinishings, the best way to keep a deck in shape is with regular broom-washings using soap and water. “Clean it at least once a season,” Bonesteel says, “especially in spring, when pollen provides a food source for mildew.” Then, every three or so years, follow the steps here for a deck that looks - and lasts - its best.
Choosing a Finish
Choosing a finish for a softwood deck is a three-way tug of war between aesthetics, practicality, and protection. Favor any one characteristic, and you have to give up a bit of the other two. For example, if showing off the beauty of new wood is top priority, a clear finish is the obvious choice. But that clarity also lets in destructive UV rays, and that means more frequent reapplication (every six to 24 months). By contrast, solid stains offer great sun protection but hide the wood’s grain under an opaque film. They have about a four-year life span, but like all film forming finishes, they tend to peel or crack.
The most popular deck finishes are semitransparent stains, which are also the easiest to maintain. They contain more sun-blocking pigments than clear finishes, but not enough to completely obscure the wood grain. And because they penetrate the surface, there’s no film to fail. Just recoat as needed, generally after three years.