Is Deck Restoration The New 'Deck Replacement' ?

Jeremy Holderness

Wood deck in need of deck restorationIf your wood deck has seen better days -- severely weathered, cracked, or splintered -- and you think replacing it is your only option, there are some new products that just might offer an alternative to the high cost of replacement.

Deck Restoration and re-surfacing products have become quite popular today, and for good reason.  Over two million new or replacement decks are built every year in the United States, with each one of them requiring regular care and maintenance.  But the fact is that many of them are either not maintained as regularly as necessary, or are just plain neglected.

To maximized the life of a wood deck it is recommended that it be cleaned once a year to remove built-up dirt, algae, mold, and mildew.  In addition, a full-fledged deck refinishing should be done every 2-5 years -- depending on the type of stain/finish that was previously applied to it.  However, very few of them are being cared-for as well as they should be.

If you've let your wood deck go, or have recently moved in to a home where someone else has let it go, this article will help you to determine if a re-surfacing product is a viable solution.  Re-surfacing is more time-consuming and will typically cost more than a standard deck staining, but is definitely less-expensive than replacement.


What A Re-Surfacer Won't Do

It's important to understand that deck restoration coatings cannot work miracles on a surface where the wood has reached a certain point of deterioration.  A close inspection will uncover any rotten areas that are too far gone to be salvaged.  

Any spongy spots that you can feel as you walk across the boards is usually a good indication that either the decking boards themselves or the framing below them are in-need of replacement.  Often times you can use a screwdriver as a probing device to better pinpoint the affected areas.  As you're probing the decking boards and the framing, if any of the wood feels soft then some degree of replacement of the boards or the structure may be necessary to ensure the safety of the structure.  But always make sure that your local building codes are being followed when making any structural repairs.

Again, keep in mind that re-surfacing products are not a substitute for wood replacement where it's needed.  But even if there are sections of the decking boards that need to be replaced, that doesn't necessarily mean that the entire deck does.

If you're uncomfortable making the determination on your own then a reputable contractor who is experienced in deck restoration should be brought in to help you with the assessment.

Also bear in mind before you commit to using a deck re-surfacing product, it will permanently change the look of your deck by concealing the grain of the wood, giving you a look more akin to some composite decking products.


What A Re-Surfacer Will Do

We talked about how to decide if your deck is not a good candidate for a restoration, but what exactly will a re-surfacing coating do?  The characteristics will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but in general these products:

  • Fill cracks up to 1/4" wide (wider cracks can sometimes be filled with the proper caulking prior to re-surfacing)
  • Encapsulate wood splinters
  • Create a textured, non-slip surface that covers the grain of the wood
  • Create a coating with an elasticity that will expand and contract with the changes in the weather
  • Prevent most cracks from coming back
  • Can be tinted to a large range of colors
  • Can be used on wood or composite decking
  • Can last several years if properly maintained


Preparing The Deck

If you believe that your old deck still has some life left in it, then there are a few tasks that need to be performed to get the surface ready for the restoration.


Cleaning - Cleaning the deck is vitally important to removing the layers of dirt and mildew, but there's some debate when it comes to the best way to clean a deck.

Pressure washing the wood surface is certainly a quicker and easier way to get through the labor-intensive step of cleaning.  However, an inexperienced operator of a pressure washer can can actually do more harm than good when trying to clean a bare wood surface.  Things like using the wrong nozzle, holding the wand too close to the surface, washing at an incorrect angle, or concentrating the water in one area for too long can cause significant damage to the wood fibers and lead to expensive repairs.  

Excessive or incorrect water infusion into wood is often the culprit behind chipping, splintering, warping, cupping, and splitting that are so frequently seen on prematurely aged wooden decking boards.  No matter how well-intentioned, we always recommend that homeowners err on the side of caution and leave deck pressure washing to the trained professionals.

The good news is that you can still effectively clean and restore your deck without having to break out the heavy equipment.

  • Thoroughly wet all of the surfaces to be cleaned with a garden hose.
  • Allow the cleaner to sit on the surface for a few minutes and then scrub the boards, spindles, and handrail with a stiff bristled, long handle deck brush; working in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Using your garden hose, thoroughly rinse the surfaces to wash away the dirt and cleaner residue.
  • Allow the wood to completely dry for approximately 2-3 days before proceeding to the next step.


Setting Nails/Screws - Over time the fasteners that secure your decking boards to the frame tend to work their way loose.  It's a good idea to scour the surface and recess any protruding nail heads or screws just slightly below the surface with a hammer.


Fill Wide Gaps - Use a premium paintable caulking that will adhere to bare wood and is made to withstand foot traffic, such as a polyurethane sealant, to fill gaps wider than 1/4".  Be sure to observe the amount of time that the sealant needs to cure prior to applying your coating, as some polyurethanes require several days to dry before they can be topcoated.


Coating The Deck

Vertical Surfaces - If your verticals (i.e. spindles, posts, fascia boards, step stringers) are in relatively good shape compared to the decking boards you can apply a standard solid-color deck stain to them in a matching or coordinating color, as it will save you time and money.


Horizontal Surfaces - As I mentioned earlier, the characteristics of these coatings will vary from product to product but in general they are designed to be applied up-to 10x heavier than normal paint.

You'll want to work in a small enough area at a time that will allow you to maintain a wet edge to avoid any lap marks.  Start by using a brush to apply the re-surfacer between the decking boards and where the horizontal surfaces meet the verticals, just as you would if you were cutting-in along a ceiling when you paint a wall.  Then take your brush and work the material into all of the cracks on the surface of the boards.  Don't be afraid to lay the material on heavily.  The last area of brush work that needs to be hit are the end grain, or the ends of each of the boards.

Slowly apply a heavy coat of the re-surfacer with either the specially-designed foam roller cover or a 1/2" roller cover -- whichever the product recommends.  Make your first pass perpendicular to the boards to thoroughly work the product into the cracks and the surface of any decking boards that are cupped or bowed.  Immediately follow your perpendicular pass up with a finish pass that's parallel to the boards, using light and even pressure.

After the first coat has dried apply your second coat in the exact same manner as the first.



A word of caution for any DIY'ers -- deck re-surfacing products are a completely different animal to work with than traditional paints or stains; some of them can even be downright difficult to manage.  So, if you're adamant about getting an extraordinary finish on your project you may want to consider handing it over to the pro's, but if you follow the suggestions here and take your time you can end up with a very attractive, slip-resistant deck finish for a fraction of the cost of replacement in as little as a weekend.  Just take the time to read the label on your can for more product-specific instructions before you begin.


If you're in the Greater Pittsburgh or Western Pennsylvania areas and you'd like to have a professional assessment of your deck's condition along with a free consultation and quote on having the work done for you please feel free to contact us at 724-898-2446 or 412-835-2446.  

You can also visit our Contact Us page or click on the button below to have us contact you.


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photo by:  Scott Anderson / CC BY 4.0








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