Monday, July 3, 2017

The Secrets of Deck Restoration

When Andrea and I bought our house in June 2015, we were fairly naive about home-ownership.  It's safe to say that most of naivety remains intact.  Although it wasn't the most important selling point, we were told the 620-square-foot, wrap-around deck was "new."  Less than 18 months later, the deck looked like this. 

The astute observer might deduce that these are rotting deck boards about six to eight feet long.  Right (rotting), wrong (deck boards) and wrong (board length).  When most people build a deck, they use deck boards.  Instead, my deck is made from some obscurely dimensioned (and possibly pressure-treated) lumber.  Clearly it wasn't water-proofed; we'll get to the stain later.  Although some boards are appropriately sized from six- to eight-feet, more of them range from 10-14 feet long.

I start ripping up the boards one at a time, and a few are removed with almost no problem.  But the longest boards are half rotten.  So while half of the board is practically disintegrating on one end, the other is tightly fastened with (multiple) nails.  (See side picture of some genius nailing three nails into same spot.)  Fastening with nails is a no-no, because they lack the staying power that screws provide.  In climates like Virginia where the summer gets very hot and humid, decks should not be nailed down, but rather screwed.  During the peak of the summer weather, wooden boards warp and curl, especially the long ones.  Since I don't own a crowbar for removing the boards, I innovated a clever little systems that utilized my car's jack to pop them up from underneath.  It took some time to complete, it was worth not having to run to the store in the middle of a project, considering the nearest hardware store is about a half-hour away.

I was blessed this past Christmas with a circular saw and I finally got to use it for the first time here.  After some careful measurements and a trip to the store, I was excited to purchase, cut and place all the new boards carefully into position with almost no problems - a rare feat and moral victory for an amateur deck restorer.  The only snag was that my drill wasn't powerful enough to pierce through the lumber.  So that required another trip a week later to buy what now become my new favorite tool - an impact driver (drill).  For those uninitiated, it's a glorified drill that also has a pounding feature to help stubborn screws into thick wood.  It harbors no prisoners; a moment of broken focus completely buries the screw into the wood.

The after picture was the state of our deck for about two months.  The rains of Spring came and went, along with the business involved with the end of the school year.  Once I finished all my obligations for school, I patiently waited for a handful of sunny, clear days to lay down the stain.  The time between work also gave me time to research stains.  Another fault in my deck was that transparent stain was previously used.  With the intense amount of sun exposure the deck receives on a daily basis, a transparent stain does little, if anything, to protect the wood.  Multiple sources recommended  a semi-transparent stain, which should reduce the warping and curling of the boards

The weather was beautiful here last week.  It was hot, but not humid; perfect conditions for staining.  After prepping the deck on Monday with a solid wash and sweep, I called over two brothers - both students of mine from Carmel - to help me.  They received their first experience of staining wood, while I benefited from the extra man-power I desperately needed to finish pm time.  After three days of working in the sun and drinking peach tea, I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

As a bonus, I reused all the old boards that weren't rotting out into a raised garden bed.  Check out this resourcefulness!

When Andrea and I staked our two-acre farm land almost two years ago, it was sparse and unappealing.  Although the deck still has it's (many) flaws, it looks and functions better than the day we bought the house.  Andrea has also cultivated quite a green thumb and a passion for gardening and landscaping.  We still have numerous projects to finish before the house will be fully transformed into our home.  But in the meantime, we are so thankful for what we have and that we are closer to finishing than when we first started.  I really find a delight and a peace looking at this every day.

If nothing else, I hope you learned something about deck restoration.

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