Exterior Wood Restoration Today
Are you using older products, tools, and methods? You could be trying to put a square peg in a round hole!
Restoring a deck or exterior wood surface just is not as easy as it used to be. It can be but only with the right knowledge, education, and information to get the job done. You may want to sit down for this but, all the information online is not correct - SHOCKER! This is usually where the problem starts for both homeowners and contractors. They begin to read and watch videos with so many different methods and products that it becomes confusing. This is where the initial frustration with exterior wood restoration starts in today’s world. Let’s discuss the issues and how we got here, then we can get to the answers.
A wood deck should last 20 year plus, depending on the type of wood. During this time span you will want to maintain the wood to both extend the life of the structure and for the appearance. This is best accomplished when you have a product that is easy cleaned every 2-3 years and then re-coated to get you through the next 2-3 years. A little hint here, the first time a deck is sealed or stained you should generally two-coat it or back brush as you go, and the maintenance coats should be one-coat on the vertical and two coats on the horizontals. Vertical surfaces will take twice as long to wear. Therefore, the result is that some decks will have darker railings and the floor will be grayed out. They treat the floor the same as the railings each time, this is a mistake. When applying maintenance coats do half as much on the railings as you do on the floor and it will always have a consistent appearance! If you have a good product and the coating goes into the wood and as it ages it “wears” away and not “peels” away, then it will be easy to maintain in the future. The issue here is most of the manufacturers of sealers and stains are focused on durability over ease of future maintenance. Currently, it is this flawed concept manufacturers have that is the issue. Anyone who has stained a deck or wood siding knows it is easier to maintain a penetrating product over one that peels. Coatings that peel must be thoroughly prepped before re-coating can occur. Long term these manufacturers are only hurting their own business because as they frustrate contractors and homeowners who use their products, they are pushing them toward manufactured products like PVC and Composite decking as well as, other types of building material. Many of these products do not need to be sealed, stained or painted. When manufacturers focus on durability, they start adding different items to their products to make it last longer however when doing this they make it harder to maintain. One example is a manufacturer that added some urethane content, which makes their product VERY hard to maintain and next to impossible to strip off. Most manufacturers sell sealer and stain products and then do not even have a stripper or the right products to maintain even their own stains! From this there are two issues that arise when working with wood. The first is that durability usually means drying closer to the surface and when it comes away from the wood it exposes bare wood. Secondly, when you go back to maintain the wood you need to strip the coating so that the not coated and coated areas will now look the same in appearance again and here is where the frustration really kicks in. Manufacturers make the coatings more durable so now they are harder to maintain so, what do we do now? What if we can’t strip the product? The next issue here is that when they make sealers more durable many times they will be on the wood and protecting it while the sun is graying the wood through the coating with UV rays. Now, while the wood may be protected there will be a lot of people upset because the appearance is not good and how will they fix the appearance when they can’t get the existing coating off? This is the dilemma of many homeowners and contractors today. The answer in most cases is they apply a solid stain or a paint over top of the wood surfaces. “Restoration” goes right out the window and it becomes what is easier or the idea that they think that is all they can do. Most people can relate to this and have seen these scenarios.
How did we get here and why does it matter? How we got here helps define the problem so we can come up with solutions.
This is a general timeline:
We used a pressure washer on the wood and usually just blasted away and used CWF-UV as “the good stuff” to seal with.
We still used the pressure washer, but we started to see a lot of other sealers and stains coming into popularity. These were mostly oil-based products that easily stripped with a sodium hydroxide-based stripper. We also used sodium hypochlorite/bleach to clean the decks when needed. We realized that using products to restore the wood was better than “blasting” it. Can you imagine a concept where “blasting” does not clean or restore? In summary, we used a pressure washer, bleach, sodium hydroxide, brightener, and then sealed or stained.
This was the BIG one in the coating industry because this is when Federal Regulations on coatings changed the industry. This involved VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Compliance and the make up of coatings. Many companies had to re-formulate their products which changed them. As a short time passed some States decided to go beyond the Federal regulations. This caused all kinds of problems because in one state you could buy a product and the can looks the same as in another state however, they may be two different products! This led to a problem using oils and meeting the Federal and State regulations. This led to a phasing out of many of these coatings and a larger push toward water-based coatings. Now the cart was way in front of the horse! Manufacturers had products out there that would not maintain or be near impossible to remove. Some re-formulations frankly just did not work at all.
It has been a rough 10 years as the coatings industry has been in a state of flux. Oils were mostly phased out except for “true” penetrating oil products that complied with Federal regulations prior to 2009. As time progressed some oil products were reintroduced. Water-based products really took over the market and continue to do so. Many states are moving toward “no oils” and the states that do have oils there are restrictions in place that make it harder to deliver the same quality as years ago. As the focus steered strictly toward durability there seemed to be “no one” working on non-coating products. From cleaners to strippers for prepping wood surfaces to apply a coating everyone was still using old products and chemicals that predated the Federal regulation changes on newer coatings. We not only had oil-based coatings but different types of water-based coatings and even hybrids where the oil droplets are emulsified in the water-based product. Many people have become frustrated because the strippers we used prior to 2009 will not strip off water-based coatings. Many folks begin applying solid stains to just “go over” what is already there. Peeling surfaces everywhere and coatings that don’t want to strip off, contractors giving up or do not want to provide these surfaces. Homeowners saying, “forget this” and installing a composite deck.
2020 and Beyond
There are two distinct tracts that people will take in restoring exterior wood surfaces.
Tract #1 – Pressure Washer, Bleach, Sodium Hydroxide, Brightener, and then sealed or stained
Tract #2 – Pressure Washer, Soft Wash System, Media Blasting, Vapor-less Blasting, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Hydroxide, Butyl, Solvent-Based Strippers and cleaners like Sodium Percarbonate, Sodium Hypochlorite, and Sodium Metasilicate. Other equipment that includes assorted sanders and removal equipment, Osborn Brushes, and sprayers.
If you look at the last sentence of 1990’s-2008 and Tract #1 above, they say the same thing. The crazy thing about this is that, as described above, the coatings, the technology, and the industry as a whole has changed drastically and yet both homeowners and contractors are STILL trying to perform the work going into the next decade the same way they did back in the 90’s! This is what is called “trying to put a square peg in a round hole!”
In today’s environment, to be successful and make exterior wood restoration an easier task we really need to become more educated in both the new technology as well as the new products and tools that produce the most optimal results. When you have a larger arsenal of products to use against the different coatings this type of work becomes easier. When you have tools like floor sanders, buffers, Osborn Brushes, media and dustless blasting equipment and so much more you will provide optimal results while making the job easier. When this occurs, you will see an increase in both sales and profits. Trying to use dated products and practices in today's world will only leave folks frustrated as it already has. YouTube videos and so many “How-To” sites are just getting it wrong. Manufacturers who are not providing maintainable products for both coating and preparation are just adding to the frustration. Despite the perception is out there, only about 11% of decks being built are engineered products. There is still a lot of wood being used and if education and manufacturers do not catch up with the times there will be more changes coming. This will lead to that 11% of engineered products increasing rapidly.
Don’t be the “square peg in a round hole” person or company, “square pegs in square holes” is so much easier!
By: Everett Abrams “Wizard of Wood”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Everett Abrams