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Replacing The Deck

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Without a doubt the biggest experience gained from all the renovations to this house was from helping replace the deck. At first I thought about replacing just a few boards myself, but quickly realized this was a worthless exercise at this point. Most of the boards were heavily splintered and rotted and the rails were literally asking to be knocked off for years (I actually have a video of this that can be furnished upon request).
Caution: Walk at your own risk Take a seat on the wild side...I dare you.
So I hired a friend who was a professional carpenter. We replaced all the floor boards, rails, stair treads and added risers and I got to learn some basic carpentry skills in the process. We even routered a nice ogee edge to the rails, was sweet. Indirectly we also succesfully exterminated the home of many carpenter ants and bees as well. There were perfect circles drilled along the outer fascia rim joists. If you have these on your deck you have carpenter bees, trust me your neighbor is NOT drilling holes into your deck when your not looking. These bees are the huge scary bumblebees that you know are not the normal ones looking for soft flowers to pollenate. They literally hover over you and your family scouting out any old rotted wood they can bore some perfect circles into. Ants then utilize these holes to get inside of the wood to start the party. To avoid this from happening again I will keep the deck properly stained and I will also keep a nice tennis racket on hand to smash them if they come back. I have yet to do this, but I want to smash 1 carpenter bee with a tennis racket before I die. 

Pressure Treated vs Composite

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Originally I wanted to go with a composite type decking such as Trex or TimberTech. I narrowed down to TimberTech since the railing dimensions fit my deck better. Each brand sells all sorts of different rail sizes so its like assembling a big puzzle. When I finally got to see a real composite deck in person, my mind changed. I just thought it seemed fake, especially the rails, and could not justify paying literally 2.5 times more in price than solid wood. Other complaints I read were that after some years the color fades and some people paint at that point, but wasn't that defeating the whole purpose of getting composite? Also in direct sun it can heat up really fast and when its wet can be real slippery. Installation can also be more time consuming if you use hidden fasteners which are recommended for some brands. These are minor reasons, but do exist nonetheless. On the flip side you don't have to worry about it ever chipping, rotting, warping and/or splitting like wood, and no bug infestations. That is a pretty huge advantage, along with NEVER having to stain it!

Bottom line I decided on going with good ole fashioned pressure treated lumber. Altho I am happy, I would be lying if I said I never once thought about how sweet it would be if I never had to stain the deck again. In any event, every time I see a composite deck I now reinforce my decision by saying how fake it looks. I also think of all the money I saved without having to switch to Geico and feel even better. But money should not be the sole factor in this decision, if you are old or plan on hiring someone to stain your deck it is way cheaper in the long run to get composite. Staining is not a cheap job and takes 2 visits at least. One to power wash and then one to apply the stain and not to mention the cost of the products itself. So if you don't plan on staining yourself, composite is actually the better buy and I would only get wood if you strongly prefer over the plastic decking. Wood will actually cost you more to maintain in the long run, but if done properly looks way nicer in my opinion. If you don't maintain will look like total shit and you should have just gotten composite. They also have exotic woods such as Ipe and cedars and redwoods, but I don't know anything about these. I am sure some of them can only be used in certain regions. A friend of ours has Ipe and it does look pretty sweet.

Staining The Deck

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Once the deck was completed I was glad to hear that I could not stain immediatelly and had to wait at least a month. This is because the pressure treated wood is still wet inside and needs some time to completely dry from the inside out. Some say a few weeks, some say a few months so I just enjoyed the naked look of the deck for about a month and a half and than was ready to apply the stain. Even tho it was brand new wood I still needed to power wash and clean with a wood brightener since a slight residue is left from the pressure treating process known as mill glaze. After the wood dried the next day the stain was ready to go down.

With all the recent environment craze there are all sorts of government regulations now with how much VOC's these stains can permit. Oil based stain can not even be sold anymore in a lot of US states, and is all mostly waterborne stains now. A lot of science/technology has been put into these newer formulas to keep them as effective as possible and legal. Sherwin Williams, Cabot, Benjamin Moore are all supposed to be the best, Cabot literally only makes stain. Whatever store you go to just get the most expensive stain they sell. The biggest cost is you wasting your time staining the deck while everyone else is laughing, if you try to save $20 on cheaper quality stain you might see yourself back at the store in less than a year doing it again. 

A friend of mine paints decks for a living so I just used Sherwin Williams since he said so. He knew a place at the time that was still allowed to sell oil based so I actually drove to this neighboring state and stocked up. The shelf life is only a few years so I didn't get too much of this secret soon to be illegal oil based batch. The last time I stained the deck I did actually run out of this secret stash with only 3 planks to go. I had to go to the store mid job and get some legal waterborne stain, I was pissed that I had to mix the 2. Side by side the color was pretty much the same, however the water borne seemed slightly darker and even had a slight satin sheen that I am sure only my eye could detect. This could just be due to the fact that the oil based stain was sitting on the shelf for a couple years and the water based was fresh. Some say the newer waterbornes are just as good if not better by now, so whatever. The finish we used was semi-transparent, since this is the most recommended type. It protects real good and still allows the wood grain to show thru so its not like painting completely over. If you have older uglier wood and it starts to look bad then going with a darker or solid stain may be a better choice to hide the imperfections better. 

Since the completion of this deck I have been staining the floor boards and all horizontal surfaces every other year. I have not re-done the rail spindles since (almost 5 years now!) and the deck still looks almost brand new. There seems to be many different approaches, but it is recommended to totally strip away the old stain first (especially if you sealed) with a remover than follow up with a wood brightener to neutralize the strippers chemicals and to also help "open" the wood to better accept the stain. Sounds sweet, but really come on who has time for all that. I just give it a good power wash with some basic cleaner (Krud Kutter) and then sand a few spots and then stain with the same exact color. It always comes out looking sweet! Feel free to share your game plan tho.



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