The solution to peeling paint

“Why is the paint on my deck peeling?” is a question asked by many a homeowner, and is an inquiry that ranks just below such queries as “why is the sky blue?” or “how do airplanes stay up in the air” and the always thought-provoking “what’s really wrong with Carey Price’s knee?”

The answer to each question can be unequivocally explained of course by the laws of science and physics. So, and due to various moisture related, atmospheric issues, we know why paint peels.

Knowing why something happens usually leads to a cure or means of prevention. This way the problem doesn’t persist, nor arises again. However, paints and stains are one of those procedural type products, with a relatively clear set of rules to follow, that for some reason, are rarely adhered to by the average homeowner. Therefore, if you don’t want your decking paint to peel, or wear excessively fast, you’re going to have to follow procedure. If you’re not the procedural type, or don’t enjoy reading fine print instructions, or simply don’t like being told what to do, then your solution to your paint peeling issue is going to be pretty straightforward.

Basically, trash your existing wood planks in exchange for composite decking. If this solution seems extreme, then let’s review what it’s going to take to get a paint or stain to stick.

In 99 per cent of paint peeling cases, the reason for paints or stains not sticking to the wood decking is because the decking planks are filled with moisture. The other one per cent of failures can be attributed to various unnatural phenomena, such as gremlins urinating on your freshly stained deck while you sleep, or the heat from a recently landed Martian spaceship.

In other words, it’s all about keeping the moisture out of the wood before you paint or stain.

First, we prepare the wood by sanding both faces of the decking plank. Sanding the wood opens the pores of the grain, which in turn allows the stain to penetrate more deeply.

Don’t pressure-wash. Pressure washing certainly opens up the pores of the wood, but at the same time will drive moisture deep into the grain. Again, the reason paints or stains don’t stick is because the wood is wet. Wood saturated with water will be incapable of further absorbing a stain. Furthermore, water pressurized into the wood may take weeks, even months, to evaporate. If, during that time, you choose to stain the wood, it’ll be a ticking time bomb as to when those first signs of peeling will appear.

Why then, is pressure washing so popular? Because it’s easy, and like a slice of pecan pie with ice cream, provides immediate satisfaction. But, it’s not good for the wood.

Next, seal the underside of your decking boards with a clear sealer. For those existing decks, this will either mean crawling underneath, or removing the deck planks and sealing the underside in a more comfortable manner. Removing the decking planks is the better strategy, but is usually only possible if they’ve been screwed into position. A decking board that’s been nailed down may be too difficult to pry up, without damaging the edges, leaving you with no other choice but to join the spiders in the underneath deck world.

Sealing the underneath of the plank provides protection against one half of the moisture element, that being ground water. Then, we seal the top. Clear sealers offer fair protection, semi-transparent stains are better, with opaque stains providing the best, long term results. I recommend first sealing the decking with an exterior primer, followed by two coats of opaque stain. “Do we really need a primer?” or “I’ve heard of those two in one, primer/paint products, is this available?” are questions we field often.

First, yes, there isn’t a stain or paint application that wouldn’t benefit from first being primed. Secondly, two in one’s are effective marketing for the lazy. For best results, follow the program.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Don’t be the guppy

The ‘Piranha’ is an omnivorous (eating both animal and plant foods) freshwater fish that inhabits South American rivers. Fortunately, we as Canadians have little to fear from Piranha, the fish. Unless of course you’ve just booked your family a discounted trip at some unrated beach front resort along the Amazon River.

However, we do have Piranhas in our midst, and they look nothing like the intimidating creatures made famous by the reality documentary ‘Piranha 3D’. The Piranhas in our society generally source their prey by phone, and with a voice as soft and elegant as any member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, will begin their conversation with, “Hello! I represent Willy’s Window Replacements, or Ralph’s Roofing Restauration, we have a sales rep in your area, and we’re looking to . . .”.

That’s when you say, “I’m sorry, we’re not interested”, and hang up. I know, it’s difficult as a polite society to cut somebody off in mid-sentence, especially a potential member in good standing of a church choir. But, for your own safety, and best interest, you’ve got to do so. And, you’ve got to be firm in your follow through, because the Piranha on the other end of the line will keep talking, regardless of what you say, and never loosen its bite on you.

To make hanging up easier, visualize the person on the phone for what they are, a horrible, large-headed, jagged-teethed creature that is genetically driven to devour you. Or, watch the entire Piranha, Piranha3D, Piranha3DD, triple set series.

What’s the danger in allowing further contact, or inviting these out of town contractors into your home? First and foremost, your home was not chosen because you’re special, are deserving, or are so revered by the home improvement sector that you alone merit special pricing on replacement windows. You were called because either your name and number are for purchase on a telemarketing list, your home is situated in an area of affluence, or you reside in an older neighbourhood where renovations are likely required. In other words, you’re a guppy.

Local retailers rarely use telemarketers to generate business. So, you can pretty well be assured this company is an out of town force that has one thing in mind, to get a deposit out of you, lock you into a high-priced contract, then have you at their mercy when it comes to installment and further payment.

What about simply listening to what these guys have to say, or even getting an estimate, so you can compare them with some of our local retail people? If you think these people are hard to shake off the phone, try shaking them out of your home, or out of your office. The thing is you’re inviting a trained negotiator into your space. You may think yourself mentally tough enough to stay firm, and be focused, and not get suckered into signing their one time only, 20% off, all taxes in special, but it will be difficult.

I know, I’ve made the mistake of agreeing to listen to several of their 15 minute presentations. Only 15 minutes. Doesn’t sound like a lot of time to give a fellow human being, but then again, these guys are only part human. The introduction person on the phone is a genetically modified Piranha, while the sales person trained to entice and seduce you into signing a contract, is a Cyborg.

The sales person’s mission is simple. Read the script, wow the customer with a video, and don’t leave the meeting space without a signature. If the customer seems hesitant, pursue harder, push the fact your company is a multi-million dollar firm with thousands of satisfied customers (nobody that you will know, of course), and if all else fails, request to speak with someone of higher signing authority.

Again, don’t be the guppy. Shop and deal with the people who care, and who will go out of their way to make things right. Those are your local retailers and contractors.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Don’t settle when answer is clear and easy

This week has us examining case #231, titled “In Search of the Skinny Casing”, a tragic story involving a young couple in finishing turmoil.

What’s the problem? Three out of their 10 interior doors, in their newly constructed home, have been framed in a manner that restricts the width of the casing (finish molding surrounding the door).

In each case, the pre-hung doors in question, had been framed about three inches away from the corner of an adjoining wall, leaving barely enough room to fit a standard 2-3/4″ inch wide casing, or at best, a three inch wide casing.

Issue at hand? The young bride had chosen a somewhat higher than average 6-1/2 inch Victorian style baseboard molding. The matching Victorian casing to this baseboard molding is 3-1/2 inches wide.

So, how do you squeeze a 3-1/2 inch casing molding into a 3 inch space, without compromising the look by having to rip the molding down to size? The quick answer is, you can’t.

Plus, a casing molding never looks attractive tight up against a corner wall, and requires at least an inch or two of wall space to look even somewhat presentable. Therefore, in order to properly accommodate this 3-1/2 Victorian casing, we would require at least five inches of wall space.

But we’ve got only three inches. Solution? You shift the doors over the appropriate amount of inches. “But we can’t do that!” was their response.

“The drywall’s just been completed, the first coat of primer is about to be applied, this could mean having to move a light switch or two, so no way, it would cause just too much upheaval” they further stated.

Then, choose a shorter, standard sized baseboard to match the 2-3/4 casing you were forcing yourself to accept, was my suggestion. However, the young lady was adamant she wanted the higher Victorian base.

Then we move the doors, was again my suggestion. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not.

We’re not asking your carpentry crew to raise the roof or dig the basement deeper. The solution to this problem will require three hours of labor and a couple of hundred bucks in material. But, the resulting wider margin will look spectacular.

However, being young people, maybe a little impatient, and perhaps blind to the big picture, they couldn’t get around the notion of sometimes needing to take two steps back, and fix the real issue, in order to get things right and move forward.

So, the search began for a skinny, 2-3/4 or 3 inch casing that would adequately match their extra-large, 6-1/2 inch Victorian base.

On an unrelated note, this couple also confided in me their upcoming vacation plans to search out the Loch Ness monster, visit Santa Claus in the North Pole, and research the mating habits of the Easter Bunny.

The challenge of matching a wide baseboard, with a narrow casing, is that the wider base moldings are often thicker than the standard casings.

When the two moldings meet at the floor, the baseboard ends up protruding past the casing, or being shaved back even to the casing, in order to salvage this non-conforming joint.

Rule #1 in finishing is that the casing must always be thicker than the baseboard. Unfortunately, there’s no salvaging this picture when the opposite happens.

It would be like a mature man tossing on a tank top, tucking it in his cut-off jeans, securing this classical professional midget wrestling look with a belt, then hoping he could save the ensemble by pulling on a pair of knee high socks, then slip into a pair of sandals.

Undaunted by the facts, and determined to keep their 6-1/2 inch baseboard, the couple settled on a 3 inch casing that looked like, with a little imagination, and at a quick glance, just OK.

I hate settling when the answer is clear and easy.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

The little things that can make a big difference

Taking care of the little things can add up to having a beautiful deck. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder
Taking care of the little things can add up to having a beautiful deck. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

Today we’re talking about the little things that are going to help make your cedar, or treated lumber deck, a thing of beauty.

Most backyard decks start out in the same manner. Plan, permit, list of materials, followed by the delivery of said materials. Those are the big things, or easy decisions.

Once these decking materials are sitting in your backyard, the deck enters into its “great potential” stage. At this point, your lumber, bolts, and screws, are like a clean canvas with a series of paint colours on standby.

As a result, is this deck that your about to construct going to be the Mona Lisa of treated decks, or at least a Monet? Or, will it rank up there with the finger painting works of Mrs. Latulipe’s advanced kindergarten class?

And, is your present strategy going to have this deck still looking great in 10 years? Or, will a series of poor decisions and cutting corners likely have your project scheduled for demolition?

Therefore, and in an effort to build a deck that will give us 25 years of faithful service, be relatively splinter free, relatively maintenance friendly, and avoid collapse while entertaining your buddies after Tuesday night, keg league softball, we’re going to focus on the little things that are going to make a big difference.

First strategic move? Protect the supporting joists and beams by covering them with a protective membrane. The narrower edge of your 2×8 or 2×10 joists can be covered with standard three inch lengths of waterproof strips, while the wider double or triple 2×8 beams can be covered with a Blueskin WB rubber membrane.

Why use the protective joist and beam strips? To avoid the rot caused by standing water, and mold resulting from the wet debris that always manages to get stuck in between the decking planks.

Key aesthetic point number one? Avoid face nailing or screwing the decking planks. Surface screws are to lumber what hockey pucks are to the average set of teeth owned by professional hockey players.

Keeping the decking planks looking pristine can be achieved by using the ‘Camo’ clamp, or deck-track system of joist brackets. The Camo strategy involves clamping the deck board in position, just for a few moments, while screws are inserted into both sides of the plank.

The deck-track system will have the installer nailing 40 inch strips of perforated steel along the entire length of the joists and perimeter board. The deck-track provides the means for a shorter screw to be inserted into the decking planks from underneath.

Both systems add a little time, maybe a little more back ache, and a couple of hundred bucks to the average deck project. But, the seamless, splinter-less results are spectacular.

Next, picture frame the decking with a perimeter board. Basically, we don’t want to see or expose the end cuts. This goes for the planks on the stairs as well.

Creating a picture frame type of installation will mean beefing up the framing with two extra joists along the perimeter, spaced an inch or so away from the main perimeter board.

Install the picture framing planks first, mitering the corners, then fasten the center portion of the deck.

Start the decking plank installation on the outer edge, working your way towards the house.

Which face of the plank goes up? Look at the edge grain. Essentially, there will be less cupping and better plank stability if the curves of the wood grain face downward.

Next, use the plastic rail connectors (see the ‘Deckorator‘ series of products) when fastening your 2×4 or 2×6 handrail to the 4×4 newel posts. Toe nailing looks lousy, creates splinters, and generally creates a weak joint.

Finally, don’t forget the Deck Drawer. We were so happy with our deck drawer on our deck, we had a second one installed. The deck drawer is a great space saver that keeps your backyard stuff safe and dry.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard