How to stain in the great outdoors

Steve Maxwell applying deck stain as part of his ongoing deck trials. Many deck finishes don’t work, no matter how well you prepare the surface first. Photo credit: Robert Maxwell JPG, CO

Staining your treated lumber deck need not be so ominous a task, and can generally be accomplished in three steps.

One: pick up the necessary preparation and finishing materials.

Two: print out a clear list of instructions regarding the proper use and disposal of said products.

And three” load your golf clubs into the trunk, double check the cooler to confirm all sandwiches, snacks, and alcoholic beverages are in order, then kiss your wife goodbye and let her know the teenager you’ve hired to do the job should be arriving shortly.

Three easy steps, and that’s it.

Why hire a young person to do this task? Because when done properly, staining a deck doesn’t do an aging lower back, knees, and shoulders any favours. And two, the odds of failure, including/but not limited to, peeling, crackling, and early wear or product deterioration in our temperature zone, fall somewhere between likely and guaranteed.

So, you might as well get a decent game of golf out of the day, strategically positioning this kid as the fall guy.

Why don’t deck stains last as long as advertised? Because the homeowners fail to follow procedure.

Basic procedure No. 1: timing. Because exterior staining puts you at the mercy of the elements, you’ve got to choose your two- to three-hour staining window wisely. Basically, you’ll need to avoid early mornings (dew on the planks), too late in the evening (dew, cooler temperatures), full sun (stain will dry too quickly), too cold (stain will freeze before absorption), or eminent rain in the next 48 hours.

As a result, success will be had while staining on a semi-cloudy day, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with expected temperatures between 18 C and 26 C, with of course little chance of rain.

Unfortunately, achieving this sequence of temperature and climate would have you moving to Fayetteville, Tenn., or somewhere in the central U.S. With that being unlikely, we time our staining the best we can.

Basic procedure No. 2: clean the deck surface the week beforehand. Best results will come from either scrubbing the decking planks with a soap and water solution, or using a deck-cleaning product, which can be applied with a spray-type canister. The deck cleaner is a convenient choice because the solution need simply sit on the decking planks for about 15 minutes before rinsing. In both cases, the soap solutions should be rinsed off with a garden hose.

In an age where emotions relating to impatience and immediate satisfaction are as common as adding cream and sugar to a coffee, pressure washers are an attractive alternative to rinsing.

However, a pressure washer is simply too much tool, and would be akin to calling the SWAT team in to break up a disturbance between two toddlers at the Tots n’ Tubbies Daycare. A tool that was basically designed to clean barnacles off a ship’s hull should not be used on treated pine and spruce softwoods. Pressure washing will result in clean, but your decks surface will be permanently etched (which will attract dirt and mould), and be left saturated with water, requiring at least a week of dry weather to cure.

Besides a simple clear finish, stains come in either semi-transparent, or opaque finishes. A semi-transparent stain is like an interior stain, in that it highlights the wood grain as it provides colour. However, and like an interior piece of furniture about to receive a stain, the decking planks should be sanded. Sanding the decking planks beforehand opens the pores of the wood, and allows the stain to effectively penetrate the decking, creating a more beautiful and lasting finish.

Opaque stains are like a paint, in that they provide a solid colour that hides the wood grain. However, opaque stains differ from paints in that they aren’t as slippery to walk on, and can be applied directly to a clean deck without the need to sand.

Application tidbit: apply the stain with a roller, then back-brush the stain into the wood.

Good building.

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

Your options for exterior painting

When it comes time to sealing your treated lumber deck, you’re going to have four options.

They are; opaque stain, semi-transparent stain, exterior porch and floor paint, or a clear finish. A fifth alternative, the option to do absolutely nothing to the wood, alternatively leaving it turn to a weathered grey over time, wasn’t mentioned because doing nothing isn’t really an option.

Permitting a deck to go grey is a choice, or a lifestyle. Are grey, weathered decks the more natural way to go? Absolutely, in the same way pain, suffering, and ultimate death is natural. Can grey, weathered decks be endearing, adding charm and maturity to one’s backyard, while gently blending into the landscape?

No.

I’ve been greying over the past five years. It has made me neither endearing, nor charming, and certainly not any more mature. What the grey has done is make me look old, with people asking me if I feel OK, or commenting to me that I’ve gotten smaller.

So, with the list of upsides of allowing a deck to naturally turn grey, equalling the many positive aspects of arthritis and impending knee surgery, let’s review these sealing options.

Clear sealers basically buy you time, similar to a reprieve from the governor if you’re on death row, and are fine if you need six-to-12 months to decide on a colour scheme. Because treated lumber has transitioned from the former green colour to brown, people will sometimes choose a clear finish in order to preserve this rather favourable, factory-brown tint.

The brown tint added to the treatment process is simply colouring, and not a true stain, so it’s time is limited. Clear sealers will help prevent your decking planks from absorbing water, but will eventually succumb to the elements, allowing your decking to begin the greying process by year three.

So, with clear finishes providing a two- to four-year timeline of colour protection, at some point you’re going to have to paint or stain.

‘Porch and Floor’ latex paint will be your paint option. Choosing a paint over a stain is generally due to past history, basically relating to what you, your father, or your grandfather might have used in the past. If you’ve had success with a paint, you’re more than likely to choose a paint again.

Paints came before stains, so there’s still a following who will choose to paint their decks.  Otherwise, choosing a stain, instead of a paint, has been the trend for several years now.

Paints vs. stains? Paints have a tougher, more resilient finish, and provide a more brilliant reflection of colour than a stain. However, paints (even the satin finishes) are significantly more slippery when wet, which is probably the leading reason for its general demise as an exterior deck finish.

So, if your deck or porch is covered, remaining mostly dry due to being sheltered from the rain, then a porch and floor paint can be a good choice. Otherwise, an open deck would best be served by a more slip-resistant semi-transparent or opaque stain.

Semi-transparent stains will require you first sanding your decking planks.

In lieu of sanding, a lot of people choose to pressure wash their decks, which gives the homeowner the immediate satisfaction of clean as this pressured water pulverizes the deck’s surface. Pressure washers are great for the homeowner because you get clean and quick results, without the back pain. However, these machines are lousy for your decking planks because they tear up the surface fibres of the wood, and effectively saturate the lumber with water, rendering it totally unsuitable for accepting a stain in the immediate future.

So, if you’re not up to the physical challenge of sanding your deck, or would rather a solid colour scheme, as opposed to seeing the wood grain, choose a solid stain. Solid stains are an easy choice because they allow you to re-coat every few years with little preparation.

Next week, giving Sylvester Stallone’s, midnight-black hair colour a shot.

Good building.

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

It’s not like clearing the bases

File No.327, titled “over-scrubbed,” has us examining the case regarding a Miss Sandra Scrub, aka the “scrubber,” due to her position of batting cleanup (fourth in the lineup) on her ladies’ ‘Suds and Duds Laundromat’ softball team.

With a slugging percentage (SLG) of .917, superior to Major League Baseball’s Babe Ruth and current SLG record holder Barry Bonds, the scrubber’s reputation of clearing the bases has become so renowned, the streets surrounding Suds and Duds field often lay vacant during the Tuesday night ladies’ league, due to local motorists fearing another home-run ball shattering their windshields.

Unfortunately, the scrubber’s proficiency in cleaning up whatever teammates were hanging around on the bases, has led to rather over exuberant behaviour regarding her kitchen and living room floors. Essentially, our Miss Scrub has been cleaning her ceramic and hardwoods with the same diligence used to clean runners off the bases.

Having a heavy stick when batting cleanup is no doubt a good thing. Using this same heavy manner to clean your floors, well— that’s not so good.

A most recent episode had Sandra becoming frustrated with a cooking oil stain on her recently purchased porcelain tile. When the yellowish blob refused to wipe up cleanly with a dry cloth, due in part to the tile having an anti-skid type of texture, the scrubber’s first thought was to solve this annoyance with a blow torch.

After a moment of reflection, she instead reached for the bottle of CLR cleaner under the sink. Miss Scrub, being a heavy hitter, doesn’t just wipe up a floor stain, she nails it out of the park.

Unfortunately, in the world of floor care, continued use of too aggressive a cleaner will often cause collateral damage to the floor. After a few weeks of general cleaning, Sandra noticed the finish on her porcelain tile becoming rather dull, and with this being a relatively new floor, called the supplier to issue a complaint.

As far as the scrubber was concerned, she had purchased a ceramic tile of lesser quality, sealed with a finish that had simply worn off, with general stains or spillages now being more difficult to remove. In hindsight, Miss Scrub would have probably done less damage to her porcelain had she gone with her original thought of using a blow torch to clean up spills.

Pre-finished hardwood, ceramic, and vinyl floors are coated with several coats of sealer that are intended to provide the homeowner with 10-to-15 years of solid, reflective surface. In the case of PVC luxury vinyl floors and stone composite floorings, consumers can expect those finishes to last 25-plus years.

However, these potential years of finish can be reduced to a few months by using the wrong cleaning products.

CLR is a fine cleaner, but like the letters represent, is designed to clean off calcium, lime, or rust – some pretty stubborn components – and not chocolate, linguine, and red wine.

How do you know a cleaning product might be too harsh for your floor? When the fine print warns you against getting product on your skin or clothing, and failure to seek immediate medical attention after simply inhaling or ingesting the product may result in death.

When it comes to floor cleaners, I recommend people look for products with the GreenGuard symbol, along with the not-so-intimidating picture of baby feet walking on a floor. This, as opposed to those products with skull and cross bones, or exploding canister as their claim to fame.

As to floor cleaning strategies? One, purchase cleaners expressively designed to clean your specific floor. And two, when purchasing flooring, don’t go home without the cleaners and maintenance products as well. Otherwise, you’re likely to pull out the CLR, or Mr. Clean.

In Miss Scrub’s case, the finish on her porcelain tile has nearly been completely removed by non-flooring type cleaners, leaving her with two choices, either have the tiles re-glazed, or replaced in their entirety.

With that decision pending, case No. 327 was closed.

Good building.

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

Dig into the reasons for excavating

London home builder Doug Wastell shows off foundation wrap on a partially built home in a new residential area on Sunningdale Road in London, Ontario on Tuesday June 3, 2014. CRAIG GLOVER/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb excavate as; to dig out and remove.

The homeowners’ manual is a little more descriptive, describing excavate as; the opportunity to create an enormous mess, where one can expect incredible collateral damage affecting one’s lawn and perimeter fixtures, hourly fees that rival those of Manhattan lawyers, along with a general disturbance to the immediate neighborhood.

So, why put yourself through the stress of an excavation, which essentially means creating a moat around the perimeter of your home? Because if you’ve got persistent or regular water infiltration issues, and family members are no longer believing the three-to-four inches of water found in the basement every spring are your attempts at a cistern – a system of harvesting rainwater that dates back to the Neolithic age, or about 5,000 before Christ – then excavation may be your only salvation.

Plus, water issues eventually lead to mould issues. If thoughts are to eventually sell your home, this could be a deal breaker, because prospective buyers will definitely be leery of investing in a house with water-infiltration issues.

Furthermore, you can never underestimate the value of simply being dry.

Whether the basement’s future involves being transferred into added living area, or simply kept as storage space, dry will be a welcomed luxury if you’ve ever had water issues in the past.

Finally, don’t underestimate the familiar adage “location, location, location.” If you love your home, and if your home’s in a preferred neighborhood, then putting money into your foundation, what’s essentially a key element to a home’s comfort and stability, is always a good value investment.

How will excavating a foundation solve a home’s water issues? By transcending your home’s foundation into the 21st century, enabling it to be cleaned, repaired of any cracks or fissures, and re-sealed with any number of synthetic foundation membranes.

Once the foundation wall is sealed, a new length of weeping tile with a crushed gravel bed would be positioned at the footing, following the perimeter of the foundation, effectively directing rain and snow melt away from the home.

Most often, it’s the fear of total upheaval that stops homeowners from performing this big task. And, it’s understandable. Homes requiring this type of renovation are often 30-to-100 years old, and have longstanding driveways, decks, and garden areas that would be a shame to destroy.

Regardless, the long-term viability of a foundation far outweighs the loss of what are basically appendages. Basically, flowers and shrubs can be replanted, decks rebuilt, and driveways repaved.

What about excavating your foundation from the inside? I don’t like this idea for two reasons.

One, you’re basically creating a mess of dust and debris that will be extremely disruptive, with concrete waste materials being transferred to the outside of the home, then placed in garbage bins regardless. And two, creating the required trench along the inside of your foundation wall will require the use of a jackhammer, a tool designed by the devil himself. Besides delivering a rumble that’ll shake the home and have your canned goods toppling out of your cupboards, unless you’ve rented a room at the local Inn, the jackhammer’s reverberating sound may very well drive you to the brink of insanity.

So, how’s that compare to losing a few shrubs, or replacing a deck that more than likely could use some enhancements anyway?

The best time of year to perform an excavation? Spring and fall, while the temperatures are most favorable for everything from the installation of rubber membranes, to the driving of the backhoe and spreading of the gravel.

Where to start? Familiarize yourself with some of the various foundation wraps and membranes by visiting your local building supply centre. Because this is the last time you’re ever going to have to perform this task, choosing the best of materials will be important.

The building supply people will also be able to suggest to you a few reputable, local homebuilders and contractors familiar with this type of project.

Good building.

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