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Restaining Michigan Wooden Decks. Dun, Dun, Duuuunnnn!


Lakeside deck with solid stain

Michigan Summers, arguably the best summers, are a great time to finally enjoy your deck. Michigan winters, however, seem to be on a constant hunt to ensure that your deck receives the most damage possible. Whether its snow, rain, sleet, or sun, Michigan is potentially one of the worst climates to have a wooden deck in.


Once you throw children, dogs, and heavy foot traffic into the equation, that deck doesn’t stand a chance.


That’s why it seems like refinishing a deck is a constant chore. Seasoned homeowners already know the maintenance that decks require, but if you’re a new homeowner, you’ll learn that lesson first-hand.


According to the National Property Inspections website ("Resource center"), you should reseal your deck every 1-5 years based on the type of stain you are using and the condition of the deck. That information is an average based on homes across the US. When it comes to Michigan, you better bet that we’re on the shorter side of that range. That means that more than likely, our deck finishes possess around a 1-3 year life.


That’s right. In order to properly maintain certain decks, they can require annual resealing. That’s either expensive, inconvenient, or both! Add that to your checklist of home maintenance duties. If that’s not annoying enough, you're now tasked with the burden of researching what finish your deck requires – but, that’s where we step in. If you’re wondering when your deck requires refinishing, what products to use, and how to go about the process, then this is the blog for you. Keep reading!


Reseal, Restain, or Refinish?

You may have already noticed. We’ve used three different words already: Refinish, Reseal, and Restain. Although there can be a slight difference between them all, for the sake of this article, we are using these words interchangeably. The important part to take away is that we never used the word “Repaint”. NEVER PAINT A DECK! Unless the product you are applying is specially formulated for decks, almost all deck coatings are a form of “penetrating stain”. Whether it’s pigmented (has color added to it, normally referred to as deck stain) or its clear (no color added, dries clear, normally referred to as deck sealer), these are quite different from paint.


What’s the difference? Paints will bind to the surface of a substrate and sit on top as a new layer. Stains, on the other hand, will penetrate into the surface pores of the wood. Paints are great at blocking UV rays from the sun and is why we tend paint our houses rather than stain them. When it comes to moisture, however, stain will repel water much more effectively than paint will and fills in the wood pores so that moisture can’t easily make its way into the fibers. Since decks are a horizontal surface that are susceptible to water pooling up, stain is always the best option.



Types of Deck Stain

Alright, so we’ve learned the basics of your deck coatings. Now it’s time to explore the three main options you have to choose from.


Solid Stain – deck stain that is heavy in pigments. This stain will cover the grain and look of your wood, causing it to appear as if it has been painted. This stain is exceptional at blocking UV rays due to its pigmentation (remember the information about paint above?) yet is classified as a stain due to its ability to penetrate the wood. This stain is the best option if your deck receives a large amount of sunlight, if you prefer to drastically alter the appearance of your wood, or if you desire - in theory - to get the longest life out of your deck coating (about 2-3 years for Michigan climate).


up-close image of deck boards with solid stain applied
Solid Stain

Semi-Transparent Stain – deck stain that contains pigments, however much less than a solid stain, allowing the grain of the wood to show through. This stain is less effective at blocking UV rays, but it’s going to leave a more natural look and should repel water slightly more effectively than a solid stain. It’s a great solution for altering the appearance of your wood while avoiding a paint-like finish. This coating is what most people imagine when they think of stained wood and should last around 2 years.


deck with a walnut semi-transparent stain applied over decking
Semi-Transparent Stain

Transparent Stain – deck stain with little to no pigment added. The purpose of this stain is to seal the decking while allowing the natural look of the wood to show through. In order to get an idea of what your deck would resemble when finished with a transparent stain, simply wet your boards where there is currently no stain. Transparent stains are also great at repelling water, but they are the least effective at blocking UV rays. For this reason, these deck stains will last about 1 year.


pine wood deck with transparent stain being applied to decking
Transparent Stain

There are a few other deck stain options based on which manufacturer you select (semi-solid stains, deck resurfacers, etc), but overall, these are the standard and most common options between all companies.


Which to Choose?

In the end, this all comes down to preference. However, if you are looking for the longest life out of a deck finish, follow this general rule of thumb:


· If your deck receives constant sun exposure, use a solid stain.


· If your deck receives very little sun exposure, use a semi-transparent or transparent

stain.


Because solid stains are heavy in pigments, they will stand up to the UV rays of the sun and last longer than the other stain options. However, when solid stains are left in the shade, moisture sits on top longer and soon begins to penetrate their seal and delaminate the stain. In turn, this leads to potential sanding in the refinishing process if the homeowner wishes to have a more even-looking finish. That's why we would recommend semi-transparent or transparent stains on a deck with a lot of shade.


This all boils down to preference, though. Having to reseal your deck one or two years earlier can easily be worth it if you love the look of your deck stain.


Exception! It’s much easier to change from a transparent/semi-transparent stain to a solid stain. However, if you currently have a solid stain and want to switch to a transparent/semi-transparent, you will be required to sand, strip or even both! Keep that top of mind if considering changing products in that direction. Heavy stripping or sanding can be very expensive and/or time consuming and can potentially damage your deck.


When to reseal my deck?

As mentioned above, the general rule of thumb in Michigan is…

· Solid stain: 2-3 years

· Semi-transparent stain: 1-2 years

· Transparent stain: about 1 year


However, due to the product you use, the quality of your last application, or the climate exposure your deck receives, you’ll know if your deck requires a new coat of sealant by sprinkling water onto the boards. If the water beads up and doesn’t absorb into the wood, your last coating is still sealing the wood. If the water soaks into the wood within the next

1-3 minutes, the coating has lost its seal, and it’s time for a new coat.


This means that if you would like to restain your deck before it’s ready, you should strip/sand away the previous coating in order to allow the new coating to full adhere and absorb into the wood. Failure to do so could lead to a “tacky” deck or even leftover “pooling” stain that sits on top.


How to stain your deck

1. Assess Condition. Determine your current deck condition. Check for rotted, warped, or split boards. Find out if your deck requires stripping/sanding by process of “water beading” test in multiple locations of decking. Replace any damaged boards with a water-resistant wood such as treated pine or cedar (preferably the wood species of the rest of your decking). Note: any newly installed wood should “season” for at least a year after install to shed any moisture, oils or mill glaze that exist in and on the board. This in turn either means skipping the staining of those boards this year, or stripping/sanding the sealant on those boards the following year and restaining.

2. Clean. Clear off deck. Remove furniture and obstacles away and off the deck. Sweep to remove surface dirt, leaves, cobwebs, etc. Apply a deck cleaner according to instructions of product. Preferably, avoid power washing, as power washers can send excess water into the pores of the wood. This can damage the wood by pushing too much water into the board fibers, affecting the absorption of the stain.

3. Strip if necessary. Determine if stripping is necessary. If so, protect vegetation by misting with water from hose and laying heavy plastic on top. Wear long clothing, eye protection and gloves (this stuff is caustic!). Follow instructions of the product.

4. Brighten/Neutralize. After cleaning application (if no stripper is used) or after stripper application, use a wood brightener. This will bring the pH of the wood decking back down as deck strippers and cleaners will rise the pH. This will lead to darker wood and less stain absorption if not dealt with properly. Follow instructions of the product.

5. Dry time. Allow your deck to dry for about 2-3 days after last wet application or heavy rain.

6. Stain/Seal. Confirm that wood is dry and ready to accept stain. Mask off any portions of the house you wish to avoid getting stain on with tape, paper and/or plastic. Apply stain per instructions, working towards your exit point. Some stains require 1 coat, while others might require 2. Follow directions for reapplication times if 2 coats are required.

7. Let Rest. Like a fine steak, let is rest. Rest time is usually 1 day for foot traffic and 2-3 days for furniture placement. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, follow your products instructions.


So many problems can be avoided by following product instructions. You don’t want to be the customer in the reviews section claiming that the product completely failed when it has a 4.5-star review. Don’t be that guy (or girl). Follow the instructions.


And yes, that was a little “angsty”. Sometimes a little teenage-like passive aggressiveness is necessary when driving a point home.


Conclusion

Decks are the center point to your outdoor summer gatherings. They can also be a place for you to get away from the busyness of life, in or outside the home. Their maintenance, however, can lead us wondering why we got them in the first place. In the end, their protection should not be ignored as they are very susceptible to rot, warping and splitting. A quality deck stain and stain application will have your deck sealed and looking great for the next 1-3 years here in Michigan. So, either add it to your home maintenance budget, or block out a few days in your spring/summer schedule.


Better yet, go invest into some composite decking. Good luck!



Citations

Resource center. Tips for Homeowners | NPI Lehigh Valley. (n.d.). https://www.npiweb.com/mccurry/Resource-Center/For-Homeowners/Deck-Maintenance



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