THE FACTS ON DECK SEALING MENU
We clean and seal decks in Northern Virginia. We are experts with all types of lumber; including Brazilian hardwoods such as ipe, tigerwood and cumaru (teak). We deal with softwoods all the time also, such as white and yellow pine and cedar. We have years of hands on experience with all kinds of finishes.
You can see everyone of these projects posted on our company facebook page, along with real reviews from our clients.
THE FACTS ON DECK SEALING (FENCES TOO)
"Cave of the Winds"
This photo is taken from "Cave of the Winds", Niagra Falls. This particular a deck is right up on the falls, where people can experience the falls right up in their face.
The park authority contracts deck sealing several times a year.
People have asked me if that's me standing there.
No, that's not me - I wish it was, lol.
When I go there one day, I'll make sure to get a few pictures.
See all the hanging algae growing on the rails?
The Facts on Deck Sealing / Staining
The main, number one goal in sealing a deck (or fence); is to keep water out. The second goal; is to protect the lumber from the sun's harmful U.V. rays.
Water is the NUMBER ONE enemy of lumber, and if your deck is not sealed, it is the beginning of a chain reaction that is the cause in the destruction of your deck.
Once water gets into the lumber, it starts to break it down.
Springtime rains saturate lumber that is not sealed.
It makes the wood fibers soft, expanding the pores, collecting tree pollen, dirt and grime, encouraging the growth of mold and algae; which discolors the lumber, and then eventually as the lumber degrades; insects such as ants, termites and carpenter bees move in.
It's a sun shiney day...
The hot summer sun shines down upon you deck, baking the lumber.
Harmful ultra violet rays eat away at your deck daily, the morning sun evaporates up any moisture, drawing it out, and the afternoon sun shows no mercy, which causes your decking lumber to crack and splinter.
This repeated process of water in the lumber followed by the sun drying it out; is precisely how you get boards that are cupping, warping and bowing.
Walk'in in a winter wonderland...
Wintertime arrives and you failed yet again to seal your deck.
Snow comes down and collects. As it slowly melts; the lumber acts like a sponge, soaking it all up.
Cold freezing temperatures cause the water in the lumber to expand as it turns to ice, making the lumber expand also, pushing out the wood pulp between wood rings, opening up cracks bigger, causing further destruction.
...and when Springtime comes around,
your deck is falling apart.
Without a sealer or stain to protect your deck, you are inviting nature to destroy it.
Inevitably, your deck will not last forever, but just as you can live a longer and healthier life if you take care of yourself, you can also extend the life of your deck just by doing some occasional preventive maintenance by applying some sort of protective finish.
WHO is Qualified to be Cleaning & Sealing a deck (or Fence)?
A Painter is qualifed, and is the best person to clean and seal your deck.
Long before there were specialized companies advertising deck cleaning and sealing, ONLY painters did this, it was (and still is) part of the painting trade.
Back in the early 1980's, someone decided to start up the first specialized company to clean and seal decks, and things took off from there. Now everyone seems to know how to do this.
...but a painter is still the best choice to have your deck cleaned and sealed; it is what us painters do!
WHAT IS SEALER?
A sealer is a type of product that you would apply on something, in order to keep moisture in or out.
Lumber sealers have been around for almost as long as man has been using lumber.
Ancient man used plant resins, clay, egg, grass and many other things to preserver lumber.
There are records that date back thousands of years ago from ancient Greece, where a lumber bridge was soaked in olive oil to protect it from the elements.
Additional records were found recording tar being used on the hulls of Roman ships to keep them water tight.
Lumber sealers have come along way throughout history, and today, we have specifically designed sealers just for sealing decks (and other landscaping timber, including lumber fences).
When a deck sealer is tinted so much that it hides the lumber grain, people tend to call it "stain".
Paint is technically a sealer, and so are many other everyday items.
Although there are tons of different deck sealers available on the market, most all deck sealers can be used on fences, cedar siding, shakes, shingles and other types of landscaping timber.
Certain manufacturers make better quality deck sealers than others; some deck sealers will last longer than others depending on which brand you choose.
Deck sealers may state on the label "how long they last", but these results vary; your results might be different based on how much sun your deck gets, and how much weathering.
Thin sealers are cheap, they offer the least protection, and they need to be applied more often.
Thicker sealers cost more, they offer the best protection, and can be applied less often.
Surfing the internet to find out which sealer is the best?
You will not find the answer. Many sites review deck sealers and create advice on deck sealing simply to push a particular product.
Deck Sealer Types
When it comes to lumber sealers, there are only three types of sealers, and there are five different levels of pigmentation, so when you go to the store to buy your sealer; you might be lost on what to buy.
Hopefully this article can help you.
Due to Virginia V.O.C. laws (VOC means "volatile organic compounds"), the state of Virginia has been removing oil sealers from the market over the past several decades, and to find a true oil sealer in Virginia is going to be very rare, however, you can special order oil sealers online.
True oil sealers are indeed made with oil; sometimes linseed, sometimes some other plant based oil. These are a one coat application; penetrating the lumber and any excess that does not penetrate the lumber needs to be wiped off - otherwise it will remain sticky and take forever to dry.
Using a true oil sealer requires yearly maintenance because they wear away due to weathering.
True oil sealers that you order online are usually prepackaged in a few different colors.
Latex Sealers are a surface coating; almost like paint.
...and just like paint; you can eventually expect failure; peeling, flaking, etc.. especially on horizontal surfaces (such as your deck floor and top handrails) .
Some failures happen quicker than others - depending on the manufacturer you choose, how much sun and rain you get, and if it was applied correctly.
Emulsified Oil / Latex Sealers
These supposedly offer the best of both worlds, and are the best that is available in Virginia.
The marketing for emulsified products is that; the oil penetrates the lumber, while the latex creates a surface barrier.
In Virginia, emulsified products are very popular, and it is what our company uses most of the time.
If the label states Latex, it is most likely not an emulsified sealer.
When it comes to lumber sealers, there are five tinting levels:
Just as the name suggests; there are no tints or colorants added to a clear sealer, so they do not hide the lumber grain.
Clear Sealers do not offer any U.V. protection - whatsoever.
Clear Sealers last for maybe 6 months in the elements, a year if out of the sun and rain. Good on any interior or exterior lumber.
Toner is actually a "Clear" sealer that has some pigments in it; usually sold in popular colors prepackaged - some allow you to have it custom tinted.
Toners offer some U.V. protection, they last for about a year, they do not hide the wood grain, and they are good on any exterior lumber.
Semi-Transparent sealers have more pigments than a "Toner", and last slightly longer. They are sold in popular colors prepackaged - and can be custom tinted to the color of your liking.
They offer good U.V. protection, and can Last 2 - 5 years - depending on how much rain and sunshine you get.
Semi-Transparent sealers do not hide the wood grain, and are good on any exterior lumber.
The more pigments added to a sealer give it more U.V. protection, however, now that we are using a "Semi-Solid" sealer; we are starting to hide the wood grain, and we are leaning towards a "Solid", meaning; we are so close to just painting the lumber.
Semi-Solid stains (sealers) are available in popular colors prepackaged - can also be custom tinted to the color of your liking. Good on any exterior lumber.
Solid is the absolute best in U.V. protection, however, now you don't see the lumber grain.
Solid is sold in a few popular colors - can also be custom tinted.
Lasts 5 - 10 years on vertical surfaces, fails on horizontal surfaces real quick.
Good on any exterior lumber - tends to peel over time. - We hate this stuff, but sometimes "you gotta do what you gotta do".
Not all lumber sealers and stains do the same thing:
A "solid latex stain"or a "semi- solid latex stain" will most often make your deck a single uniform color, and it will look uniformly nice.
If you use a "solid", you lose all the wood grain look, if it's semi-solid; you still see some of the wood grain look.
Most of our competition use these types of stains, and we find many decks and fences that have been ruined by using these, however; we do our best to stay clear of this type of sealer because they tend to peel and flake away. They also don't allow the lumber to "breathe", meaning; water that DOES get in (and it will), can not escape, and your lumber will begin to rot and accumlate black mold - hidden under the finish - where you can't see it.
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Depending on the type of lumber you have, and how you want your deck (or fence) to look; oil sealers can be an option for you.
We usually use oil sealers on exotic lumber, such as IPE and other Brazilian hardwoods. Hardwoods have pores that are so tightly packed, it's difficult for most other sealers to adhere to it, so oil is always the best solution, it doesn't sit on the surface like other sealers.
Oil Sealers penetrate deep into the pores of the lumber, creating a barrier that water can not get past, and it rejuvenate the lumber of natural missing oils.
Oil Sealers are a bit complicated to apply; messy and flamable while wet.
You also may have to do regular yearly applications of oil sealer since it gets rinsed away by rain over time.
About Oil Deck Sealers
The earliest written eveidence of any kind of "sealer" being used as a wood preservative; goes back 3,000 years ago; "shellac" being one of the very first.
"Shellac" is a residue that is left over from the female "lac bug", and is deposited on (then harvested by humans) from the trees in India and Thailand, and was used on early furniture and musical instruments ...among other things.
"Shellac" didn't become popular in the United States until the 19th century.
"Shellac" is well known as an excellent primer and sealer, used prior to applying paints, and one of the best solutions for "problem stains" (like brown water marks on your ceiling).
Shellac is still sold in hardware stores, and it is still used as a wood preservative. When it dries, it leaves a hard surface and is great for furniture, but I wouldn't recommend it for anything outdoors.
...and you might be suprised to find "shellac" is used on (or in) today's citrus fruits, apples, candies, and cosmetics. ...among other things.
"Linseed Oil" came next; it was the choice of lumber sealers used by the very first Americans who colonized the new world - although they didn't have decks.
Obtained from dried "flax seeds". The flax plant would flower, then seed, and they harvested the seeds, ground them and pressed out the oils.
They also made paint using "linseed oil" - as well as using it to seal their hand crafted lumber furniture and such.
Samuel Cabot - The beginning of marketed Deck Sealer
In 1877, Samuel Cabot, a young American chemist, created a coal tar industry, then went into a wood preservative business using the creasote distillates from his failed tar dye factory.
Cabot pioneered a technique that combined pigments with creasote oil that provided increased protective qualities for sealing lumber.
For many years, "Cabot Wood Preservatives" and stains were a well known brand, and are still manufactured this day, although the recipes for his sealer has changed due to VOC laws, and are no longer available.
In the 1920's and 30's in the United States, "Lacquer" was introduced to the market as a lumber sealer, and although not many people had a deck to seal in those days (most front porches were painted white to match the house), "lacquer" was now another way to seal lumber.
...and then came "varnish"...and then came "polyurethanes"....and people started sealing their front porches instead of painting them....and then "petroleum distillates" entered the scene....and decks were being built as a "standard" on most homes....and everyone was using "polyurethanes", "varnishes", and "petroleum distillates" to seal their decks....and everyone cleaned their brushes using "paint thinnner", gasoline or "lacquer thinner"....and these toxic chemicals ended up in the streams, rivers, the ocean...and our drinking water....and then the EPA stepped in and made new rules.
...and now we have the deck sealers of today; environmentally friendly and safer.
Today's oil deck sealers are made almost like they were long ago.
Still made with "solvents", "binders", and "pigments" - just like paint.
The "solvents" of today are made of natural and synthetic oils found in rosewood, paraffin, linseed, tung, and teak.
In Virginia, oil sealers today are as good as technology and the EPA will allow - but they are nothing like the sealers of yester-year.
Latex Deck Sealers
Latex deck stains and latex deck sealers are actually a "spin off" of latex paint.
Before you can understand what a Latex deck stain or sealer is; you first need to understand what "paint" is, then you need to understand what "latex paint" is, and then finally you will understand what "Latex Deck Stains & Sealers" are.
"Paint" is defined as; "any liquid or mastic composition that; after application to a substrate - in a thin layer, converts to a solid film."
"a substance composed of solid coloring matter suspended in a liquid medium and applied as a protective or decorative coating to various surfaces."
The term: "Latex Paint" is a generic label referring to any water based paint made using "acrylic" resins, "vinyl" or "styrene" as a binder - even though there is no real "Latex" rubber in ANY paint that says it is "Latex Paint".
"Acrylic resin" is a common ingredient found in latex paints, made with a chemical base that give it elasticity. The more acrylic you make your paint with, the better quality the paint will be, the more elastic, the more sheen level (or gloss) of the paint.
Latex deck stains and latex deck sealers were created in demand from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to replace other types of non-environmentally friendly (and non VOC compliant) deck stains and sealers.
In reality, what they really are is; a thinned down version of latex paint, whether it be a "solid" or "semi solid" deck stain.
These types of stains and sealers are pushed and promoted onto the public as "the best thing you could put on your deck", HOWEVER:
They are actually the WORST thing to put on your deck; including the ones that are supposed to resurface your deck.
• Latex deck stains / deck sealers do not penetrate the lumber, but are considered a "surface coating" (just like paint).
• Due to the high acrylic content, latex deck stains & sealers do not "breathe" properly, meaning the moisture that gets in - can not get out!
• Latex stains & latex sealers do not always adhere to raw un-primed lumber - even though most labels tell you that "priming" is not required.
• You CAN expect your latex deck stain or latex deck sealer to peel, flake away, and grow mold over time.
You CAN expect your deck to crack, split, warp and fall apart over time.
Those who already have a latex product on their deck either must remove it entirely and do it correctly, or they have no option but to re-apply this stuff and do touch ups almost yearly.
*The grey deck has a Solid Latex Stain. It will always have peeling issues. We removed all the loose peeling stain and primed the raw lumber before applying the same stain again.
The orange deck has had a Semi-Solid Latex Stain. It will never have peeling issues again because we removed it and applied a proper sealer.
When you know what a "Latex Sealer" is, and you know what an "Oil Sealer" is; you can easily understand what an "Emulsified Latex / Oil Sealer" is - although no one really calls it this but us.
An emulsion is two liquids that ordinarily do not mix well. It is a suspension of tiny droplets of one liquid in a second liquid.
You may have been taught that water and oil don't mix, but technology has made it happen.
These types of sealers are extremely popular in areas where VOC laws restrict what types of sealers are available on store shelves, and most deck sealing contractors give them a thumbs up.
Basically how it works is this: You apply the sealer, the oil penetrates the lumber just enough, and then leaves a light surface film behind.
You won't really notice the surface film by applying just one coat, but it almost feels slightly waxy until it dries, and that's all you really need for this product to do it's job.
By applying a second, slightly lighter coat (after the first coat has had time to set up), it fills the remaining surface pores in the lumber and creates an almost furniture finished appearance - very beautiful, and lasts a long time.
...The only problem with doing this would be if you over applied the sealer. Too much and it acts like a latex stain; peeling, chipping, flaking.
It's always a good idea to follow the manufacturer's directions.
*Remember that Semi-Solid deck in the "Latex Sealers" section above?
This is what it looked like after we removed all the latex sealer, then applied a proper sealer.
DO I REALLY NEED TO CLEAN MY DECK (or fence)?
Usually, the answer would be:
"Sorry, but yes, you do need to clean your deck, there are no exceptions".
On the back label of the sealer or stain container, the manufacturer specifies that their product warranty is void unless proper application methods were followed.
Every manufacturer specifically states cleaning your deck prior to applying their product.
Even though you can't see it; there is dirt, pollen, dust, and mold spores on the lumber and in the cracks and crevices.
By applying a sealer or stain over this, the sealer may not adhere correctly, and may dis-color, most often it just fails.
We clean and seal decks all the time, and we can tell when someone didn't clean their deck before applying the finish.
But on the other hand...
Depending on how dirty, and what type of finish you have in mind, there may be an exception to the rule.
To play it safe, we prefer to clean before applying anything, but if you insist, at least we can say; "we told you so."
Can I clean the deck myself and save money?
You can do what you want, but if our company is not cleaning your deck, our company can not honor the sealer / stain warranty.
HOW TO SEAL A DECK (or fence)
Most all decks (and lumber fences) have one thing in common;
Nearly every one of them is built structurally with "pressure treated" pine; this includes support posts that go into the ground and pretty much all of the framing underneath. If it's a fence, the posts are almost always pressure treated pine.
Pressure treated is lumber that has been soaked in chemicals under pressure so that the lumber resists insects and rot - for a while.
Deck skirts, flooring, railings, balusters, and steps might be a different type of lumber altogether, such as a brazilian hardwood, IPE, Mahogany, or someother type of exotic lumber.
Lumber fences are usually pine, but sometimes they could be made of cedar.
When it comes to sealing any kind of lumber:
There is one important rule regardless of what type of sealer (or stain) you are using, and regardless of what your method is when applying the sealer:
• Do not overapply - even though you think it will be better and last longer - because you're wrong.
All manufacturers of deck sealers have instructions labeled right on the container.
These instructions tell you what types of surfaces you can apply their sealer to (including fences), how many square feet the product will cover (in a perfect world), and they tell you how to apply their product, along with clean-up procedure and material safety data.
For the novice, it is very important that you read & follow those instructions, which include cleaning the deck (or fence) first.
There are three different methods to applying sealer; Brush, Roll, & Spray.
Brushing sealer is highly proper and will work with any sealer. It is also very laborious and time consuming, but it does ensure that the sealer gets into the pores of the lumber, and it helps to spread the sealer evenly. Some manufacturers specifically state on their label to brush their product only.
Using a roller to apply sealer is perfectly fine with most sealer manufacturers. A roller can apply sealer much faster than just a brush, however, you will still need to use a brush to get up near the house siding and for areas that a roller can not get to, and you will need a brush to use for the final strokes - to work the sealer into the wood pores.
Spraying deck sealer is just too awesome. Most sealers approve using a garden type pump sprayer, or you can leave the spraying for the pro's who have the proper spraying equipment and tip sizes.
The goal of applying any sealer is to keep water out and / or protect the lumber from harmful U.V. rays.
Regardless of which method you choose to apply your sealer, it is recommended that you use a brush to deliver the final strokes and work everything into the pores, and to even everything out.
Don't think for a moment that you can just goop it on; too much sealer and it will crack, chip, flake, and peel.
Too much sealer and your lumber can't "breathe", causing certain areas to rot underneath the sealer.
when using a straight-up "oil type sealer" (such as IPE sealers); whatever doesn't get absorbed into the lumber will just sit on horizontal surfaces (like handrails and deck flooring)
...and will remain sticky / tacky, sometimes taking weeks or even months to dry if not wiped down properly.
How to seal a deck the right way
All lumber is different, the more tightly packed the pores are; the less sealer you will need. New lumber usually requires less sealer than old, sun baked, dried out lumber. Containers of sealer show how many square feet it will cover in ideal situations; older decks (or fences) are going to need more.
Make sure your deck has been cleaned, and it must be completely dry.
This does not mean to make sure your deck "looks" clean, it means that you must actually clean the deck - because there is dust, pollen, algae, mold spores, etc, that you can't see, and if you apply sealer over a dirty deck, the sealer might fail or the lumber will discolor.
Brand new pressure treated pine or cedar decks have "millglaze" (wood sugers) - forming a barrier created from the process of cutting the lumber - which needs to be removed. Power washing does this, or you can spend all day sanding, your choice.
If you are not going to get a professional to prepare your deck,
you can use a bucket of deck cleaner solution found at the hardware store, a scrub brush, and a garden hose.
Schedule this on a day when it will not be raining & temperatures are above 50° fahrenheit.
Transparent colors may look different on new lumber Vs. old lumber; sample testing your color in an inconspicuous area is always a good idea to see how it will look. Allow your sample to dry, because it looks different when you first put it on.
You need to stir / mix your sealer - some sealers need to be stirred constantly while you are applying them.
Make sure your sealer has been shaken at the store, or you can use paint paddles to stir. If you have several gallons of the same stuff, "Box" all of your sealer together into a larger container.
"Boxing" means to mix all the same product from individual containers back and forth, in order to achieve a uniform color. An easy way to do this; is to use a 5 gallon bucket to pour everything into, and then stir.
You then can redistribute your sealer back into the original containers and put the lids back on until you need to use it, and you will be certain that every container matches - even if you need to do touch ups later.
Do not apply your sealer in direct sunlight on a super hot sunny day - if at all possible.
Have everything off the deck.
This inlcudes removing bird feeders, tiki torches, wind chimes, hanging planter boxes, etc..
If you can't remove something because it is too heavy, try moving it to the other side of the deck, or aleast out of the way until you can finish the area where the heavy item will eventually sit.
Once the sealer has been applied, you might be tempted to apply a second coat; make sure you follow the manufacturers directions. Applying a second coat the wrong way can lead to the sealer peeling, chipping and flaking, and some manufacturers don't recommend a second coat.
The very last thing you will be applying sealer to; will be the deck floor itself. The first thing you need to apply sealer to; would be any trellises and gazebos, then the deck balusters (including the inside and outside top & bottom rails - but not the top hand rail just yet).
It really doesn't matter if you start on the outside of the deck or the inside.
A good idea is to do all the areas you really don't want to do first - that way; everything else is cake. Sometimes it helps if you have someone on the outside of the deck while someone is on the inside of the deck - to check for runs and get everything uniform.
Pay close attention to how the lumber is reacting to the sealer
as you are applying it; if you see that the lumber is just sucking up your sealer, give it more - but only at this moment. If the lumber is not absorbing the sealer, push the remaining sealer into the next section you will be working on.
You want the lumber to "drink" all that it wants; but only right now at this moment. If it gets absorbed - give it more, but only right now at this moment.
If the lumber is not absorbing the sealer - use your brush and push it into the next section you will be working on - do not leave any excess sealer on the lumber that is not being absorbed. Your final brush strokes go back into the area you just left - this creates a "wet edge" and eliminates any "start & stop" brush marks on the deck.
You can not stop what you are doing once you get started
Let the phone ring, don't stop to talk to the neighbor (unless you are at a "cut off point).
A cut off point is when you completely finish a board or section of lumber. If you stop midway, you just might leave a "lap mark" which will be obvious when the work is done.
After you seal everything else, you can now do the top handrails of your deck, then do the deck flooring, then work your way down the steps.
If you have no steps, work your way back into your patio door or over your ladder.
Contact us to do your deck - or if you do it yourself - Good luck!
WHEN TO SEAL A DECK OR FENCE
The water test
The water test is a way of telling if your exterior lumber needs to be sealed or not (decks, fences, landscaping timbers).
While your deck or fence is completely dry; sprinkle, splash, or spill some water over the lumber in a few different areas and see what happens.
If the water "beads" or sits on the surface, you're O.K.
If the water is being absorbed into the lumber at all, anywhere, it is time to seal.
Just because the water isn't "beading", doesn't necessarily mean you need to seal.
Freshly sealed lumber will most always bead for a while.
You need to seal your lumber when you start seeing that water is being absorbed.
The best time of the year to seal
Apply your sealer in the Spring, Summer or Fall, applying sealer in the winter is not a good idea.
Make sure the outside temperature is no lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit when you apply it. If the temperature drops slightly overnight, it shouldn't be a problem in most cases.
Rain should not be in the forecast (depending on what material you apply, rain window (dry time before it rains) could be anywhere from two hours to eight hours (check your product's label).
Applying sealer or stains in direct sunshine is not recommended, neither is applying over a dirty, wet or damp surface.
The Spring time temperatures are nearly perfect; and what better time of the year could you think to get your deck ready for the upcoming summer fun. Two things to consider however; "April Showers" and late spring pollen.
Summer is fine to seal your deck, although it has the excessive heat to deal with, and late afternoon thunderstorms. Try not to do your sealing or staining in direct sunshine, the sealer may set up too fast.
Fall almost seems to be the perfect time of the year other than all the leaves blowing around everywhere, and if you wait too late in the Fall, you have to deal with chilly winds and possible temperatures dropping under 50 degrees overnight.
Too late, you need to wait until spring.
The best time to seal your deck is when you see that water is no longer being repelled.
Keep in mind that your lumber needs to be dry before applying most sealers, so there might be wait time if it rains every other day.
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