Are You Prepared for Winter Weather?
Try these tips for protecting decks, sheds and other exterior structures from exposure.
Image courtesy of The Sansin Corporation, www.sansin.com
When winter weather strikes, will your house and exterior structures be ready for it? If you have recently added a new deck or have an existing one, there are steps you can take to protect it, regardless of whether it is made of natural wood or composite materials. You can also winter-proof sheds, shutters, walkways, masonry and other exterior surfaces such as brick and concrete.
Industry professionals Sjoerd Bos, Vice President, The Sansin Corporation, and Josh Kane, president of Kane Landscapes, have some helpful tips on the best methods for protecting your exterior surfaces and extending the life of the materials. Bos addresses winterizing natural wood products and Kane, a member of NALP, the national landscape industry association, offers advice about the care of composite decks and other exterior surfaces.
Protecting Wood and Composite Materials From Winter Weather
Clean the Surfaces
Do a thorough cleaning of the wood to make sure all of the dirt is removed. Allowing dirt to remain on any surface encourages the growth of mold and mildew. Keep leaves from accumulating on wood decks and roofs as they retain moisture and can cause discoloration and water damage. Composite products need to be cleaned as well because their surface is also susceptible to mold and mildew.
Check for Weaknesses and Potential Damage
If you are winterizing older wood surfaces such as a deck, Bos recommends “possibly countersinking nails if the deck was nailed down and sanding with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper to ensure a nice, even porosity” before giving it a new coat of stain or finish. To get a composite deck ready for winter, Kane recommends you first “look for loose deck boards and check the handrails, making sure they are all still secure. You want to keep the moisture out in winter from any loose nails or screws.”
Image courtesy of The Sansin Corporation, www.sansin.com
Apply Stains (for Natural Wood Products Only)
For homeowners who prefer the natural beauty of pressure-treated woods like cedar, redwood or Ipe, there are a variety of protective stains available in both one coat and two coat applications. You can even apply a red mahogany stain, for example, to a cedar deck if you prefer that color; the stain doesn’t have to reflect the actual type of wood used. Bos states, “We encourage two coats because it does exponentially increase the life of the finish.” While there are high quality one coat products available, there is always the risk that the wood may not be adequately protected if the applicator does not do a thorough job of coating all exposed areas evenly. “The first coat is always the most important and it should go on the heaviest,” Bos advises. “You should allow it to thoroughly wet the wood completely for the best penetration.” Keep in mind that some water-based stains and high solids solvent-based products can result in a film on the surface that traps moisture in the wood. To keep the moisture to a minimum, penetrating oil formulas such as Sansin Dec, for example, let the wood breathe and keep it healthy.
As for composite decks, they have become more popular than natural wood decks in recent years because they don’t require staining, last longer and require less maintenance year after year. However, at some point, “You might have to pressure wash it,” Kane notes, “and use a composite deck cleaner.” In general, composite decks shouldn’t require a sealer. “They make cleaners for it but it shouldn’t have to be resealed as long as it’s a quality composite.“
Water Repellent Testing
If the wood surface in question has been previously treated with a stain or sealer, check to make sure it is still offering protection by spraying a little water on it. If it beads up and rolls off the surface, the treatment is still working. If it soaks in, then it’s time to prep the surface again and restain it. If you notice a color loss in your coating, that is also a sign that it needs touching up. Give the surface a good cleaning with a multi-wash product and reapply a new maintenance coat. Another way to reduce water damage to outdoor surfaces is to make sure lawn sprinklers are not saturating wood or composite exteriors during operation. You can also lower the grade of your yard or add gravel or rock beds to reduce the splash-back effect of storm water coming off the roof and gutters.
To extend the life of your deck and the stains or treatments you have applied, Bos recommends “annual or bi-annual” washing and rinsing, adding that no product is ever going to completely block “the mold or mildew that feeds on the dirt.” Depending on how much wear and tear your deck, walkway or staircase are subjected to during the year will dictate the longevity of the exposed materials. Kane notes that most stains and sealers are good for 3-5 years: ”That’s the standard that you’re going to find on most manufacturers’ recommendations. The more use it gets, the quicker it will wear out.”
One thing to keep in mind during a severe winter is to remove snow from surfaces when there is light accumulation which can be easily brushed off with a broom. Heavier snowfalls are more problematic and can freeze but when that occurs it is usually better to let it thaw naturally than to try to remove the snow with a shovel and end up damaging the wood or composite surfaces.
Protection for Masonry and Other Exterior Surfaces
Unlike wood which can expand and contract in moist or freezing conditions, masonry can’t. It will crack. Kane says, “we seal a lot of masonry work with either a good stone or concrete sealer, especially if it’s a front walk or stoop where they will be applying some kind of ice melt product. Putting down a good sealer keeps the water and most of the ice melt chemicals off the surface of the stone or brick.” It also prevents it from aging more rapidly in appearance than it should under these extreme conditions. After the severe weather has passed, make sure you sweep off or remove the ice melt product from the exposed areas to prevent further aging or discoloration.
Regarding protection for concrete and masonry, Bos states “As a rule we stick to wood but we do offer a sealer for masonry called Aqua-Guard and it’s the kind of sealer than can be pigmented to basically stain the masonry but it’s by no means a paint.”
If you follow these suggestions, you should be able to extend the life of your wood or composite products. For more information about winterizing exterior surfaces, visit the Sansin Corporation, Kane Landscaping and NALP.