(MS) -- Ben Franklin once said, You may delay, but time will not. So if you ve had good intentions about cleaning up the backyard deck, and just haven t been able to get to it, you re not alone. It may be time to think about calling on a professional decking contractor for help so your deck will look its best and be protected from the elements.
Most homeowners know professional contractors build decks, but they don t realize that professionals can also handle routine deck maintenance, said Jeff Wilson, himself a former professional contractor and host of numerous how-to television programs such as Build A Deck and Build A Fence. It s like painting your house or mowing your lawn. Sometimes you can handle the job, but other times you re swamped and need reinforcements.
When looking for a professional deck contractor, it s always a good idea to ask people you know for referrals -- neighbors, friends, real estate agents, or employees at your local home-improvement store. Many firms can be found in the Yellow Pages, while more detailed information often can be found online. Recently, the makers of Thompson s Water Seal products launched a Certified Contractor program via their Web site (www.thompsonswaterseal.com). It offers extensive resources for contractors, along with a database to allow homeowners to find a certified deck-care contractor in their area.
But no matter how you gather leads, take the time to talk with prospective contractors about their specific deck- maintenance experience. Wilson says that some firms specialize in decks, but that other builders and painting contractors offer deck maintenance among their services. Check references, look at pictures of their work or, if possible, visit some recently completed projects.
Before work begins, obtain a detailed and signed estimate. This should cover several phases -- structural assessment and repair ( It s no use polishing firewood if your deck needs major repairs first, says Wilson), cleaning and finally, sealing the wood to protect against water damage. The contract should include exactly what products will be used and approximately how many gallons will be needed. It s also a good idea to include a starting date and a target completion date, but you ll have to be flexible about unavoidable weather delays.
Before the deck cleaning begins, the crew should cover all stationary surfaces that won t be cleaned, along with adjacent landscaping. According to Wilson, The cleaning step is key to the deck-restoration process. In fact, it s not uncommon for it to take more time to clean the wood than to finish it. This makes sense when you imagine how easily a new coat of waterproofer will go down on a well-cleaned deck. The waterproofer also adheres and performs better when applied to a properly cleaned surface.
The type of deck-cleaning solution used for your deck will vary based on the condition of the deck. For instance, is it just dirty or does it have an existing coating that needs to be removed? And if so, what kind of coating, and approximately how old is it? Because it can make a difference in how it is cleaned, know if your deck is pressure-treated lumber, redwood or cedar. Provide as much of this background information as possible to the contractor while he is preparing the initial estimate.
In addition to a deck cleaner, your contractor may use a pressure washer for additional cleaning muscle. This is a great tool in the right hands. However, too much pressure can feather the wood (fine splintering of the wood surface), so make a quick inspection after the first few boards are cleaned, before giving the OK to finish the rest of the deck.
The Finish Line
After cleaning, the deck will need to dry anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the coating used. Some waterproofers can be applied just two hours after cleaning the wood, which means your contractor may be able to finish your deck job in just one day.
According to Wilson, waterproofers and stains provide different options for the look of your deck:
* Clear waterproofers are used when the natural beauty of wood is desired. Clear, multi-surface waterproofers allow wood to weather over time to a silver-gray color. Clear, wood-only waterproofers help resist mildew and color fading to maintain natural wood color longer.
* Tinted wood-only waterproofers, also called toners, offer the same protection as clear, wood-only waterproofers while adding sheer, natural wood color.
* Semi-transparent stains provide a wider range of color choices. These contain more pigment than toners but still allow the wood s grain and texture to show through.
* Solid stains provide rich opaque color that hides the wood s natural grain. If you ve chosen a tinted waterproofer or an exterior wood stain, the color of the product on your deck may vary from the color brochures. Ask your contractor to brush out some of the product in an inconspicuous area and let you approve it before finishing the entire deck.
Once the application is finished, allow the deck to dry for the recommended time before using. Dry times vary by product type, so check the label. The rest of the work is up to you. Invite over friends for a cookout on your renewed deck. Sit out and catch up with your family. Or just spend some time alone with a good book. It s a tough job, but somebody has to do it!