The Issues of Deck Protection vs. Esthetics

The traditional process of keeping a wood deck looking good is difficult at best. Typically, it requires bi-annual removal of the failed finish using harsh chemical strippers and high pressure washing or heavy sanding; followed by reapplication of a new finish. One to two years later the process has to be done all over again.

Traditional methods of maintaining wood decks (chemical stripping & pressure washing) and (heavy sanding) are actually destroying the very deck homeowners are trying to protect.

A big part of the problem is the fact that organic (solvent/petroleum) based stains and opaque paint type finishes contain compounds that are very difficult to remove, even though they are in the process of failing. Additionally these organic products, in an attempt to produce some amount of water repellency, contain silicones. Silicone forms hidden residue below the surface that builds up and prevents adhesion of subsequent finishes. Silicone cannot be removed by sanding and is nearly impossible to remove without the use of harsh chemicals that contain sodium hydroxide (lye).

Homeowners are often confused about what it is that actually protects their decks from the harsh elements of nature. Many believe if their deck still has color on it, it’s protected.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Therefore, it is extremely important that homeowners get a thorough understanding of the differences between “protection” and “esthetics.” Here is some information to help homeowners reach that understanding.

First, understand the difference between a water repellent and a stain.

Water repellents are the only protection any outdoor structure really needs in order to be protected from its number one enemy, water. Common water repellents for wood are found in big box or hardware stores. They contain silicone and solvent. They typically have a short service life and can do immense damage to exterior wood. Water repellents seldom contain pigments. Water repellents are too thin to hold color pigments in suspension long enough to get them applied. Water repellents are about protection.

Oil stains and opaque paint type finishes are heavy bodied products that are designed to hold color onto wood surfaces. Organic wood stains contain very little, if any, water repelling compounds. If they do it will generally be silicone.  Stains and paint type coatings are thick enough to carry color pigments and are therefore often the homeowner’s first choice in deck restoration products. Typical wood stains and opaque paint type coatings found in big box or hardware stores are about esthetics.  These products often make a deck look good but offer little or no protection from water, snow pack and the freeze/thaw problems associated with water penetration.

Stains and opaque coatings do provide UV protection. UV causes wood to turn grey but causes very little actual damage to the woods structure. Simple washing the wood with wood cleaners will remove the grey fibers. Washing off grey fibers is less expensive and damaging to wood than continual stripping off failed finishes and reapplying organic finishes.

Often we see stained or opaque coated wood decks with numerous cracks, splits and damage associated with water penetration, even though it has been continually coated with an organic product. The reason it happens is because water simply penetrates unabated through the stain or opaque coating. These types of stains and coating cannot breathe so moisture becomes trapped just under the finish causing the wood to rot. These wet wood fibers become food for molds, algae and mildews. The next thing that happens is the wet wood fibers cause the finishes to lose adhesion and peel or flake off.

Treatment of an outdoor wood structure with Sealwize Zr44 stops the destructive process of traditional deck maintenance. Zr44 is a water repellent but does not contain silicones or solvents. Zr44 is inorganic and therefore less susceptible to breakdown caused by the harsh elements of nature. Unlike most water repellents, Zr44 will support the use of color pigments and therefore provides protection as well as esthetics to outdoor wood structures.

Zr44 is inorganic and does not form a film on the woods surface as does organic oil stains and opaque paint type coatings. Zr44’s microscopic crystalline structure prevents water from penetrating the surface of wood while allowing water vapor to pass upward through the surface, thus allowing the woods interior to dry out quickly.

To prevent the bi-annual tradition of sanding or stripping off the woods surface to accommodate reapplication, Zr44 color is designed to erode off the surface of the sealed wood so it can easily be reapplied when needed without the use of harsh chemical strippers, sanding or high pressure washing. The water repellency of the wood remains intact even though the color is faded and is in need of reapplication. The wood structure is never left unprotected from its number one enemy, water.