An affordable alternative to replacement
Keeping a wood deck in good shape takes a lot of work. Even if you stain or seal it, the boards can still crack and splinter, making the deck look old and worn. Switching over to composite decking is one option, though the cost may be prohibitive. But there's another, far more affordable solution. You can restore your existing deck by applying a deck restoration product.
Deck restoration coatings are thick enough to fill all cracks, knotholes and splinters, and they provide a completely new textured surface that can last as long as 13 years without additional applications. You can do the prep work in one day, then apply the product over a two-day period the following weekend. You'll need a power washer (rent it if you don't own one), a jug of deck cleaner, a special roller, masking materials and a roller extension. The cost varies, but figure roughly $1 per sq. ft. Here's how to buy the product, prepare the surface and apply it.
What is a Deck Restoration Coating?
Deck restoration coatings are made from a long-lasting tintable acrylic base material with UV inhibitors and added solids (aluminum oxide or sand). The solids provide texture and hold the product together (like aggregate in concrete). Some brands allow the wood to breathe yet repel water, while others form an impermeable barrier. The coverage ranges from 20 sq. ft. to as much as 75 sq. ft. per gallon. All brands require rigorous surface preparation. The procedures vary by manufacturer; read the product label. Apply two coats for the best performance.
Pick the brand and get it tinted
Shop for special coatings for restoring decks at home centers and paint stores. Some retail brands are Restore 10X and 4X by Rust-Oleum, Deckover by Behr, Rescue IT! by Olympic, and RockSolid Deck Restoration by Citadel Floor Systems. Discuss the surface preparation requirements for each brand with the store clerks—each brand is different.
Rust-Oleum's Restore 10X, the type we used, is 10 times the thickness of paint. Restore 4X, as well as the other products, are about four times the thickness of paint. The extra thickness of 10X makes it more durable and better at covering cracks, knots and surface flaws. However, that thickness also means less coverage per gallon. If your deck is in decent shape and you'd like to save money, choose a thinner-viscosity product.
Next, choose the color carefully because deck coatings absorb a lot of heat and retain it longer than plain wood. If you pick a dark color and your deck gets direct sunlight, it may be too hot to walk on with bare feet.
Some deck restoration products (such as Restore 10X) can be used only on horizontal surfaces, so you'll need a matching or complementary product designed for the deck's vertical surfaces. And, if you're buying 4 or more gallons, buy it in pails instead of individual gallons. You won't have to refill your roller tray constantly (the product goes fast!). Before you leave the store, buy the manufacturer's recommended deck wash to ensure compatibility with the deck coating. And buy enough application rollers (one roller for every 4 gallons of material). Ask the store for extra stir sticks—you'll need them to clean the product from the gaps between boards.
Prepare the surface
Start by breaking off any large splinters. Then reset any protruding nail heads or remove them and secure the boards with deck screws instead. If you've applied a solid stain or clear sealer and then covered areas of the deck with planters or furniture, those sun-shielded areas must be sanded. Use 80-grit sandpaper to remove the gloss and rough up the surface in those areas.
Next, dilute the deck cleaning product, apply it, and let it soak in for the recommended time. Then scrub the entire deck using a stiff scrub brush and extension handle. Pay extra attention to any greasy areas; get all the grease off. Then power wash the entire deck to remove ground-in dirt and loose stain. Aim the nozzle into the board gaps to clean them out too.
Before applying the restoration product, let the wood dry for a week and mask off all vertical surfaces (Photo 1).
Apply the first coat
Start by filling knotholes, splinters and cracks with latex caulk or the restoration product. Let it set until it's stiff. Then apply the deck coating with the special roller (Photo 2). You'll have to reload the roller every few feet to get the proper coating thickness. Don't try to make the product go further by working it back and forth—that'll thin it and load it with air bubbles. Coat several boards at a time (Photo 3). Some product will fill the gaps and some will fall through and be wasted (get over it; it's part of the cost of the job). Refill holes along the way (Photo 4). If you prefer a smooth finish, level the coating right away with a brush (Photo 5).
Clean up with soap and water and let the first coat dry for three to six hours (or until dry to the touch). You probably won't like the look of the first coat. Don't worry; it's just the primer coat. The second coat is the “magic coat” that fills in all the gaps and provides the smooth texture you saw at the store. Apply the second coat using the same method. Then let the deck dry for two full days before walking on it.
For the longest-lasting results when you restore the deck, clean the coating in the spring and fall using the manufacturer's cleaner.