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Make your deck last longer with regular maintenance

A deck can add value to your home, as well as provide an outdoor sanctuary to entertain friends and family.

But without proper care, your deck can begin to fade, crack and mold — turning from one of your home's high points to one of its low points. Routine maintenance of your deck will significantly increase its longevity and aesthetic appeal for years to come.

Professionals recommend cleaning your deck yearly of mildew and mold that can build up and by removing leaves, tree branches and other debris. Inspect the deck annually for any safety hazards, like loose bolts, nails, rails, handles and floorboards— which can cause injury when stepped on.

Depending on the climate you live in and how much sunlight your deck receives, which can cause decks to fade quicker, the general rule of thumb is a deck should be stained or sealed every two to four years.

"The biggest enemy to a deck is baking in the sun," said Steve White, owner of Handyman Connection - of Westchester County in Elmsford, N.Y. "In those cases, you'll have to restain it much more frequently."

Deck maintenance options

Options for staining a deck can include a transparent stain, which allows you to see much of the full grain of the wood. Professionals say this option is preferred for wood that is new or in good shape. A semi-transparent stain, meanwhile, will make some grains visible; while a solid color will cover up all of the grains. If the wood is not in good shape, deck professionals recommend going with a solid covering. Make sure the product that is used repels water and resists fading with a UV protector.

"Look for a water soluble or oil-based stain," said Victor Menendez, owner of Ashburn Handyman and Remodelers, LLC, in Sterling, Va. "Oil-based products will last longer — somewhere between three years and five years."

If you choose to power wash your deck each year, use caution. Power washing can splinter and damage the wood, so it's a good idea to keep it on a light setting if you go that route. Most professionals recommend using a cleaning solution and a stiff brush to clean the deck's surface, which will remove mold and mildew. After the cleaning is complete, wait 24 to 48 hours for the deck to dry before staining or sealing.

"The wood is not rot resistant or indestructible, so you have to keep it sealed," White said. "Over time, water can get into the cracks and expand them just like what happens when pot holes form on roads in the winter. The longer you keep the cracks open, the more destruction it will cause."

Hiring a reputable company

The price of hiring a professional can vary greatly depending on the size and shape of the deck, as well as the type of products used. The price for a professional upkeep can range from $400 to more than $1,000. Improper application of the stain and sealer could lead to it bubbling up. It’s important to back brush the stain and sealer to ensure it is absorbed completely into the wood.

"A professional knows the product used to clean it," White said. "They'll use the proper application and stir the product right. It's not like building a rocket, but there are certain ways to do it. A contractor can give their opinion about what's going to look best. A lighter color, for example, will not get as hot but will collect more dirt."

A professional contractor will also cover up any plants or siding with plastic so the stain or cleaning chemicals don't drip on them.

"They'll make sure there's a even coat put on," Menendez said. "When a homeowner tries to do it themselves, they get a lot of drips especially on the vertical areas. A professional will have more manpower to get the job done. You have a two-day window to do it, because the deck has to be dry for 24 hours prior and 24 hours after."

Menendez recommends putting two coats of stain on.

If you decide to hire a company, make sure you get several bids, check references and confirm that the company is appropriately licensed and insured.

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