How do I preserve the life of my deck?

View comments


With spring finally here and summer fast approaching, many people are spending time in a place long neglected by the cold winter: the deck. This past weekend, I participated in a volunteer project at a retreat center I used to work for in the summer called Star Island, a small island off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. One of the projects we worked on was putting a coat of oil on a newly installed deck unit.

This project got me thinking about why oiling the deck is important, and what you need to know about preserving the integrity and quality of your deck. I spoke with Jonathon Bickford, supervisor of all carpentry projects for Star Island Corporation who informed me about both the type of product to use as well as best practices for application.

The Product

Bickford recommends using an oil –based wood preservative with ultraviolet protection that will protect your deck from sun damage and keep it looking new and well-preserved. Rather than sit on the surface of the wood like paint, oil penetrates deep into the pores of the wood to strengthen and protect it, even at the cracks, joints and edges. The oil will eventually evaporate out of the wood, so it is recommended that you re-oil your deck ideally every 2-3 years to maintain optimum wood health and appearance. With just a few of us working on a large deck, it only took a few hours.

DIY tip: If you are looking to make your own oil, you will need boiled linseed oil, mineral spirits, pigment (to the color you would like) and mildicide (the name means what it sounds—to prevent mildew from growing in the wood). Simply mix equal parts oil, mineral and spirits and then use the pigment to taste and add a package of mildicide. Once you have your oil (whether home-made or store-bought), you are ready to apply.

The Technique

First and foremost, you need to be sure to sand away any footprints or other obvious scuff marks. Once the oil is applied, anything left underneath will be there permanently. Some scuffs can stay to add “character”, but that is a judgment call once you get into the sanding process. Once the sanding is complete, you are ready to apply the oil.

During the volunteer project I mentioned above, carpentry supervisor Jon Bickford had us start in a waterfall fashion, giving each of us about a 4 or 5-foot head start and moving horizontally across the surface. We each covered about 2-3 planks with oil. “After a while, it almost begins to look like a dance,” Bickford reflected. When each of us was done with a row, we would walk back to the beginning and start again. This made the work quick and sensible, so we would not oil ourselves into a corner with no way out.

With each dip of the brush, we were taught to wave the brush back and forth to get any extra drips off. Then with a wide sweeping motion, we coated each plank with just enough oil to soak the wood, but not so much that it would start to pool. If the oil pools or splatters, it is important to go over it with the brush again to prevent discoloration. You should allow at least 3-4 days for the oil to completely dry. If anyone accidentally steps on the wet oil, you will have to sand down and re-do that area, unless you want the footprint to be forever imprinted in your deck’s surface.

If you are lucky enough to have one, the deck can be a place where wonderful memories of barbeques and times spent with loved ones are made. Keep your deck well-preserved by maintaining a solid oil coating. After doing this project myself, I can honestly say that it is very satisfying and does wonders for the quality, look and life of your deck.

Don’t have a deck? Thinking about putting one on? Be sure to check out TotalHousehold’s database of local contractors to find someone in your area!

—Carrie Pope

Comments