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4 tips for ‘decking’ your house for summer

SPONSORED — Got a deck, or planning to add one? Understanding how to plan and care for your outdoor spaces is key. With summer around the corner, the time to get going on deck and deck-cleaning projects is now. Here are some tips for building a new space — or optimally maintaining an existing one.

Plan your deck

If you’re planning on building a new deck to enjoy this summer, call a contractor quickly, says Stacy Kovats, who directs sales at century-old Issaquah Cedar and Lumber. Many contractors have nearly finalized their bookings for spring and summer outdoor work.

Choosing materials that stand up to Pacific Northwest weather is a must. The local wood of choice is western red cedar, available in different grades and myriad sizes for decking and outdoor structures. Another Northwest classic choice would be an exotic hardwood such as ipe, tigerwood or batu. Exotic hardwoods provide natural color options, and, much like cedar, are resistant to rot, decay and pests. Take a little time to go look at the decking displays local retailers have built.

To speed the process of sourcing decking, know the square footage of your deck and then work with a wood salesperson or knowledgeable contractor so they know how much wood to order.

“Wood is sold by the lineal foot (or length), not the square foot,” Kovats notes. “The wood type you use can vary in its dimensions and thus determines how many lineal feet you need to order.”

Customers also need to check with a contractor whether they need a building permit for their deck. Generally, decks that are less than 30 inches above ground don’t require a permit or railings, while decks at higher elevations or extending out over a slope may need permits and railings.

Clean decks more than once a year

If you already have a deck, the best way to make sure it stays in shape is to clean it more than once a year. Cleaning it seasonally is ideal.

“The dirt and pollen you see accumulating on your car are also impacting your deck,” Kovats says. “Decks and outdoor wood can have built-up dirt, pollen and mold spores — what we call ‘organics.’ ”

Sweeping and spraying decks so organic matter (leaves, berries, pine cones, flowers) doesn’t accumulate and disintegrate onto surfaces helps lower mildew risk. Mildew thrives in temperatures ranging from 40 to 90 degrees and in wet climates, but a good cleaning before cold weather sets in and as spring warms up can help.

Use the right cleaning agents

Kovats cautions that consumers should only bring out the pressure washer for synthetic decking or exotic hardwoods (such as ipe or tigerwood), which can stand up to the strong water pressure.

For softer wood decks (such as cedar), you can use a garden hose sprayer and clean with a recipe made from powdered trisodium phosphate (also known as TSP), which is available at any hardware or home store, mixed with bleach and water. Apply the substance, let it sit and scrub with a bristle brush before rinsing.

You can also use store-bought products. Look for products that emphasize their ability to remove organic material, which would include mildew. An example would be products from Penofin.

Issaquah Cedar & Lumber suggests a DIY all-surface cleaning solution:

4 ounces powdered TSP
2 cups bleach (optional)
3 quarts warm water

Spray water on all surfaces to be cleaned. Apply solution with a garden sprayer. Allow it to sit, but not so long that the surface dries. Clean surface with a bristle brush, then hose it off.

Don’t forget the sunscreen

Once the deck is clean, refinishing periodically also can help protect it, as outdoor finishes generally contain ingredients designed to deter absorption of organics. Kovats says surface sealers may appeal to some consumers, given that they last up to five years, but ultimately she considers these products a compromising approach because they only coat the top surface of the wood — which can be attacked from other directions — and require stripping or sanding to refinish.

The better way to preserve wooden decks and surfaces is to use an oil-based product that offers UV protection and soaks into wood, she says.

“These products act like sunscreen and moisturizer for your deck’s wood,” she notes. “You’ll have to apply them biannually, but they’ll help your deck last longer.”

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