Wood Decking, Steps and Handrails

Sundecks, verandas and patios are often subjected to extreme weather conditions, including unrelenting sun, rain and snow. Even with regular seasonal care, a conventional wood deck will not match the lifespan of the home and will need to be replaced. Check your deck each season for deteriorated stairs, handrails and platform boards. Exposure to sun, rain and snow can cause fasteners to pop and boards to warp, crack, split or rot. Check your deck, steps and handrails for areas that may need to be repaired or replaced.

One of the best ways to prolong the lifetime of your deck is through regular maintenance and cleaning – sweep your deck regularly, shovel snow off deck surfaces, and clear away any puddles, dirt and leaves to reduce the amount of moisture and chance of wood rot.

Location

Check with your municipality regarding where you can and cannot build a deck. Usually a homeowner is not allowed to build a deck that would encroach upon an easement or utility corridor.

Design

Before you build a deck make sure you understand all local and Saskatchewan Building Code rules regarding deck construction. Alternative decking material to wood (i.e., vinyl or wood/plastic composites) is available on the market. Although they are more expensive, they require less maintenance and may have a longer lifespan than wood. Maintenance of these materials should follow the manufacturersʼ instructions.

Did you Know?

Slivers form when wood has been repeatedly subject to wet and dry cycles. When this happens, the wood fibres bend and twist. When the surface dries the fibres try to return to their natural shape. As this happens, some of them rise up and from the surface of the rest of the wood forming slivers as they begin to separate from the rest of the wood.

Slivers in Exterior Wood Surfaces

Wood surfaces, especially horizontal wood surfaces that are subject to high traffic and use such as deck surfaces and handrails, will weather and form slivers more quickly than vertical wood surfaces.

The occurrence and severity of slivers depends on many factors:

  • The growth rate of the wood – Mature wood shrinks approximately 0.1 – 0.2% as its moisture content changes from living (or “green” and young) to cut, aged and dry. Younger wood can shrink as much as 2% and is more subject to raised fibres.
  • The wood species – Dense wood species (i.e., oak) are more prone to weathering than some of the more open grained species (i.e., hemlock or fir).
  • The manufacturing process – Rough sawing exposes more of the fibre ends than smooth sawing while the angle of the cut expose more of the wood grain to moisture. Both can affect the amount of moisture that penetrates the wood, making it susceptible to slivers forming.
  • The number and severity of wet/dry cycles – Reoccurring wet and dry cycles as well as severe heat, sun and wind can increase the rate of sliver formation.

Slivers cannot be eliminated but can be minimized by applying protective coatings such as paints, stains, or water repellents that minimize water penetration into the wood and protect against the effects of the sun.

Protecting Wood Surfaces

Before applying protective coatings, clean the wood surface using detergent and water or a commercial cleanser. When selecting a cleanser, contact your local hardware store for advice on alkali levels in the detergents and cleansers as some may leave a residue on the wood that may affect the life of the wood and the look of the finish.

You will need to also sand the surface of the wood if it has been exposed to a wet/dry cycle within the last two weeks. Sanding removes weathered fibres and allows better coating adhesion. Sand the wood using 50 to 80- grit sandpaper. It will still be important to keep your wood surfaces clean and free of debris and moisture. Check your deck for deterioration each season and refer to the maintenance instructions for the protective coating you have applied to your deck, stairs and hand railings.

Fading and Weathering of Deck Stain

Deck finishes fade due to exposure to the elements and traffic use. Horizontal deck surfaces (i.e., handrails, stairs and deck platforms) wear much faster than vertical deck surfaces (i.e., spindles). A maintenance schedule can be created to maintain the appearance and help preserve the wood. This schedule should be based on the amount and type of weather exposure your deck receives and much it is used.

A wood stain can be used to protect and colour exterior wood surfaces. There are two types of stains – film forming (solid stains) and penetrating stains (transparent and semi-transparent). When compared to paint, it is much more difficult to achieve a uniform colour coating with a wood stains. Variations in stain colour occur due to the characteristics of wood and how the wood is treated prior to staining. Wood density and grain vary from tree to tree and even from board to board when cut from the same tree. A dense portion of the board will not accept stain as well as portions of board that have a more open grain. Wood that is rough sawn, unprimed or very dry may absorb stain more readily than wood that is smooth cut, damp and treated with a sealer.

Coatings can help protect the wood from the deterioration by sunlight. While paints can block sunlight completely, they may also trap moisture and encourage wood decay. Semi-transparent stains are one of the most effective coatings, followed by water repellent preservatives that contain ultra violet light inhibitors. Before (re)coating wood, it should be repaired, sanded and cleaned to ensure the new stain will fully penetrate the surface for maximum finish durability. After the wood is prepared, the new stain can be applied.

It is important to use the correct type of applicator and technique be used to ensure the wood surface is evenly coated, providing maximum protection for the wood. On wooden deck surfaces, roller applied stains must also be worked into the wood using a brush and brushing the stain back and forth. This helps ensure a more uniform colour and stain penetration into the wood.

Most stain manufacturers provide detailed brochures that explain stain product options, application equipment needed, proper surface preparation and application techniques.