The conversion of outdoor areas into extensions of indoor living spaces has been a growing trend ever since the economic slowdown in 2008/2009. During that period, instead of taking expensive vacations, people spent time at home and made maximum use of their backyards, decks, and patios. As wages have remained stagnant and consumer purchasing power has declined, many homeowners continue to prefer inexpensive “staycations” over traditional and more travel. The need to achieve outdoor makeovers on a budget is also driving demand for materials that can provide an attractive appearance with minimal cost. Deck restoration coatings are one such example. These waterborne acrylic coatings can extend the life of a wood or composite deck for several years, and do so at a fraction of the cost of replacement.

Wood decks remain a very popular home feature because they are less expensive and easier to install than hard patios, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association. The organization estimates that there are roughly 30 million decks in the United States, and that number is increasing.  The most popular substrate is pressure-treated pine. While concrete patios and terraces have been more popular than decks in Europe and many other countries, interest in decks appears to be increasing in these regions as well.

Like all other structures, decks require maintenance and, without proper care, have limited lifespans. Even with constant care, wooden decks experience weathering and wear and tear. Eventually, and particularly for those that are poorly maintained, decks can become cracked and splintered and turn gray. Deck restoration coatings, which were recently introduced to the market, give owners the option to breathe new life into weathered wood for several more years rather than spend thousands of dollars on a replacement structure, according to Sylvia Insogna, North America marketing director for Dow Coating Materials. Interestingly, whether they are looking to continue using their outdoor living spaces in a cost-effective way or hoping to increase curb appeal and resale value, many homeowners are using restoration coatings on newer decks as well. “The color and texture aesthetics offered by these coatings can add value to these outdoor extensions of living spaces,” Insogna observes.  She also notes that the desire to be more sustainable accounts for some of the interest in deck restoration coatings because extending the life of an existing deck means that less wood and other materials are entering landfills, and fewer resources are consumed.

The deck restoration coatings on the market today are based on waterborne acrylic binder technologies, which offer low-VOC capabilities, excellent adhesion, outstanding durability, soap-and-water clean-up, and long intervals between reapplication, according to Insogna. “Most importantly, this type of chemistry allows the coating to adhere to well-weathered wood deck boards and provides protection from UV light penetration, which can cause deterioration and altered appearance,” she says. These coatings also block water and snow from seeping into the wood, which can cause mold and mildew growth as well as rotting. In addition, acrylic deck restoration coatings are designed to maintain a balance between being flexible enough to resist cracking but hard enough to withstand the outdoor elements and abrasion from furniture and foot traffic. They fill in minor cracks and gaps while maintaining elasticity on the substrate to help prevent additional cracking.

Deck restoration coatings are typically applied in two very thick coats to help hide cracks and encapsulate splinters in distressed wood. It is, thus, not surprising that when first introduced, they were generally applied by contractors. These systems are, in fact, much thicker than regular paint, with various coating companies offering products that can be as much as 10 times as thick as typical exterior paint. For instance, Rust-Oleum’s Restore 2X, 4X, and 10X Advanced products (which recently earned the Good Housekeeping Seal and are sold by Lowes) are two times, four times, and 10 times the thickness of regular paints and stains, and are designed for lightly, moderately, and severely weathered decks, respectively. However, as the do-it-yourself segment has expanded (also largely due to the economic slowdown and reduced consumer buying power), more homeowners are taking on deck restoration projects themselves.

Improvements in coating properties and performance have also helped draw the attention of DIYers, according to Insogna. “Since their first appearance on the market, deck restoration coatings have become less cumbersome to apply, making them a more popular choice among homeowners. Adhesion has also improved, with fewer instances of bubbling (see below).” Many of the coatings are multi-purpose systems that can also be applied to concrete, wood, and wood composite surfaces. There have even been deck restoration coatings introduced for high-water environments, such as docks. “We are seeing more and more companies introducing deck restoration coatings due to their popularity and ability to be applied to different substrates,” Insogna says. Two other product examples include Behr’s DeckOver (available at Home Depot) and Olympic’s Rescue It!

Preparation is crucial to success, though, and both raw material suppliers and coating manufacturers heavily stress the necessity of proper preparation prior to application. “Both homeowners and contractors should consult product labels to ensure correct application because if the surface is inadequately prepared or the coating is applied incorrectly, poor performance can result in the form of bubbling or compromised adhesion,” according to Insogna. Some coating companies have provided both extensive written instructions and how-to videos that are accessible online so that consumers have a full understanding of the needed steps to ensure good performance. For instance, it is very important that any existing sealers, paints, stains, water repellents, and other finishes are removed before application of a deck restoration coating. “Deck restoration coatings cannot be applied over old coatings because there will be adhesion issues, and mold and mildew growth can easily migrate to the top coating,” Insogna comments. The process can be pretty involved, however, and may be more than some homeowners want to tackle. However, if this step is skipped, the coating is likely to peel.

Temperature is another important factor that must be monitored closely. Because deck restoration coatings are so much thicker than regular paints and stains, it takes longer for them to cure. As a result, it is important that the coating be applied when it is sufficiently warm (50 to 90°F) for several days and nights in a row to allow a reasonable cure rate.

It is also important to remember that deck restoration coatings will extend the life of a deck, but not repair damage that has already occurred, according to Insogna. Eventually, the deck will still need to be replaced. In addition, while they can be applied to well-weathered wood, deck coatings will not work if the substrate is severely damaged and the coatings will not repair structural damage. Specifically, Insogna notes that the substrate should be stable, without any significant cracks or breaks, and should not contain mold or mildew.

By keeping a deck in optimal condition, homeowners can enhance their outdoor living space cost-effectively and sustainably for many years of use.