Having a wood or synthetic deck in Wisconsin can be a lot of maintenance! Our climate causes unique problems and an exterior wood/synthetic surface that is walked on, shoveled, power washed, and even air blown will cause coatings to wear and fail quickly if the proper product and preparation are neglected. Let’s dig a little deeper into what’s available, what kind of life expectancy you can expect, and what to look for when buying a deck coating.

The expectations of the life of the coating, as well as the look of the product, will need to be determined before purchasing a deck paint or stain. You also need to determine what your deck is made of. Here are the different types of wood and synthetic options you have in today’s marketplace.

  1. Pressure treated pine – the most common material used for constructing wood decks. Not as costly as cedar or synthetic, shortest life span.
  2. Cedar – has a higher price tag than pressure treated and generally looks more natural. Also, the most maintenance.
  3. Synthetic – composite decks are made of plastics and recycled materials. Highest in cost, longest lasting.
  4. Redwood – rarely used or seen anymore. Extremely weather resistant and costly.
  5. Ironwood/IPE wood – very dense and hard to stain. Cost is similar to synthetic.

There are many choices in deck coatings and which product is best for you will depend on the material of the deck, the overall appearance, and the expectations of how long the coating will last. I’ll break down how often these products are recommended to apply and how they look once finished. I’ll also give you an idea of how long the finish will last.

Pressure treated pine

Type of coating recommended – clear sealer, translucent stain, semi-transparent stain, solid stain, deck “fix” product.

  1. Clear sealer – clear in appearance, one coat application. Apply every year to prevent water from soaking into the boards. Will not prevent wood from turning gray. This coating will not hide anything although it may deepen the natural color of the wood.
  2. Translucent stain – clear coating with a UV stabilizer added to prevent graying of wood. Has a color although it will show all wood grain and texture. Apply once per year. One coat. This coating will hide minor imperfections, but the overall color of the finish will depend on how the wood looks. Always do a test patch so you’re sure you love the color.
  3. Semi-transparent stain – has a color, will hide some of the wood grain although it will look natural and show knots and imperfections. Apply once every other year, one coat. This coating will hide minor imperfections but will still take on some of the color of the existing deck color. Make sure to do a test patch.
  4. Solid stain – your deck boards will look painted. Solid in color. Apply two coats to bare wood, one coat to previously solid stained wood. Apply once every 3-4 years. This coating will hide all imperfections. Pick a color and it will be accurate.
  5. Deck “fix” products. These coatings are thick, and they fill imperfections well. They’re designed to be used over badly worn decks that are full of splits and cracks. Solid, painted look. 1-2 coats every 3-4 years. This coating hides all imperfections. Pick a color and it will be accurate.

Cedar, redwood

See above. These materials will generally look better with a clear or translucent coating due to the quality of the wood, one coat application. Once per year.

Synthetic decks

Must be coated with a solid deck product and that product must be specific and recommended for synthetic or composite decks. Generally, the solid coating used on these decks will give you 3-4 years of decent wear, one coat. Solid finish pick a color and it will be accurate.

Ironwood/IPE wood

The most difficult wood to stain. Very dense. A clear sealer or a translucent stain only. Apply a light coat once per year to prevent graying of wood. This coating will not hide any imperfections. Do a color test patch.

Asking a paint professional to recommend a product is also a great choice. This will give you an idea of what’s out there brand wise and what to expect. It all depends on your expectations and how prefect/imperfect the deck will look. Decks will get dirty. Decks will show some wear in a years’ time depending on how often you use the deck and for what purposes. It may take a beating from the sun, the kids, or the dog, or your guests. Remember, It’s the same as having a wood floor on the outside of your house! We also live in a climate with major temperature swings and snow. There are no “miracle” coatings out there for decks. Temper your expectations. Good luck!