All hands on deck before sailing off into the summer

A little scrubbing and refinishing are all you need to get that decking in ship-shape for outdoor living. Kya deLongchamps gets us on board

Nothing shows us up like a forgotten area of decking flat out in the May sunshine

Lashed by unrelenting soft, wet weather, we have a gene-level distrust of every limb and plank of wood kept outdoors.

Actually, the right timber, positioned to slough water and given the correct regular protection under a keen seasonal eye, is not only economic, versatile and a natural marriage to horticultural surroundings, it is also superbly resilient in all conditions.

This is not 1900. We have the technology. There’s really no excuse for dilapidated fences, louse-feathered gates and listing pergolas, even a couple of decades old.

Wood, even in good structural condition, looks utterly dire when ignored, but glows instantly with a little attention.

Anyone could do the work. For the completely shaming, ring-side, metres-wide disgrace, nothing shows us up like a forgotten area of decking flat out in the May sunshine.

SHIVER ME TIMBERS

All hands on deck before sailing off into the summer

First of all, assess the state of the deck both structurally and in terms of that finish. Tight boards can gather rubbish during the autumn and winter, holding water, coaxing moss and mildew, and rotting out planks.

Lift up any plant pots or furnishings.

Most decking products where they do lift and flake through expansion, contraction, foot-fall and weathering are easy enough to scrub off with a wire brush working along the boards when the deck is dry.

Clean the surface with a stiff brush or pressure washer, working out mould and moss trapped between in joints.

Dedicated fungicidal cleaners are also available to remove stubborn mould and slippery algae, murdering their spores, something impossible with water alone.

Whatever you choose — a clean, product- free deck will receive any oils and stains more fully, allowing these expensive treatments to last longer.

Keeping a deck swept and clean can head off a lot of trouble — Ronseal Deck Cleaner, 5L, €24. Karcher Power Washers offers a range of patio and deck-cleaning heads with rotating pads, bristles for their machines from about €69, screwfix.ie.

REVIVERS

When the surface has dried fully, walk around and look under the frame. Does the entire deck seem stable? Severely cracked or misshapen boards, posts or rails should be replaced.

Look for any lifted nails or screws. Whack nails down full with a punch or replace with dedicated screws countersunk low enough to protect bare feet. If there are still signs of unsightly stain or other products, try a 1:20 solution of Oawtrol Prepdeck in water following the maker’s instructions — €53.99 for 2L, Woodies DIY.

If your deck just looks a bit greyed-out and parched — for a natural finish, a reviver or restorer may be all you need. Applied with a paint brush, this gel will clean, open the pores and moisturise soft and hardwood, bringing it back to its original brighter colour in about 15-20 minutes. For a large deck, do a few boards at a time to get the application/ removal times right. Ensure you rinse it off thoroughly with buckets of water, or a hose and soft brush. 10 sqm —15sqm covered per litre — Ronseal Cleaner/Reviver, €25 for 5L.

PROTECT, OILS OR STAIN?

All hands on deck before sailing off into the summer

Different conditions of use, temperature, aspect and humidity, demand different products. Choose the one that addresses what you see in seasonal degrading, and what’s left of previous protective products. If your deck is on the south side of the house, it’s probably very dry. Traditional decking oils (coloured or clear and the choice of most suppliers) don’t just sit on the surface like varnish would, but reach deeply into the fibres, setting up – strengthening and sealing the wood. Filling the grain and cells, they are superb for decking under threat of splitting and for new decks where you want a natural look.

If the deck is in a more shadowed position, it’s probably blooming with the slippery, green stuff. Clean it off with deck cleaner removed with a hose rather than a power washer which will further ‘fluff’ the damaged surface. Once dry, even the cheapest choice, a protector, will help repel the moisture hosting these biological nuisances, but the deck will inevitably require more attention than one in an open situation. Try Ronseal Ultimate Protection Stain. Cuprinol does an Anti-Slip stain with anti-slip microbeads, an algicide to help protect the film surface from green algae, and mould growth, €15.35 for 2l.

HARDWOOD STORIES

Hardwood is more oily and dense by nature, but not immune to decay and discolouring. It’s important to allow a new hardwood deck to season and shed its own natural oils for a few months and then to choose an oil or stain that can penetrate that tight grain of hardwood if that’s what you have.

The worst part of applying anything to a deck is the physical antics of planning a route. Oils should be applied with a soft paint brush, working out any potentially unsightly pooling in the ridges of the boards as you go; 5L should deal with 50sq m. New pad applicators on poles vastly simplified the work — wash out any pad well and it will be good to go next year too.

Rollers spatter — protect low windows, doorsteps and adjoining patio stones. Use a brush to saturate end-grain and get between boards. You can paint your softwood deck with an outdoor water-based emulsion, but don’t expect a matt, chalky surface (any cheap, opaque stain either) to last long under-foot even if it’s confidently labelled as anti-scuff.

NEW TOP-SIDE

All hands on deck before sailing off into the summer

Starting over? With a supporting frame, you may be ready to replace those boards, but take a look at the top shelf before reaching for those cut-price soft-woods. Realistically embossed composite decking has some major advantages over wood, if you want a total, no-brainer change.

With clip systems, and boards impervious to weathering and all but indestructible, most suppliers cover three colour families — teak, cedar and a grey with prices around €25-€65 per sqm (clips supplied). For stout quality without cupping, warping of fading, try Abbeywoods, The Westlink Business Park, Cork, abbeywoods.ie.

The company is now the exclusive suppliers of real wood Accoya decking with a 50- year life expectancy, €82.64 per sqm, supply only. Saige and Betterdeck does an excellent board in a resin, wood-waste composite, engineered for high plank strength without that cheap, telltale give — compositedecking.ie and betterdeck.ie.

Another advance also seen at Abbeywoods and better suppliers is bangkirai wood decking (yellow balau), soft to the touch, 50% harder than oak, and highly resistant to decay, €35-58 per sqm. Stocked at Chadwicks, Cork.


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