This article was crafted with the help of Dave Tibbetts from Atlanta Decking & Fence Company, Inc.

Few things add to the enjoyment of your home like a brand-new deck. While it's a considerable financial investment up front, when properly maintained, the addition of a deck will pay dividends down the line and provide you with many years of fond outdoor memories. Without regular upkeep, however, that once-sparkling jewel of your backyard can quickly fester into something more akin to a drab lump of gray coal. To learn more about the importance of deck maintenance, we spoke with Dave Tibbetts, founder of Atlanta Decking & Fence Company.

#1: There Is No Such Thing as a Maintenance-Free Deck

Dave explains that because they are under constant attack from the elements, all decks, regardless of the native climate or type of material they're made of, require some degree of maintenance in order to retain their look and structural integrity over the years. While rain and moisture present a clear threat to a deck's longevity, it's the relentless UV rays of the sun that exact a particularly harsh toll. And while a deck in an arid, sunbaked backyard won't last as long as one beneath the canopy of lush foliage, Dave believes that with proper attention, even the shortest-lived deck should last for at least 15 years (and possibly up to the lifetime of the home).

With this in mind, homeowners are faced with a number of choices when it comes to choosing the type of building material for their deck. As the longtime industry standard, pressure-treated wood remains the most popular choice by far, and Dave believes there's good reason for this: it's a reliable, cost-effective, and attractive option.

Some customers may opt for more expensive, exotic hardwoods—and these are indeed beautiful—but the density of this lumber necessitates more regular deck maintenance. Dave explains that Brazilian lumber, for example, is so hard that a stain can't easily seep into the pores of the wood, meaning it needs to be reapplied much more frequently.

A third option resides within the world of composite decking materials. These hybrids consist of ever-evolving blends of plastic and wood flour, and they attempt to combine the beauty of natural wood with the practicality of modern science. Dave notes that despite their higher initial cost, these have been marketed as a lower-maintenance option and thus sensible alternatives to pressure-treated wood.

#2: Cleaning Before Sealing Is Absolutely Necessary

Dave provides an incredibly useful tip for any homeowner reaching out to a deck contractor: "Ask them what they're going to do first, what steps they're going to take," he suggests. "If they say anything about sealing it before cleaning it, they're not who you want."

He relayed the sad tale of a homeowner whose beautiful deck lasted all of a year before mold took a hold and left it in a state beyond repair. Because the homeowner was given the impression by a negligent contractor that a new deck didn't require cleaning prior to sealing, the microscopic mold spores that naturally inhabit the wood were trapped beneath the seal, left to multiply exponentially and wreak irrevocable havoc on the lumber. Needless to say, the homeowner was devastated to learn how easily this could have been prevented.

Dave explains that the real focus of the cleaning isn't so much the removal of visible dirt and grime as it is the elimination of invisible microbes and mold spores. Homeowners should have the cleaning performed at a time when very little sunlight is hitting the wood so that the wood can remain as damp as possible. A simple blend of one part bleach to three parts water constitutes a cheap and effective cleaning solution, according to Dave, but he explains that there exists an entire world of deck-cleaning products on the market. "Don't always trust the labels to tell you the truth," he cautions. It's also important to use a lot of water after cleaning your deck with any chemicals because any residual chemicals can break down a stain over time. Asking a Best Pick deck building contractor for advice is the best way to ensure you're getting the job done right.

#3: Sealing/Staining Is the Key to Your Deck's Longevity

After the deck has been thoroughly cleaned and allowed to dry (which could take anywhere from 48 hours to a week, depending on the climate), it's time to choose a sealant or stain. Ranging from transparent finishes to opaque stains, there are hundreds of different options from which to choose, and it can be downright overwhelming. While nearly all will afford protection from rain and moisture when properly applied, Dave prefers to use oil-based solutions, as they actually seep into the pores of the wood and create a greater defense from the sun's UV rays. One of the reasons Dave prefers oil-based sealants over water-based ones is that "if you want to apply another layer of water-based sealant a year or so later, you can't just go over it again; you have to completely strip the deck of that old layer."

How often does the deck need to be resealed? There's no simple answer to this, as factors such as climate, location (especially with regard to how much sunlight is received), and construction materials come into play. It's a good idea to consult with a local Best Pick deck contractor since he or she will be familiar with the area and thus be best able to provide advice. As a relatively simple project that can be handled by many homeowners, though, it's most important that it be performed safely (goggles, gloves, and plant coverings are a must) and with some regularity.

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This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Atlanta Decking & Fence Company, Inc., a Deck Building & Maintenance Best Pick in Atlanta. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.