Q: Could you tell me the difference, as far as the results are concerned, between pressure washing a deck or sanding it to take the black residue off?

A: We would definitely pressure wash rather than sand. The results are the same after the wood dries, and sanding is dirty, backbreaking work. Pressure washing, on the other hand, is a nice thing to do on a warm day. It’s kind of like playing in the sprinkler when you were a kid.

Spring is the time to work on that deck so you can enjoy long summer days with your favorite beverage and a ballgame on the radio.

Now that the rainy season is about over – we hope – it’s time to start thinking about the multitude of outdoor projects around almost every home. Lawns, shrubs and decks require periodic treatment to beautify their appearance and enhance the beauty and value of your home.

During the last year, we have received several questions from readers asking for the best ways to maintain and preserve wood structures in the backyard and the garden. With the spring and summer months upon us, now is a good time for a refresher course on choices you can make regarding your outdoor wood – whatever form it takes.

A word of caution to begin with: The wood you buy at the lumber store, whether it is redwood, cedar, fir or one of the more exotic flavors such as zebra wood, will not maintain the color and texture you see when it is installed outside.

Water and sunlight, specifically ultraviolet light, will change both the color and texture of wood over time. Sealers and preservatives can help maintain a consistent though different color but will not give the same color or tone you see in the lumber rack.

To preserve or not to preserve, that is the question. If you choose not to apply a stain or preservative, the wood will weather naturally. In certain applications and in certain surroundings this can be pleasing. Think of a weathered gray redwood fence among the lush greens of a shaded garden. Or the silver cedar of the coastal homes at Sea Ranch in Northern California.

The downside, of course, is that the life of the structure is considerably shortened. The change in color is a sign of the natural decaying process.

For longevity alone, we generally prefer to apply a preservative to outdoor wood. A clear preservative will most often darken and enrich the natural color of the wood. An example is redwood, which is a light red, almost pinkish color in its freshly milled state, but turns to a deep red-rose with most preservatives.

If you choose to go this route, select a product with UV protection. Preservative with stain will color the wood.

Dark marks appear on wood that has a heavy tannic acid content. Areas of the wood where nails or staples have been used are most susceptible to this “bleeding.” Certain woods, such as redwood and cedar, are almost guaranteed to bleed.

We are not aware of any way to prevent this. However, you can minimize it by limiting the number of fasteners used on the finished side of the wood. Try using metal deck fasteners to secure the decking from the sides and bottom. If you choose to face nail, bleeding should subside over time as the wood dries out.

In shaded, moist areas, mildew buildup can be a problem. To solve this, wash with a weak bleach solution to kill the fungus, then pressure wash and apply two coats of wood preservative.

If this sounds like a lot work, it is. But the reward – a summer outdoors in pleasant surroundings – is worth the effort.

Bill and Kevin Burnett will attempt to answer your questions, although the volume of e-mail sometimes makes this impossible. Contact them at sweat-equity@comcast.net.

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