Philosophy of Wooden Deck Management
We inherited a huge one-thousand-square-foot deck from the previous owner of our house, who at some point in the deck's history decided to paint it solid beige, presumably to match the color of the siding of the house. Over the years the latex paint has started to chip and peel in places and boards have begun to rot. Wood experts tell me that deck boards painted on just the top surface do not hold their paint for long, because water gets into the wood from the sides and bottom, and a sauna-like effect from the sun beating down on wet wood capped on top with a layer of paint literally pushes the paint up and off. The result is the unsightly chipping and peeling that we see.
Through talking to deck professionals and people at paint stores, I have learned that paint works well on siding (which is typically less exposed to direct sunlight and rain), but oil-based stain (not latex paint!) is the customary finishing for decks. Stain preserves properly prepared wood by penetrating deep into its pores (instead of sitting like a gummy rubber glove on its surface as latex paint does) and wears off gradually rather than chipping and peeling, i.e., stain ages more elegantly than paint. From a maintenance point of view, there is also a significant difference between paint and stain--paint on a deck lasts maybe five years or so before it starts to crack and chip off, requiring considerable effort at that point to remove (by loosening, scraping, sanding, etc.) prior to repainting; whereas stain needs to be reapplied about every couple of years, and it is a lot easier to strip off old stain residue (more of a washing than a scraping process) in preparation for restaining.
Because I have an interest in seeing my existing wooden deck "live" as long as possible, I have embarked on the one-time (I believe) task of removing all of the paint and then properly staining the deck. I am finding that I must rely on a combination of tools and tricks of the trade to remove the paint (failing in places but still stubbornly adhesive in others): "friendly" chemical strippers (biodegradable, with sodium hydroxide (lye) as the caustic agent), water-misting of the surface to keep the chemical stripping process active, careful scraping in the direction of the grain of the wood with a non-metal edge after the paint has softened (more vigorous scraping is possible with the scraper perpendicular to the wood), and water-washing with the nozzle of a garden hose (pressure washing at 1000 psi or higher would damage the denuded wood surface). Importantly, also essential are many hours of unwavering perserverence and physical labor, and plenty of patience and restraint (not to wash off the stripper too soon, nor to scrape too hard, nor to zap with a power washer, nor to stop even though my joints and muscles ache from too much crouching and stooping).
When I eventually reach my objective of removing all of the paint (well, let's say 99% of it, as I hear that it is virtually impossible to remove all of the paint), I will have gotten set up for proper deck maintenance the way that I would like to have it--gradual and evolutionary (occasional cleaning and restaining), instead of drastic and repeatedly revolutionary (tedious and catastrophic paint removal prior to repainting each time). As I strip off the latex paint, I am beginning to catch glimpses of an ancillary aesthetic reward--the natural beauty of the flowing grain and subtle color variations of the wood, previously hidden behind a veil of opaque beige paint. My long-term thinking allows me to justify dedicating a month of my attention now to the deck, to reposition myself on the right track towards deck longevity and greater visual appeal.
Back to the principal's parting words: Following his thinking-speaking-doing message, he concluded by mentioning how one's actions ultimately reveal one's character as a person and participant in our society--probably about as deep a message as eleven-year-olds are able to grasp (especially after having sat attentively and listened for the previous half hour). In a similar vein, my decisions and actions taken during my summer deck project tie in with my values as a person--managing for the long haul, utilizing existing tools and materials to their fullest, treading lightly on the environment, having the wherewithal to make drastic changes when needed to get back on the right track, and exhibiting a lot of self-reliance. In my opinion, these traits--surfacing here in deck management--are useful ones to have in long-term investing as well.