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When the snow melts on the Rocky Mountains and the warm days of spring and summer finally arrive in Colorado, one of the best places to be is outside enjoying your deck. It can feel as if the most fun part of your home is finally open after being out of service for months. Unfortunately, that first journey out onto the deck can be disappointing as you look down at the boards and discover that they don’t look as attractive as they did the year before. It’s time to refinish the deck.

The very thing that makes the deck so enjoyable, the fact that it is outside, is the source of your problems. The UV in the sun’s rays combines with the water from the rain and snow to break down paints, stains, and even the wood fibers themselves. The challenge is to find a stain that will protect the deck while maintaining the look that you enjoy so much.

There are three main types of stains to choose from when refinishing your deck: transparent, semi-transparent and solid. As the names imply, one of the most significant differences between them is the opacity or the amount of light that they allow to pass through. However, the differences go much deeper than looks.

Why choose a solid deck stain?

Solid stains are a great choice if you are looking for a specific color. With over 3,000 options, you are sure to find something that will either match or complement your home and landscaping. These stains can be used to cover up previous paint colors and hide imperfections in the deck. You should be aware, however, that in so doing, they also cover the natural grain of the wood.

Solid color stains do not soak into the wood. Instead, they form an outer layer on the wood. Because of their thick consistency, they can fill in small cracks and gaps in the boards for a smoother finish and a more uniform and contemporary look. With these splits in the wood filled, solid stains keep rain and moisture out well. While light-colored stains will show more dirt than darker stains will, the smooth finish makes any color deck easy to clean. The flip side of having a smooth finish is that solid stains can be slippery when wet.

One of the compelling reasons to use a solid stain is its ability to protect your wood deck from UV degradation. The solid pigment in the stain blocks UV rays from getting to the wood and making it fade. Extended time in the sunlight, however, can cause the stain to crack, blister or peel. This fact is especially true if you choose a dark color stain, as they tend to heat up in the sunlight.

What if I change my mind?

We recommend looking around at decks that have been stained with a solid stain before choosing one for your own deck. Once applied, it is nearly impossible to remove a solid color and change to something different if you decide that you don’t like it. While solid stains can last up to 10 years in protected areas, foot traffic and weathering will likely wear down the stain much faster. Solid stains may need redoing in as little as one year, depending on use and environmental conditions.

When the stain starts to crack and peel, it is no longer protecting the wood as it should. Before your deck can be refinished, the old stain will need to be sanded or stripped from the surface. Then, a new coat of stain can be applied.

What if I prefer the look of natural wood grain?

If you like the look of your wood deck and simply want to preserve it, a transparent stain might be the best choice. These stains are especially popular for use on redwood or cedar decking. These woods are very beautiful just as nature created them, as evidenced by the fact that popular stains often strive to imitate their color.

Unlike solid stains, transparent stains penetrate into the wood itself. Because they don’t sit on the surface the way paint does, a transparent stain is not prone to chipping or cracking. However, it does not cover up any imperfections. In fact, it may enhance every visible feature of the wood – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a good idea to repair or replace any damaged boards in the deck before applying a transparent stain.

Are there any drawbacks to transparent stains?

There are a few things to be aware of before choosing a transparent stain. The first is that because there is no pigment in this type of stain, it is not very good at protecting the wood from UV exposure. Additionally, transparent stains weather quickly. They must be reapplied to horizontal surfaces every one to three years and vertical surfaces about every eight years. It is time to refinish the deck when the boards visibly start to fade, or you notice that the wood no longer repels water.

In most cases, a transparent stain cannot be applied to a deck that was previously painted or stained with a solid color. It must be the first stain that you put on a new deck. However, if you decide that you want a different look, you can change to a solid stain later.

Is there a middle ground between solid and transparent?

Possibly one of the most popular types of stains is the semi-transparent. The properties of these stains make them a good hybrid of the other two types. They allow the beautiful grain of the wood to show while still adding color. The added pigment gives valuable UV protection to the deck and can mask some of the smaller imperfections in the deck boards. Like transparent stains, these stains also soak into the wood. Thus, they are not prone to cracking and peeling the way solid stains and paints do.

Regardless of what type of stain you choose for your deck, you should perform periodic maintenance on your deck to extend the life of both the stain and the wood. Sweep regularly and wash dirt and debris off the deck to reduce wear and tear. Keep an eye out for wood damage as well, and fix problems before they deteriorate further. With a little maintenance and care, your deck can be a beautiful space to enjoy for years to come.