What Restoring a 20-Year-Old Deck Looks Like

What Restoring a 20-Year-Old Deck Looks Like Featured Image

While it may seem like all I care about is code, the last few months have resulted in some major changes in my life. Surely, I don’t plan to share all the details, but I’m proud of a personal project I’ve been working on, restoring my parents’ deck. I figured it was time to show it off!

Table of Contents

Helping Out the Family

It may come to surprise folks that someone who codes and blogs regularly would be doing any sort of manual labor, but that’s just what I’ve been up to this summer. Ever since my mom passed away in March, I’ve been spending a lot of time back home with my dad. Each weekend, I’ve been working a few hours around the house. It started by vacuuming and steam cleaning the carpets before moving onto more serious tasks like installing new vent covers.

While helping out was a great way for me to deal with the grief, there was another key event on the horizon that was driving a lot of these efforts: the celebration of life. This is a party that my mom asked us to have for her before she passed. As of right now, it’s planned for June 25th in my parents’ backyard.

As you might already be aware, planning a party in a backyard requires a bit of work. You need to consider details like where folks will park, what they’ll eat, where they’ll sit, and even where they’ll use the restroom. And if you happen to have a deck outside, it’s probably a good time to freshen it up.

Inspecting the Deck

My parents’ deck is probably at least 20 years old. When you read around online about the life expectancy of a deck, it’s not exactly encouraging. Most guides seem to claim that decks should only last between 10 to 15 years, assuming regular maintenance. Given that my parents’ deck has had almost no maintenance in 20 years in the climate of the northeast, I’m tempted to doubt these claims, but they didn’t exactly make me feel good about attempting to restore it.

That said, I looked over the deck, and it seemed to be in decent shape to me. Nowhere on it felt like it was going to break. Some of the boards were certainly warped, and many of the boards were loose. One of the worst boards was the bottom step of one of the staircases which was broken, but no one ever used that particular staircase (and it would be reasonable to fix). Likewise, there was one major handrail that was a bit of a splinter concern, but again the deck is getting foot traffic; it’s not a jungle gym.

Outside of that, I figured it would at the very least be somewhat cheap to clean. Just washing it would make it look 1,000 times better, so that was my short term plan for the summer.

Cleaning the Deck

For those wondering, here’s more or less what the deck looked like at the start of April:

Family Deck: Untreated as of April 1st, 2023

As you can see, there is some major dirt and mildew build up as well as rust stains from the screws. For context, the last time the deck was cleaned (as far as I know) was 2013, and it looked like this before and after cleaning:

In other words, those ten years weren’t too kind to the deck.

Now, most of what I read was that you don’t actually want to pressure wash a deck. There are a variety of reasons for it, but the reason I don’t care for it now (after doing it 2013) is that it makes the wood look sort of fluffy. In other words, you lose that smooth surface and replace it with these ripped up fibers.

As a result, this time around, I tried cleaning the deck with a deck brush. Unlike pressure washing, this process takes forever and is back breaking. Ignoring the effort, the results are staggering. I used a mix of OxiClean and borax in a pump sprayer to soak the boards before scrubbing. The result is a deck surface that is not only clean but also bright:

Family Deck: Hand Scrubbed on April 8th, 2023

Also, it’s very satisfying to push the dirt down the boards with the broom and spread the suds with a hose. Now unfortunately, while it looks really nice wet, it actually looks pretty gray when everything dries:

Family Deck: Mostly Cleaned by May 13th, 2023

But, it’s clear that all of the mold and mildew is gone. There is no longer a sort of green layer covering the whole deck, and if you’re not impressed, here’s what the front deck looks like (never cleaned):

Front Family Deck: Never Cleaned

Personally, I think the contrast is striking, but I can understand if you weren’t willing to put in the equivalent of a 40-hour week of labor into the cleaning process.

Overall, cleaning the deck was a several weekend job. The last photo I shared was from May 13th, and the deck was officially cleaned by the end of May 22nd.

Staining the Deck

Of course, cleaning was not where I wanted to stop. Given that it took so much time to clean, I figured we should try to slow down the aging process a bit by applying some sort of finish. There are so many options out there, from paints to stains to sealants. Ultimately, we settled on an oil-based stain, but we had even considered something more “allegedly” heavy duty like Behr Deckover (never buy it).

When settling on a stain, I went the log cabin route. I figured if it was good enough to protect a house, it would be good enough to make the deck last. Of course, it was quite expensive, but I’ll leave that for another time.

At any rate, the product I selected was able to be applied with a pump sprayer, which meant we were able to stain the whole deck in one day. Unfortunately, we didn’t buy enough stain, so we had to stretch the job over a couple of weeks. Even to this day, we’re still polishing up the job, but I am beyond pleased with the results. Check out this deck:

There are definitely places where I’d like to hit it with a second coat, but the colors are wonderful. Gone are the grays and greens, now it’s has a more bright golden color.

Before and After

Sometime in the coming weeks I’ll probably update this article with a final side-by-side with the same camera angles, but the following will have to do for now:

Special thanks to all the folks who helped me restore my parents’ deck this summer including my dad, my wife, and several of my closest friends, Robert, Seth, and Matt. I’m very excited to show this deck off to the family coming over for the celebration of life.

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Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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