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Stain hardwood decks every year or two depending on wear and weather. Photo: Nova USA Wood Products.

Residential property owners annually spend anywhere from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands to build new decks, fix older ones, and enhance the livability of outdoor areas. In an effort to see long-lasting, quality results, some may choose real hardwood decking—such as Ipe, Cumaru, and Batu—for its natural beauty, durability, and hardness, as well as the natural resistance to decay, rotting, termites, and bugs.

Yet landscape contractors should make customers aware that nearly every deck requires some form of maintenance beyond the occasional power wash or cleaning to prevent algae, fungus growth, and the inevitable discoloring that accompanies age. This is especially true for contractors working within wet, humid conditions and hot, dry climates, where wood, siding, decking, and fencing are especially susceptible to graying, water damage, and harmful UV rays.

Hardwood decks that are exposed to a year-long assault of sunlight and humidity should be stained every year or two depending on the wear, tear, and discoloration. One simple test that can easily be performed involves splashing water onto the decking surface. If it beads up, it can probably go another year without staining. But if the water soaks into the wood, it’s definitely time to add another coat of stain.

Now, the real challenge: selecting the right stain from the hundreds of oil- and water-based mixtures delineated by the seemingly unending variety of transparent, semitransparent, semisolid, and solid options. This is in addition to the qualities of protection, longevity, application, and coverage that inherently vary among different products.

Water & Oil

While many water-based stains claim to last for years and often dry quicker with less odor, most don’t offer the UV protection provided by many high-quality, oil-based stains. Additional considerations surround the quality and performance differences that exist within even leading oil-based stain brands. In most cases, this starts with the composition of the stain itself and then extends to the multiple assortment of UV blockers, pigments, dyes, fungicides, and oils included in today’s products.

For example, many of the oils commonly used in wood stains tend to change color over time. Some even harbor mildew and mold, such as linseed oil, which can lead to wood turning black or discolored. In fact, the only reason these oils are used by some companies is because they lower the product’s cost, no matter the inferior results.

When it comes to the choice of oils, polymerized tung oil has proven its ability to preserve wood and outperform other products — though many users are turned off by the lengthy amount of time it takes to dry. As a result, some manufacturers have added high-quality drying and hardening agents to drastically reduce dry time from weeks to days. Other advantages of polymerized tung oil is its long-lasting capacity to retain color over time and its natural resistance to mildew and mold.

As for the dyes and pigments used in most stains, trans-oxide pigments are commonly viewed as the more color-stable of the two, which results in the stain maintaining its original color longer than those that contain dyes or solid pigments. But contractors should note that stains containing trans-oxide pigments are not cheap and often bear a higher price although the quality of the application makes them worth the cost in many instances.

Other Ingredients

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ExoShield walnut stain on Ipe. Photo: Nova USA Wood Products.

In addition, contractors should never purchase a wood stain without considering the wide range of ingredients. American-made fungicides, UV blockers, and trans-oxide pigments generally combine to better resist water, acid, and fading. They also actively increase the wood’s ability to resist cracking or warping, which enhances stability and showcases the wood’s natural luster and beauty. It should  be noted that the highest quality stains use the same UV blockers found in automotive paints, which is another reason higher-end products tend to cost more, but produce higher-quality results.

Other advantages of quality ingredients include the enhanced preservation of the wood’s natural beauty, greater wear resistance in severe climates and safer, easier use. With higher end stains, there’s no need to strip or sand the previous coat before application and lower amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are produced to better ensure user- and environmentally-friendly results.

There’s far more to the selection of wood stain than price. In most cases, the components and ingredients vary significantly, while playing an integral role in the wood’s weathering and your customer’s long-term satisfaction.

Smith is Nova USA Wood Products’ ExoShield Product Manager and handles Western US Decking & Siding Sales. Nova USA Wood Products was founded in 2005 to supply superior, high-quality hardwood products and accessories at competitive prices to today’s residential and commercial building marketplace.