By Everett Abrams, “The Wizard of Wood,” Deck Restoration Plus
Here in the Northeast, life doesn’t stop when it’s cold. Wood restoration, however, traditionally does. But it doesn’t have to.
Over the past few years, we’ve been able to change our business model to adapt to the climate and extend our season. And it’s working. In 2014, we worked March through Christmas; in 2015, February through the end of the year. We anticipate working mostly all year round in 2016.
How are we doing it?
First, we educate the customers throughout the year about when we can perform the work. We will specifically target some jobs for colder months.
Second, we have different categories of jobs.
• We build decks, which need footings and the ground not to be frozen. However, we can still build many months out of the year.
• We rebuild decks all year round. Decks will deteriorate differently in respect to vertical versus horizontal surfaces. A horizontal surface will wear twice as fast as a vertical surface, and this applies to sealing and staining as well as life of the wood. Typically you will replace a board here and there over the life of a deck, but by around year 20 or so it begins to need more and more work. This is the opportunity to offer to replace the floor, step treads, and top hand rails while restoring the vertical surfaces of balusters, skirting, and lattice. This makes the deck look like new and hopefully adds 20 more years to its life, plus the potential for 20 more years of maintenance cleaning and staining!
To perform these services, most states require some type of home improvement license. Many pressure washing companies fight the need for such a license because in many states you do not need one to clean. However, in an industry like ours that is looking for credibility, I’d argue that getting a home improvement license is an easy and inexpensive way to help add credibility and put a potential customer at ease. This also opens you up to other services and upsells you otherwise cannot legally offer. One repair job and you would make your money back on the cost of the license.
It is important to know the codes regarding building and rebuilding decks. Local inspectors can be a helpful resource in this area. These folks are allies, not enemies.
• We then have the pressure washing and maintenance jobs that rely on better weather. That being said, because people want to enjoy their outside decks when the weather is nice, it’s smart to get all the work you can done in the off seasons when they are not using it. Then they can enjoy it when the weather is appropriate. This is exactly how it should be sold to the customer.
We have also changed our mindset regarding new technology and products that help us deliver quality cleaning and sealing results while extending our season. Gone are the days when it was only oil-based and sodium-hydroxide based strippers. We now have so many options regarding strippers and prep products as well as options regarding coatings. Not all prep work must involve a pressure washer, so media blasting and the use of large sanders can prep the surfaces for coating. Once completed, you only need a small window for coating with a water-based sealer or stain.
Traditionally, wood restoration contractors have learned that you can only seal or stain when it’s over 50 degrees and there’s no moisture in the wood or the air. This is an old perception based on working with oil-based products, and is generally correct. However, by switching to a water-based product either year round or just in the off season, you can extend your staining season. In the Northeast, for example, there have been years when six or seven months was the window for oil-based products because of moisture in the air in spring and fall. Waterbased products may get you nine to ten months of out of the year depending on the product. The best thing to do is to become familiar with the product you will use and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding how long to wait after cleaning or rain to apply.
It is amazing how much the coatings industry has changed with all types of new coatings and products to help clean and restore. Most of these products work best in warmer temperatures, but if you schedule correctly and work in the sun and couple that with a longer dwell time – the time it actually takes a product to work on a surface – you can achieve the same results. If it typically takes 30 minutes for a stripper to work, then it might take 45 minutes or a little longer in colder temperatures.
One consistent rule of thumb for both types of sealers is that the products cannot freeze overnight, so be aware of significant drops in nighttime temperatures. Some products can actually be applied to wet or damp wood, which not only extends the season, but helps you get back to jobs sooner. Back logs of work because of rain can largely become a thing of the past.
To summarize, we schedule deck building when the ground is not frozen and we can pour footings. Deck rebuilding can be done all year round if there is not three feet of snow out. We still schedule wood restoration and pressure washing around appropriate weather, but new technologies have given us a broader window for when these processes can be successfully completed.
About the Author
Everett Abrams, “The Wizard of Wood,” is the President of Deck Restoration Plus in Shamong NJ Toll Free 866-440-3325. Deck Restoration Plus also manufactures Deck Restoration Plus Deck & Wood Stain. www.deckrestorationplus.com