The Toronto Weather Forecast is a Nightmare for Scheduling Deck Staining.

When the weather forecast calls for rain, being an exterior production manager might be the most frustrating job in the business. Our summers are short and there are only so many exterior projects a paint contractor can undertake. Some days there are thunderstorms and heavy rain. If we have any interior work available, the crews can be absorbed until the the weather improves again. The most frustrating are the days when the sun teases the painters just enough to get to work, only to start raining a little later. Declining most deck staining project requests is not unusual. Painters need full time hours to make a living and there is a very small window of opportunity for deck staining. Toronto summers are not predictable and most of us prefer the control we have over interior painting.

People paint and stain their decks every year but the success rate of making it last is not very good. Without following all the manufacturers recommendations, the stain will fail and it will fail fast. Even if you do the correct prep and apply the stain as per manufacturer’s recommendations, it might still fail. It is not unusual for the stain to fail as early as the following year. Note: Stain on vertical surfaces lasts longer, so staining or painting fences and railings does not need to be done as often.

Unfortunately when the stain fails, the only fix is a complete striping, down to the original wood. Stripping can be accomplished with power sanding and a lot of elbow grease but most likely you need to use chemical strippers. After using chemical strippers, you need to rinse the wood very well with bleach or a wood neutralizer. This is a very important procedure because If any of the stripping chemical remains in the wood fibers, another coating failure will definitely happen. Considering all these issues, is it a surprise that painters do not like staining decks? We feel exactly the same and only offer this service to a few customers a year. We are more in quality than quantity in these things.

The difficulties of deck staining in Toronto

The following are some factors that would make deck staining fail:

  • The deck is built too close to the ground and moisture finds its way through the deck.
  • The stain is applied too early in the morning when morning dew was present.
  • The staining is done too late at night with the temperature dropping below the recommended degrees.
  • It is too early in the spring, too late in the fall.
  • It is applied under direct sunlight and the surface was too hot to the touch.
  • The wood is still too new and internally moist (Update: we had good results with using Sansin Stain on slightly humid surfaces)
  • The surfaces are not prepared to open the pores of the new wood (remove mill glaze.
  • Surfaces are too wet from a freshly done pressure wash.
  • Previous failing paints and stains are not stripped 100%.
  • After stripping, surfaces are not neutralized off the stripping chemicals.
  • There is a waxy type of sealer from previous waterproofing attempts.
  • The wood is not brightened properly and dead wood fibers are still present.
  • Poor quality products are used.

All the above reasons and of course the small window of opportunity for exterior painting makes deck staining in Toronto, a mission impossible.

Some decks are not even built properly for staining. For example, there is one deck we returned to redo for the past three years. The deck is built too close to the ground and the moisture always penetrates the wood behind the stain. Year after year, the stain blisters and flakes off. Most stains are made to resist the external weather elements, not the internal moisture. This type of internal moisture would eventually damage the wood.

This is a more pronounced issue with the newer low VOC coatings. The high level of VOC in alkyd stains was definitely a valid concern for the environment. Unfortunately, the new water based stains do not do a good job of penetrating the surface. Because of not penetrating the fibres of the wood, they form a film on the surface that eventually separates. For this customer we had to look for an older, traditional, penetrating oil stain.

We did finally source a penetrating oil product that worked for us in the past. It was an oak coloured semi translucent stain made by a well known company. This type of stain was often used with relative success on public parks and docks. We followed all the manufacturer’s recommendations as usual. We stripped the peeling stain first, sanded the surfaces, washed and neutralized the wood and let it dry for a few days. It looked good and we hope that this time the stain will not flake off.

Update: we saw the deck the following summer and the result was again disappointing. The stain did not hold very well. The internal moisture was too much again. We even had a representative from the stain company meet with Ecopainting and the customer. The rep confirmed that the problem was indeed the internal moisture that happens because the deck is built too low to the ground. At least it was easier to remove the failing product this time, because the stain did not form a film on the surface.

Any more attempts to stain this deck would be a waste of effort and money for the customer. There are only two solutions. The first solution is to leave the deck unfinished so that the moisture can move right through the wood. The second solution is more costly and involves re-building the deck, this time considerably higher than the moisture laden ground. The customer was understanding as usual and likely proceeded with one of the two suggestions. 

For Deck Staining in the GTA, call us at 416 733-7767 to check our availability. We limit our availability to about 10 -15 decks every year.

This blog was updated last on March 11th 2018

6 thoughts on “Painting Decks Almost Impossible”

  1. Good comment, but what is too close to ground? My deck is built over a patio, but is approximately 2 feet above ground. Staining was good until I cleaned it this year with 30 Second, then it peeled. I don’t like bare wood, so any suggestions would be appreciated. I have stripped it, it’s been “sitting “ for about a month (weather related). Thanks oh, I live Surrey BC.

    • Hi Cairine, that should be a good distance from the ground. If you use a chemical stripper make sure to use what is called a brightening solution to neutralize the surface and wash it. If not, a good wash and rinse is fine. First make sure there is no internal moisture. I heard you guys get a lot of rain there. It may be worth it to buy or borrow a moisture meter from a paint store. 12% to 15% or less moisture is recommended. Use a penetrating, non film forming stain, usually oil based if you can stand it. If you don’t want to use oil, try Sansin DEC. It’s a hybrid stain and penetrates the wood well. Everything else you need to know is on the can label as every manufacturer has slightly different recommendation. No shortcuts and you should be okay. Good luck and let us know next year how it went.

  2. I am in brockville and have same issue. Now come to realize my deck is too close to ground so don’t know what to do. Can’t afford to raise it. Can’t keep staining every year. Where are you finding oil based? Mine though is a solid color. What can I do?

    • Sorry for the late repply Isabel. Unfortunately there is no solution to the deck being too close to the ground problem. You have to Keep scraping and staining. Benjamin Moore brought back their “classic oil” formula. But you still need to remove the existing coat for anything to penetrate the wood. At least the floor boards.

  3. Hey guys, its early fall here in ontario canada. I have new deck built in January and this is September. I pressure washed the deck a week back and unfortunately rain did not allow me to complete the stain. So I will do it after a week. But my question is, how big a stain ruining factor it is to have heavy dew in the morning. Almost everyday in the morning I notice heavy dew on the Deck and Lawn. Should I just go ahead and apply stain without worrying about the dew next morning?


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