Exterior Stains for Summer, a talk with Armstrong-Clark
With all this weird weather going on, it’s hard to realize it (snow in April, come on!), but summer is almost here. With the change in season comes a change in priorities for homeowners that want to get their outdoor entertaining areas ready for a summer and fall of cookouts, family, and whatever else they do on their decks. This is great for a painter—your phone should be ringing off the hook with all of the jobs out there, but every once in a while there are new developments in stains and exterior coatings that make your life so much easier and let you get the job done with relative ease. I had the great pleasure to sit down (on my computer) and have a long talk with Jake Clark and Brian Carter of Armstrong-Clark about stains, application, and how their products can help your deck jobs look great all season long—and after that as well!
How have deck stains changed or improved in the past few years?
We haven’t seen much in the line of improvements. We often hear, “I like so and so’s old formula.” They will then comment on how much they don’t like the “new and improved” formula. There has been a trend toward acrylics, which on the surface sounds enticing until a few years down the road you need to start stripping or sanding, or in many cases both.
Also, as formulas trend toward water borne or modified oil, we are hearing more stories of peeling or cracking. You will see advertising like “no peeling or cracking when applied properly.” How does a DIY homeowner know when things have been done just right so they have have the perfect conditions to not have problems within a year or two? Every day our phone is ringing for two reasons: #1 is people call us to thank us for making such a wonderful stain. #2 is the headache they now have because they applied another stain and want to know what they need to do to remove it and apply Armstrong-Clark.
What are some regional differences in how long a deck coating will last?
Obviously being near the coast can wreak havoc on any stain. Coasts probably present the worst combination of elements—salty sea spray, wind, rain, hot sun, and humidity. The higher elevations (above 2,000 feet) start seeing some challenges as well, but most of that is because of a consumer’s lack of education of how pigments prevent wood from turning gray in stronger UV rays. Many people in the mountains like to apply transparent stains because they love the natural look of the wood. We have seen a big uptick in the application of our Amber (a hardwood color) on softwoods because it is more transparent than our semi-transparents, but gives superior UV protection.
What does a painter need to do to maintain a deck stain?
Really, the homeowner can do maintenance. All they need to do is sweep off, hose off, or blow off their wood surfaces once a month. We wash our cars, why not our decks? The importance here is to remove a build up of dirt, pollen, and other debris that can accumulate and become a food source for mold or mildew growing on the top of a stain.
Anything new in deck cleaning or prep?
Not for us. The big thing here is helping people understand the difference between bleach based cleaners and oxalic based cleaner brighteners. For example, a bleach based cleaner can kill surface mold and mildew but do absolutely nothing for tannin stains, and it leaves old gray wood gray and/or has a whitening effect. Cleaner brighteners are great for tannin and rust stains but will do absolutely nothing for mold or mildew, and they turn gray wood to a blonde/“newer” color.
Is oil still the way to go or is water based coming more into play these days?
Yes, to both. Let me explain why:
When we get dry skin we apply a conditioning oil to moisturize. We do not apply a drying top coat, the reason being that skin needs oil, not water. Wood works the same way. It deteriorates when it loses its natural oil. Once you kill a tree the wood can no longer make its own oil, so it needs to be replaced. Specifically, you need non-drying conditioning oils to rejuvenate and condition wood fiber. Oil is still the best way to go. There is no substitute. To go one step further, like anything else, there are different types of non-drying oils. Some are better than others. You want to make sure you get the best.
As it relates to the big upward trend in water based stains, ask yourself why we are seeing this. Two of the biggest reasons we hear for water based formulas, or modified oils, are current and anticipated VOC law restrictions. I believe—and I could be wrong—that most companies either haven’t figured out to make a high quality oil based product without solvent, or they find that they can make more money by manufacturing and marketing a water based product line.
So where do water based stains come in?
There are two more reasons that some people want to use water based stains—that they are more environmentally friendly and the misconception that water based stains are so much easier to use than oil based products. I used to be that person!
People believe water based stains are easier to use than oil based (in part) because they are so much easier to clean. Have you ever tried to apply a water based stain, and to be honest some oil stains, in the hot sun? The stains get thick and tacky and dry quickly. Cleaning out rollers and brushes can be a nightmare. Then a couple of years down the road, when it comes time to apply a maintenance coat, you need to strip or sand off the previous coat. In many cases you need to do both, especially with some of the acrylic formulas. Even though the stain may be environmentally friendly, the chemicals in strippers are not. It’s easy for people to say they will stick to sanding and not strip until they need to do it every few years, or they have to pay someone else to do it.
One last note on water based stains. You often see a note that they have a reduced risk of peeling or cracking when applied properly. I want to wish everyone the best of luck getting this one just right every time. It’s sometimes easier said than done.
How can a painter make sure they are using the right type of product?
This is a loaded question because (as every painter has noticed) customers sometimes want what they want, regardless of what is correct. For example, Lake Tahoe is at high elevation but most people want a transparent stain to see that natural beauty of the wood. The problem is that transparents do not have much pigment and they fade much quicker than semi-transparent, hardwood, or semi-solid formulas.
Does that make them the wrong stain to apply? No, not as long as the customer understands and is willing to pay to have the wood re-stained every year.
At the end of the day it has everything to do with expectations. Make sure your customers knows what they are getting when they choose an opacity. Transparents allow you to see the wood but will fade (or disappear) the quickest. The more pigment you add, the less wood grain you see but the longer the color will last.
Thanks so much to Brian and Jake for their time. Now get out there and get a stain, to quote another article of mine, for your reputation, not on it!