Home & Garden

The pros and cons of that deck paint you see on TV

You’ve probably seen those deck restoration products advertised on television or in magazines. After applying the new coating, happy homeowners dance the afternoons away on their smooth new surfaces, their pets wriggling with glee nearby.

The question: Is it really that simple? We talked with homeowners and found mixed results. Some homeowners like the results. The thick coatings cover splinters and fill cracks, which protect bare feet on old, weathered decks. And they improve the appearance dramatically.

Others complain that the coatings are expensive, hard to apply, hot and can be rough underfoot – and that they peel. And keep this in mind: The thick coating covers screw heads, making repairs much more difficult.

While it’s too cold to paint now, read on for advice on whether you want to give it a shot when spring returns.

First, the paint. Behr DeckOver is available at Home Depot, and Lowe’s sells Restore, made by Rust-Oleum. The 4X version, Rust-Oleum says, is four times as thick as other deck coatings; the 10X version is 10 times as thick. Olympic’s version is called Rescue It!

They’re 100 percent acrylic, like the top exterior latex paint. Brushes and rollers clean up with water. Some have additives that create sand-like texture.

Homeowner Michael Turner saw the commercials, and is pleased with the look of his deck coated with DeckOver.

“The commercials showed ... you could roll it on easily and then dance on it,” he said. It was a little more work than that, but cracks have disappeared and the wood is smooth and comfortable underfoot. He just finished the project this spring, but so far there’s been no peeling or other problems.

The deck is about 25 years old. He was considering composite decking until he saw those commercials. He tried the 10x thickness but decided that was too difficult to apply. Taking advantage of a rebate offer, he changed to Behr DeckOver.

Manufacturers say that proper preparation is crucial, but Turner didn’t scrub his deck. He just swept, then brushed and rolled the coating onto the boards. “There may have been (directions on the can). If so, I ignored them.”

Al Simonetti, who lives off Providence Road near The Arboretum, said he’s delighted with DeckOver. He finished work on one deck over the summer and started on a second.

He used a 3/4-inch roller and stiff bristle brush. He had to replace the roller cover several times because of wear, he said, and wash the brush often.

“The (coating) dries almost immediately after application, so a second coat can be applied the same day,” he said.

Patty Szarek used Olympic Rescue It! on her 13-year-old Union County deck. The product spread evenly and easily with the recommended roller and brush. “It has been over three months with lots of rain and full sun, and the deck has maintained its finish ... We will have to see what happens over the year, but so far, so good.”

Cost and complaints

Complaints from area homeowners, meanwhile, were similar to those you’ll discover online.

Lloyd Parlee, like others across the country, says the coated surface is so hot and rough that it’s uncomfortable to walk on barefooted. “It’s akin to walking on gravel.” He disliked the results so much that he ripped up and replaced the boards.

Steve Noles of Mount Holly said he likes the look of his deck, but the 10x Restore was expensive. He said he paid $65 for less than three gallons, and one coat won’t cover. It’s also labor-intensive. He probably won’t use it again for those reasons, he said.

High cost is often cited by homeowners, which likely explains those rebates. DeckOver is about $35 a gallon, which Home Depot says should cover 75 square feet in two coats. A 5-gallon bucket is $158.

It’s easy to spend hundreds painting your deck. And users complain that the products sometimes don’t go as far as advertised, which pushes the costs up more.

But it’s peeling that prompts the loudest complaints. (See those scathing reviews online.)

Anne Goodman said she and her husband used Restore on their 15-year-old deck.

The product colors didn’t match the color chips, she said, so they had to return the first batch to the store to get the right hue. It took twice as much as planned. They prepped the deck and applied the coating, carefully following directions, and were pleased with the results. “Last year, it looked great,”she said.

This year it’s peeling: “Maybe it is a good idea that is just not there yet, but we have a mess on our deck.”

Said her husband, Giles Goodman: “For those that like it, just give them more time until it starts peeling.”

Rustoleum says that almost all the complaints it fields from users can be traced back to improper preparation or application. “Hands down,” according to Stephanie Radek, a spokeswoman for Rustoleum in Chicago.

Earlier this summer, she said, Rustoleum expanded its written instructions and its online how-to videos to make sure consumers understand all the important steps. Some might decide that Restore 10X is too much for their DIY skills. “We wanted to walk them through, and let them decide,” she said.

In capital letters in its written instructions, Rustoleum says: ALL EXISTING SEALERS, PAINTS, STAINS, WATER REPELLENTS OR FINISHES MUST BE REMOVED.” That can be a huge chore and, if you bought an existing home, you might not know what was used on the deck in years past.

Rustoleum says to apply the coating when surface and air temperature is between 50 and 90 degrees for three days. If the temperature drops below 50 on the third night, the product might not adhere properly. That might explain why you’ll see online complaints about peeling from consumers in northern states.

Because these products are so much thicker than paint, Radek said, they take more time to cure properly and temperature is more crucial.

Not a cure-all

Paint pros for years have advised that any product that creates a heavy film on a deck is more likely to peel. Moisture in the wood beneath the film, and the constant expansion and contraction of the wood with the weather and seasons, cause peeling.

Sources as diverse as Consumers Reports and Angie’s List recommend semitransparent stain, which doesn’t create a film and doesn’t peel.

The Paint Quality Institute in Pennsylvania, which tests products for leading manufacturers, is testing heavy deck coatings on outdoor panels. A year into the tests, the products are performing as advertised.

But spokeswoman Debbie Zimmer said the coatings should be considered coatings of “last resort.” They’re not a cure-all, but a way to extend the life of a deck a few years.

Do the math: If you can build a deck yourself, you can replace boards for about the cost to coat them. Prices vary by grade, but at Lowe’s, treated lumber deck boards 12 feet long cost from a little more than $1 per square foot to about $1.70 a square foot. Two coats of the thick products can cost as much.