Exterior wood restoration is a service that is becoming extinct. Instead of actually restoring wood many contractors and homeowners are choosing to just "paint over" the natural beauty of the wood or merely just "cleaning" the wood. Let's look at this more closely.
We now live in a culture where everyone wants easy, the first thing about true exterior wood restoration is that it is NOT easy. This service can be involved and takes a lot of labor and skilled workmanship. The methods of restoring wood by hand, using a pressure washer as a rinsing tool only and restoration products, or media blasting are much more involved than merely painting over the surfaces or cleaning by many of today's methods which may lead to significant damage and premature degradation of the wood. Another item to understand is that it is costly to maintain a wood structure like a deck, wood sided home, or log cabin. The nice feature about wood restoration though is that the wood will wear and can be cleaned and re-coated. When you paint over a surface you lose the wood look and cover the grain, beauty, and natural characteristics of the wood. Another negative is that solid stains and paints will peel, this is a characteristic of these product lines. When this happens from time, wood rotting, improper surface preparation, moisture, or another reason you have a look that is not pleasurable from an appearance stand point but, you also have a harder time prepping and re-coating over top of these products.
There is a rule of thumb in this industry, "You should never apply a good coat over a bad coat." This means that trying to hide an issue by merely painting over a problem usually just compounds the problem. With wood surfaces this may mean even more or excessive peeling if the wood surfaces are not properly prepped prior to re-coating. There may be stripping, sanding, or a primer coat applied first before actually applying a finish coat. Many painters and contractors do not know how to correctly restore wood and look to just "paint over" the surfaces without proper preparation. They also may sell this service because it is "easier" for them and do not know how to inform the customer on proper wood restoration and future maintenance that may be LESS costly in the future. One factor is that many do not seek the proper education to be able to perform this service and that leads to painting over a surface or performing it in a sub-standard way. Sealing and staining techniques ARE different than painting techniques to achieve optimal appearance. There is also more involved in knowing the many different types of cleaners, strippers, brighteners, and restoration products to be used in the many scenarios these contractors face on different projects. It is not a one type of cleaner or one type of stripper for every job. Knowing the different products to use in the different scenarios is truly a skill and results in some magnificent results!
Today there are contractors who offer a service to "clean" wood surfaces but in fact they may be causing damage rather than proper cleaning or wood restoration. When wood grays naturally it is the surface wood fibers that have degraded. In wood restoration, these wood fibers are removed to expose the natural tone of the wood underneath. If these wood fibers are not removed and are sealed or stained over you will get a blotchy look in a few short months. If it is "cleaned" improperly, it will only look good for a short time before becoming blotchy again as some of the wood fibers naturally wear away and others do not. Today there is a term called "soft washing" which means that stronger chemicals are used to achieve a level of cleanliness without the need of pressure that may damage a surface. This is an excellent method in roof cleaning but not necessarily in wood restoration. What actually ends up happening is that in many cases is strong amounts of bleach are sprayed on the wood surfaces that only "bleach" or "lighten" the existing grayed wood fibers so that it looks good "now" and is left in the wood. To expand on this a look a bit deeper, proper wood restoration involves pre-wetting of wood so that when a cleaner, stripper, brightener, or any restoration product is applied it remains close to the surface where it needs to be to "work" on items like organic growth and old coatings. Pretty simple, wet the wood and fill the wood cells so that the products do not absorb into the wood and past the surface where they are needed. They want to remain on or near the wood surfaces to be most effective. Wood is soft, and it will act like a sponge when the products and chemicals are applied to dry wood. This means they get deep into the wood where it is very difficult to rinse the chemicals out. The problem here is that chemicals left in the wood will dry the wood out and lead to a shorter life and will degrade the wood faster. Chemicals also left in or on the wood surfaces may also affect the coating that may be applied leading a blotchy appearance or a coating failure. Another factor to consider is that these strong solutions have led to many reports of landscape damage and unnatural appearance or "white" looking wood.
Exterior wood restoration is service that when correctly performed is becoming an extinct service. Understanding that this service can be involved and initially costly and is not a "cheap" or "quick" service is important. In the long run, painting over wood surfaces or improper cleaning may lead to less than desirable appearances and damage. If you add to the equation all the new manufactured materials like composites and PVC you see the need for wood restoration to dwindle as well. If your desire is to have a beautiful wood structure that enhances the look of the wood it is getting harder to find truly great wood restoration professionals.
Everett Abrams "Wizard of Wood" Deck Restoration Plus http://www.deckrestorationplus.com 866-440-DECK