How to protect your wood deck from the sun and the elements

The sun can do a number on your deck. It’s damage is often unseen, but over time it will cause the wood to darken and warp, making for an unpleasant looking space. But there are many solutions that can help protect your wood deck from the sun. From simple things like painting or staining the deck to more intricate projects like installing shade sails or pergolas, you have plenty of options in protecting your outdoor living space.

The main issue that the sun causes for wood decks is fading and bleaching, which can lead to cracking and warping.

We’ve written this article to list 9 steps you can take to keep your deck looking perfect for years to come.

If you are building a deck from scratch, we recommend using one of the two building materials listed below.

  • Pressure Treated Lumber
  • Composite Decking Materials

Option 1: Use Pressure Treated Lumber for a Deck

The first step to having a deck that will last decades is to start with pressure treated lumber. Pressure treating lumber doesn’t make it any stronger, but it does make it more resistant to rotting and breaking.

Pressure treated lumber will do far better in the elements so the rain and and snow won’t deal as much damage.

As of October 2021, pressure treated lumber is about 50% more expensive than framing studs of the same dimensions. While it may seem like you are saving money by getting regular timber, the reality is that you are not. Framing lumber will last between one or two years when exposed to the elements and not painted.

Compare this with pressure treated lumber that can be outside unprotected for as long as 9 years before sufferings catastrophic failures. Granted, the deck will not look good after this time. It would look like an old fishing dock from the pier, but the pressure treating has the potential to keep the wood from cracking and breaking to the point beyond repair.

If a deck made of pressure treated lumber is properly maintained it can last for decades still looking like a new installation.

Use Composite Materials for a Deck

These are scientifically constructed materials that are designed to last for decades with little or no maintenance. Composite decking is made up of a combination of wood and plastic together. Some of the most famous brands of composite decking are Trex and Timbertech.

Composite decking is more expensive than wood. Right now, it comes in about three times the cost of pressured treated lumber of the same dimensions. However, many manufacturers guarantee their product for 25 years.

Also, composite decking is maintenance free as you don’t need to paint it or stain it. You will still want to clean it from time to time; however, you don’t have to worry about it rotting on you.

Composite decking is mostly waterproof, but it can still mold. Although, we have found it far more resistant to mold than standard wood.

Furthermore, this synthetic decking also does better with bright UV sunlight and in extreme heat like we get in Arizona and Texas.

Protect the Surfaces

This starts by regularly washing your deck. We like scrubbing the deck once or twice per year. This doesn’t need to be a super long ordeal, but can rather be spraying it off when a garden hose and brushing the deck clean.

We prefer using some cleanser, but we’ll defer choosing the best cleanser for you. There isn’t one best cleaning solution because it will depend what material is used for your decking, and It may depend on the type of stain and paint. Instead of giving you general information that may not be suitable for your deck, I suggest doing a google search for the best way to clean your type of deck.

Avoid Power Washing

I saw several posts online that suggest you should use a power washer on your deck, and I very much disagree with this advice. The pressure from power washers can cause paint to chip. According to BobVila.com, pressure washers can soften the wood which will cause lead to it having long-term damage

We do strongly recommend cleaning the deck periodically, but we feel you’ll be far better off if you use a simple garden hose to spray off the wood and then brush it clean.

Apply a Stain to a Wood Deck

Staining wood decking will protect it both from water damage, but also the sun’s UV rays. When it comes to choosing a stain color we recommend always avoiding darker stains and going to either light or medium tones.

Lighter tones are better in very hot areas like Texas and Arizona as they will reflect a higher percentage of the sunlight. This will lead to lower overall heat getting into the wood and will lower the likelihood of warping.

Medium tones will allow more heat to get into the wood, but this is less critical for more areas of the US. The medium tones provides more protection from the suns UV rays. As a comparison, think about stain color like SPF in sunscreens. The higher the number on the sunscreen the more protection it will provide to the underlying skin.

Staining works in a similar way. The lightest tones will offer the least protection, and the medium tones will provide more. And just like sun screen there is a diminishing return. Once you go above a certain point, you won’t see the same level of benefits so going to a dark tone will have negligible impact over a medium while having the negative side effects of the increased heat absorption.

When it comes to staining the deck, I’ve included a video to walk you through the process. They did an amazing job at describing all the steps and considerations. Source:

Apply a Sealer to a Wood Deck

We prefer to use a stain that has a built-in sealer. This way you can protect the deck all in one step. Some people prefer to use separate stain an sealer so that you can apply multiple coats of the stain before going over it with the sealer as a last outer shell.

If you want to go to this level, then by all means you can take that path. However, I am specifically calling out the need to apply a sealer because many people new to DIT projects think that staining is enough, and they don’t buy the all-in-one stain/sealer product.

When it comes time to choose the all-in-one stain sealer, our favorite is minwax. The company has been in business for many years, and you know it’s going to be a quality product. Also, it comes in 15 different colors so you can get the exact tone and stain color that you want.

  • POLYSHADES WOOD STAIN – Minwax PolyShades is an oil-based wood stain and poly in one. It enhances wood grain by combining beautiful, rich color and long-lasting polyurethane protection in one easy step.
  • REDUCE FINISHING TIME – This one-step wood finish can be used over polyurethane finishes, so you can change the color of your wood surface without removing the existing finish. Use on bare or already-finished wood.
  • BEAUTIFUL RESULTS – This beautiful wood stain provides a rich finish with a glossy sheen. It offers a classic, medium brown color that looks great on a variety of projects. Recommended uses: furniture, woodwork, doors, cabinets & accessories.
  • EASY TO USE – Simply give the wood a light sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper, remove sanding dust, and brush on a coat of PolyShades. It’s a wood stain and polyurethane wood finish that easily and effectively transforms your wood projects.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care products. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.
  • Cleans up with mineral spirits
  • For use on interior wood surfaces
  • Great color options to choose from

Protecting your Deck from the Sun

The hot Arizona sun is intense and can really have an impact on wood patios. In our area, you really need some form of shade structure over the patio. This could be an awning, a sail shade, a pergola or even just a large umbrella.

All of these items are going to block some or all of the sunlight from hitting the deck which will help it last longer. In the next section, we’ll cover the different types of shade structures and why you may want to choose each one.

Protecting your Deck from the Sun with an Awning

Retractable awnings are the gold standard for protecting your awning from the sun’s UV rays. The are the ideal shade structure because they can be extended when you want to block out the sun and create a shaded area on your patio.

They can also be retracted to allow for a nice view of the sky whether it during the day or in the evening to watch the stars. Generally, retractable awnings do not require building permits, but they will need approval from your HOA if you have CCRs about changes to the exterior of your home.

Additionally, you will want to ensure that your insurance company is aware of their addition to your home. We heard from one reader who said they had an insurance claim denied after their awning blew off and broke their window.

Awnings are one of the largest shade structures on our list and they can even extend beyond the total area of the patio to provide the best possible protection from the sun.

Protecting your Deck from the Sun with an Awning

Sail shades are a more budget friendly option to awnings. Sail shades are effectively an awning fabric that doesn’t have any of the attached support structure. Instead they are held up via tension between the brackets.

Normally, there will be 2 brackets attached to the fascia of the home and the other 1 or 2 brackets will be attached to a stable structure whether that be a tree, a fence or even a support post installed specifically for the sail shade.

Residential sail shades can easily be put up or taken down as long as you can reach them. In homes, sail shades are hung between 7.5′ and 8′. Sail shades are far less expensive per square foot of coverage than awnings. Additionally, you may be able to get these approved from a HOA that won’t allow a retractable awning.

When the sail shade isn’t up the brackets will blend in with the side of the home. While some people leave up their sail shade year around, we suggest taking them down for the winter months because they don’t do well with any accumulation of snow.

Also, depending on how secure the supports and anchors you may want to take them down before a heavy wind storm. Regardless, they are something that can safely be left up most of the time.

Commercial sail shades have extra requirements, and we will often see them at local parks where they are left up 24/7 every day of the year.

Protecting your Deck from the Sun with a Pergola

Pergolas are great stand along shade structures. They can either have a louver roof or one with tracks and fabric that slides across to create a fully shaded area. Pergolas are a design feature we see in more high end homes.

Pergolas work for larger patios where you want some shading away form the home. Because they are not attached to the home, they won’t require building permits in many areas although you should check your specific city before installing one.

Pergolas are a great structure because they can be left up year around and do well even in high wind or snow. If you have nice patio furniture, it can really benefit from being under a shade structure like a pergola.

I’ve included an image of two identical patio chairs that were bought the same day from Ikea. We stained both chairs, but due to how the patio was positioned one of the sat in the sun every day while the other was in the shade.

You can clearly see the impact the sun has on wood when you compare the two chairs.

Protecting your Deck from the Sun with Solar Shades

Solar shades are fabric screen that go on the outside of your window to absorb the light to stop it from hitting the glass. Their main benefit is to stop the heat transfer from the glass to the interior of the home.

They come in either 90% or 95% UV filtering, and we opted for the latter. The reason I mention them here is a useful side effect.

A couple years ago before we had solar screens, our neighbors asked us to come to his yard to see his artificial turf, and when we got there we saw scorch marks that were coming from the sun reflecting from our windows onto his yard.

His installers told him they were willing to replace the turf once for no cost, but only if we agreed to get solar shades on our windows. They said if we didn’t that the new turf would just get scorched again, and that they weren’t responsible for continually replacing it.

Imagine how hot the sun’s rays would have to be to scorch artificial turf and then realize that is also hitting your wood deck. At first it doesn’t seem like the windows should make much difference, but remember it is multiplying the solar energy hitting the deck.

The deck is hit directly with sunlight that goes on to it. Additionally, when the light hits the glass windows some of it hits the window which is either absorbed or reflected. All the light that is reflected bounces down to the deck.

Because of all the sunlight and heat, wood decks are not that popular in Arizona.

Protecting your Deck from the the Sun with Trees

One of my favorite ways to beat the summer heat on your deck is to plant trees. In Arizona, we look for trees that don’t require a huge amount of water, but there are plenty of trees that will grow 20′ with a canopy that could spread 10’+.

Trees are a great option to provide large amounts of shade both for the home to help with energy savings but also to extend the lifespan of your deck.

Wrapping up

So that’s our guide for how to keep your deck looking new for years.

We love hearing from our readers. Do you have any tips or suggestions that you’d like to see us add to this list?

Last Updated:November 29, 2022