Q. I have a treated wood deck about 10 years old, and I am tired of messing with it every year or so to keep it looking good. Can I paint it to get a lasting finish? What other choices do I have?
A. You should be able to paint it, but paint isn’t considered a good finish for treated-wood decks and is seldom used. In many cases, paint results in more maintenance issues than you might already have, though you don’t mention what finish it is (that finish would have to be completely removed before painting).
If you have done any exterior painting, you probably know that paint is subject to mildew and mold, that it can peel, flake and chip and that it can wear away rather quickly in traffic areas. I have some treated-wood steps that are painted with top-quality porch-and-deck paint, but have to be repainted every few years.
The vast majority of wood decks are finished with one of four finishes: Solid-color stain (also called opaque stain), semi-transparent stains, toner (a lightly tinted stain) or a clear sealer. All of these finishes provide some protection against water penetration into the wood, which can lead to cracking, mold and other problems.
Solid-color stains usually hold up longest, typically about eight years if a high-quality stain is properly applied and maintained, but these stains are much like paint and are subject to the same problems. Solid-color stains completely hide the wood grain but let the texture show through; since they have the most pigment to screen out ultraviolet rays of the sun, they can protect wood better from surface damage than other types of stains. Semi-transparent stains, with less pigment, give some UV protection but won’t last as long, typically two to four years.
Many deck owners prefer semi-transparents because they let the wood grain show through and are less likely to peel because they penetrate the wood better. These stains are sometimes recommended by experts as the best finish for treated wood.
Toners have little pigment and provide little UV protection; the wood is clearly visible through the stain and the lifespan is sometimes no more than a couple of years. Some pricier clear sealers have additives to give UV protection, but these finishes usually have the shortest life of any deck finish, sometimes only a year or two, although some manufactures might promise more. Finally, some deck owners don’t use any finish at all, leaving the wood bare. This is often a mistake, since it is subject to all types of sun and water damage.
Q. Our gas water heater makes a pounding noise when it is heating water. What causes the noise and what can I do about it?
A. Water-heater noises are often caused by a buildup of minerals and scale in the heater, resulting from hard water constantly moving through the tank, but there can be other causes that are best diagnosed by a plumber. The noises can sometimes be relieved or stopped by draining or flushing the tank, which removes some of the mineral buildup.
If you want to try draining or flushing and you have a manual for the heater, check it for detailed instructions. If you don’t have a manual, close the water-supply valve on top of the tank and shut off the gas at the heater (with electric water heaters, the current to the heater must be shut off before proceeding or serious damage to the heater can result; with either gas or electricity, the tank must be refilled after draining or flushing before turning on the current or gas).
Attach a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and run the hose to a drain. Open the drain valve fully and let the water run out of the tank. If the water coming out of the hose is cloudy, it is removing some minerals; when it turns clear, you can close the drain valve. If you want to flush, open the supply valve on top of the tank, close the drain valve at the bottom, and let water partially fill the tank, then let it run out of the drain valve. Repeat the process several times for best flushing. Again, do not turn gas or electricity back on until you have closed the drain valve and refilled the tank.
Unfortunately, this treatment does not always stop noises. If the noise continues, the best bet is to call a plumber.