Is Your Wood Ready for the Ravages of Winter?

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Autumn seems to have come early this year in Britain, with much of August windy, wet and gloomy. Is your wood ready for winter? We thought now was a good time to look at why you should protect and preserve your wood from the coming season’s ravages… including cracks, blistering, peeling, rotting, flaking and warping.

Exterior Wood Preservative – Why bother?

You might think Summer is a good time for exterior wood. But after a long, hot season of bright sunshine and powerful UV rays, with occasional high humidity, heavy showers and thunder storms, wood left in the outdoors has already taken a hammering. Which means it really needs some TLC before winter sets in and makes things even worse.

What is wood’s worst enemy? It’s water. Water causes wood to swell, damages buildings and furniture and even shortens their useful lives. Which means letting it all go to hell in a handbasket can be an expensive business.

Mould is another big nasty, and it can take hold of wood remarkably fast. All it takes is a light frost and any areas exposed by mould will soon be in big trouble.

How can you mitigate the effects of all this potentially disastrous British weather? Waterproofing is the bunny. As you’d expect we stock all manner of proven products to protect exterior wood throughout the dark winter months, including clever waterproof coatings that inhibit fungus and mould while letting the wood breathe.

What’s the weather forecast for winter 2014/15?

Last winter the UK didn’t get much snow. In some places in the South East, the temperatures stayed above freezing for the entire season, although it was the stormiest winter for a couple of decades. The year before (2012/13) was one of the coldest winters for decades. So there’s no place for wood treatment complacency.

While it’s still impossible to predict what the winter will be like with any real accuracy, or to any level of detail, the weather boffins can make educated guesses. So what’s it going to be like this winter?

According to the UK weather forecast website, which is sensibly vague:

“We have a devolving El Niño, which won’t guarantee a cold winter, but our winters during an El Niño tend to be drier than average. The last El Niño winter we experienced was 2009/10, which turned out to be a very cold winter, so the chances are that a repeat of 2013/14 will be very unlikely. There are some signals that this winter will possibly have some colder periods, however this is not a given with this time frame.”

In other words, nobody really knows! Which means there’s no getting away from it… ideally, you need to get busy with the preparation in readiness for wood preservatives before the clocks go back. How come? The later you leave it, the colder and wetter it’ll be and the longer it’ll take for the wood to dry so you can add a good wood preserving product.

What’s the best way to prepare exterior wood for wood preserver?

There’s no getting away from it. Preparation is everything. Wood treatment and wood preservative products will only penetrate into the surface of the wood if the wood is both clean and dry.

Almost all exterior wood will respond beautifully to a simple, thorough clean with warm, soapy water and a soft brush or cloth, and you can’t go far wrong with a little squirt of washing up liquid. Just make sure you thoroughly rinse the surface and let it dry completely before applying your chosen wood treatment.

What does mildew look like?

Mildew often looks like little black specks on the surface of the wood. But then again, so does dirt and soot. How can you tell if it’s mildew? Apply a tiny amount of household bleach with a cloth. If the spots lighten quickly, it’s mildew. If they stay dark, it’s something else.

What about dry rot?

If, like last winter, it pees down for what feels like months on end, you might find you’re the unhappy owner of a home riddled with dry rot, which is actually far from dry. It loves moisture and totally destroys wood.

The experts recommend you do an annual inspection, checking for leaks, cracks, gaps and unpainted areas on the outside of your home. Find the places where water gets in, caulk or seal them, paint them with preserver or wood paint and you could save yourself an absolute fortune in the long run.

How can you tell your exterior wood is wet?

Easy: it will look and feel wet.

What about vertical wood surfaces?

Horizontal and vertical wood surfaces both suffer in winter. But as a rule, horizontal surfaces need more maintenance than vertical, especially high traffic areas like garden decks.

What about old wood stain?

When an old layer of wood stain starts to break down, the fibres of the wood surface can become loose. You can take the fibres off the surface by lightly sanding, leaving it all fresh and lovely, ready for a new coat of stain or whatever.

Which wood preserving product to choose?

There’s such a wide choice, everything from tough exterior wood paint in a huge variety of colours to specialist wood stain, decking paint, shed and fence paint. It depends on the type of wood, its purpose and your taste. You might pick an outdoor wood paint in a jewel-like colour to give your outdoor space a beautiful boost when it’s all dim and dark outside. Or go natural and use a product designed to enhance the material’s considerable natural beauty.

7 more handy wood-related tips to make your home ready for winter

  1. Check wooden window frames for rot or decay, and repair it to maintain the windows’ structural integrity
  2. Check for draughts around exterior doors and caulk it inside and out if you find a gap
  3. If your home is under trees, can you get them trimmed to ensure water drips off them onto the ground instead of deluging your house?
  4. Clean and dry wooden patio furniture and either store and cover it or use a wood preserver so it’s in good nick for next Summer. As a rule it’s best not to leave garden furniture outdoors over the winter unless you absolutely have to
  5. Inspect your decking. Check for splinters, decay, warping, insect damage and dirt that collects between the planks. The more dirty your deck, the worse it’ll suffer in the winter and the higher the risk of funguses and moulds
  6. If you have exterior stairs or steps, check any wooden handrails to make sure they’re secure and in good shape. If your steps are wooden, check them carefully too
  7. A sensible guide: if it’s made of wood and it’s outdoors, it will need looking after

Specific guidance about decking, sheds and other exterior wood preservation projects

We’ve already written in detail about how to tackle a whole suite of wood-related projects. If you need specific guidance for decking maintenance, sanding wood or wooden floor maintenance, for example, there’s a specialist post waiting for you in our blog. Why not explore it?

Need Help?

If you have any questions, you can always call our resident experts for friendly and helpful advice.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am thinking of buying a new wooden garden seat.The seat i have in mind is a eucalyptus hardwood pre-treated and stained,i would like to paint it white but am unsure how to prepare it and what type of paint to use.Any help and/or advise would be very welcome. Many thanks. Bob.

    • Hello Bob,

      The first thing that we recommend for any external project is to preserve and protect. The Barrettine Premier Wood Preservative in Clear will help protect against mould, mildew, wood boring insects and much more. Once this has has dried you can use the Osmo Natural Oil Woodstain in White 900. This is an Oil based product that is designed to soak into the surface of the wood.

      If it is a Hard or Tropical wood that you are applying the oil to, it may need a little more work to get it to soak into the surface and may also require a longer drying time. But the benefit of using this product is that it won’t peel or flake over time like paint has the potential to do. When the oil starts to look tired, fade or wear away you can simply apply a fresh coat on top with out to much preparation. Alternatively you could use a paint such as Ronseal 10 Year Weatherproof Wood Paint which will provide a durable, white opaque finish. If using a water-based paint, and preserving the wood first, its important to use a wood preservative that does not contain any wax or silicon as this will repel the paint. A suitable preservative would be Barrettine Premier Universal Preserver or any other wax free preservative.

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