Choosing the right color can seem stressful but here are a few ways to simplify your decision. Simplifying vastly, a semitransparent stain will broadly be a tan color, a red color, or a dark brown color. Having said that, here are over 20 things to consider when choosing colors.
- If in doubt, stick with the color you have now.
- Color of wood when you last stained it. If the deck has never been stained, or it was a long time ago, then the deck is very consistent in color. If there are porches and steps then there is likely to be some old stain there that is not coming off. It is best to try to get close to this color.
- Color of wood after pressure washing. It could be tan or it could be darker (you can usually judge this from just looking at it). I recommend you try to get close to the color of the wood it will be after pressure washing. For two reasons: you are used to that color, and when the stain starts to go (or you dragged something through the stain such as at steps), it will not show so much.
- Reduce contrast. If your deck has seen a few years, or had BBQ marks, tree droppings, or new boards, then the deck will be starting to look a little inconsistent in color. It may be time to go for a darker semitransparent stain or even an opaque stain to reduce contracts and make it all more consistent.
- Cannot go lighter. The pressure washing and applying brightener will lighten up the deck a little bit, but not so much. If your deck is dark after pressure washing, you will not be able to make it lighter, only darker. If the deck is distinctly dark after pressure washing, then I recommend you avoid tan or red stains and go with a darker stains; a tan stain on a dark deck can have a strange and subtle green hue. With opaque stains, you must go with the same or darker color or you will have to go with 2 coats to avoid streaks (I suggest matching the existing color if possible as the old color might show if the deck stain is scored through over the next few years by heavy objects being dragged across it, and staining the edges down the sides of the boards is such a time-consuming job that you can save a lot of effort by sticking with the same color).
- House siding color. Clients often worry about how the deck will look against the house siding. In my experience, this is rarely a problem. People see the deck and walls as different planes, with shadows and so on. Clashes of green walls and reddish brown deck stains can occur.
- Even a clear stain will make it darker. I like to say that if you look at your deck now, then after pressure washing, all that gray will go away and then deck will be a “wood” color. If you imagine spilling water in it, then it will naturally be darker (even though the water is clear). Staining will usually end up about halfway on darkness, unless you use a very dark stain.
- Avoid anything shocking to the next buyer. While we have refinished 2 pink decks, it turns out that neither client really liked pink, they just put up with what was already there. Typical colors are browns. I would be careful of stains that have “Redwood” in the title: often they have a strange pinkness because that is how wood is for a few days out of the tree.
- Avoid cheap stains. Cheaper stains tend to be more orangey which can look hideous. They can be thinner too, which makes it hard to get consistent thickness.
- Match handrail verticals. Often, handrail verticals will fade much less than the deck (because of the reduced effect of the Sun on vertical surfaces compared to horizontal). Therefore it is often the case that the verticals are in good shape. To save money, most people have the deck and handrail cap refinished, leaving the verticals for one more stain cycle. I suggest you try to find a stain that would bring the deck and caps to about the same hue as the verticals. That way, everything will look consistent. I know some people like the idea of white handrails over a brown deck, but I would recommend using the same stain on the handrails as on the deck: you won’t have nasty overspray problems for the rest of time!
- Imagine what the new color will look like in shade. Reflected light from the sun on your deck dramatically changes the apparent color of the deck: your eye sees a much lighter deck. This can be confusing as it effectively “bleaches-out” the difference between stain colors, which might lead you to choose a color you can’t stand in rainy conditions, say. The answer is to look at a sample or stain catalog in the shade and imagine that over your deck.
- Stay as light as possible for as long as possible. As decks get older, they develop more inconsistencies and stains have to become darker and darker until they have to be opaque to make the deck look good. You can never go backwards, so I suggest you stay as light a color stain as would work for you this time. They have the added advantage that it is not so hot in summer as a darker deck.
- Think about your personal preference. Some people like lighter, some darker.
- Try to guess which color and then bracket them. I often suggest clients look at their deck and then turn to the stain catalog and intuitively guess which color grabs their attention. Then look at one stain on each side and try the middle stain with each one in turn. Usually that gets one they are happy with.
- You can match any color if you choose opaque stains You can take a color along to a stain supplier and have them match it. While it takes a stain supplier longer than just scanning, as you would with paint (they have to use a trial and error which can take several hours), they can get pretty exact. Just remember to go darker than your existing deck, or use two coats, and live with a different color as you get “scratch-through” over time.
- Continue your hardwood floor color through the patio doors. Here’s another idea. Sometimes you can choose a stain color that is close to the hardwood floor you have. This makes the deck seem like an extension of your indoor floor.
- Be careful of samples and color charts. There are three problems of color charts and samples you have to be aware of. The first is that color charts are rarely printed quite perfectly. The second is that much of the color of the wood when stained with semitransparent stain is governed by the color of the wood (when pressure-washed) itself; this means that a sample board may not be representative of your deck. The third is that it can be hard to imagine the deck in a certain color from such a small sample. You could stain an out of the way part of your deck after it has been pressure-washed and dried out. But remember that this will never come out and you will always that mark there. You also have to choose an out of the way spot that is also representative of your deck’s exposure to the sun; a step often works well. Also, this method would delay the staining by at least a day as you can’t have the stain mixed up until a decision has been made. If you can, therefore, choose by color chart and the advice of your contractor.
(We are Summit Deck Doctor, http://www.summitdeckdoctor.com, the leader in deck finishing and carpentry in the Bay Area)