Beginning back in 1990 and continuing until today I’ve methodically tested exterior wood finishes to see how well they last, and even though products have changed and improved since then, one thing has remained true the whole time. When it comes to identifying the best exterior wood finishes for a given application, it depends. By “depends” I mean mostly what kind of look you want and what kind of ongoing maintenance regime you’re willing to commit to. This is where one particular exterior wood finishing product that I use regularly surprises a lot of people.
Let me start by explaining a truth: When it comes to exterior wood finishes, the fancier the look, the more ongoing effort it takes to maintain that finish and keep it looking good. My favourite ìfurniture gradeî exterior finishes are a kind of coloured, transparent varnish. And while they make wood look fabulous, this kind of finish demands a lot of ongoing labour. Complete stripping, sanding and reapplication every two or three years is required in full sun locations. I know from hundreds of emails over the decades that this gets to be too much work for many homeowners (even when they thought they could handle it happily), so they look for something easier.
At the other end of the spectrum, the easiest exterior wood finishing approach you can possibly take is to do nothing with exterior wood at all and simply let it weather. To be fair, few people really like naturally weathered wood as part of their home, and this is precisely where a product called Ecowood Treatment comes in.
I discovered Ecowood back before 2010, and I’ve been using it ever since. It turns bright, new lumber a greyish colour by chemical reaction and you only ever use it once. The result is reminiscent of natural weathering, but better in two key ways.
Unlike the uneven appearance of natural weathering, Ecowood Treatment delivers an even level of colour everywhere. The look of the wood siding under the protected eaves of your house, for instance, will be more-or-less the same colour as the face of an open wall. This is in stark contrast to natural weathering that can go from moldy black on walls to no weathering at all under eaves. This combination definitely doesn’t look great.
Like I said before, you only use Ecowood once, and the application process is easy and safe. The product comes as a powder that you mix with water, then spray, brush or slosh onto bare wood any way you can. If you’re using the traditional version of Ecowood, nothing much is going to happen at first. That’s because it can take days or even weeks for the full colour to develop. Ecowood also has stain-based versions that combine the chemical darkening of wood with a liquid stain that comes in the kit. Mix the powder and water as you would with the traditional formulation, then add the liquid stain and mix. Spray, roll or slosh the mixture on and you’ll get immediate colour change as well as the ongoing controlled weathering look.
There are three questions to ask yourself to determine if Ecowood is for you. First, do you like the look of evenly weathered wood? That’s what Ecowood delivers over time, and it’s a fairly informal appearance that works well visually in some places but not others. Second, is your wood completely bare? Ecowood must contact actual wood fibers in order to work, with no paint, varnish or sealer in between. And third, is your wood bright and new or already weathered? Previously weathered wood is already grey, and Ecowood won’t make it greyer. That said, if protected areas aren’t weathered, Ecowood will even things out nicely.
Steve Maxwell has been testing exterior wood finishes since 1990, looking for options that deliver good looks with the least amount of ongoing work.