Dear Chip,

You may remember me; we met most recently at Jenny’s parents’ house for dinner when you all were here in New Jersey. Anyway, the reason I’m writing you is because I’m looking for some advice. Do you have any recommendations on environmentally conscious ways to protect household decks? Lori and I just bought a house and we need to finish the deck, but we are hesitant to use a bunch of chemicals that will just seep into the ground and ocean over time. Being the president of an environmentally focused publication, I thought you might have some answers, or at least know of someone else who I could speak with.

Should I ask Umbra?

Red Bank, N.J.

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Dear Scott,

Hit the deck.

It is I, Umbra. President Chip came to me with your problem, and I shall herewith solve it. For other readers who are alarmed by the fact that acquaintances of my boss are getting special, expedited treatment: Take comfort in the fact that I have 10 other versions of this question patiently waiting in my “to be answered” file (“on deck,” you might say).

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The brand of deck protector highly recommended at my local environmental home center is Bio-Wash Natural Deck Oil, a water-based finish that penetrates and coats the deck. (Apparently oil and water are not so estranged as we think; somehow the manufacturers have dispersed the oil in water.) It can be applied “wet on wet” (that is, the wood can be wet), it dries quickly, and it has very low toxicity. No solvents and a one-day job: I’m told that these are the qualities one seeks in a deck coating. The manufacturer recommends yearly re-coating, but you might be able to get away with lower frequency, depending on local weather conditions. Bio-Wash also offers a line of low-toxic deck cleaning and stripping products.

Grist Magazine and Umbra Fisk have never used these products and this product mention does not constitute a guarantee. We have no deck. So don’t consider this an endorsement — merely a tip. Hopefully a search for the perfect product will bring you to a local environmental home center where you can have all your decky questions answered by experienced professionals. May you enjoy the sun on your deck on low UV-index days.


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