A.William Feist responds: It’s not surprising that the paint on your pressure-treated wood decks is failing in two or three years. Normally, decks should not be painted, but should be finished regularly (annually or biannually) with a penetrating semitransparent stain or a penetrating clear finish (especially those finishes designed for use on decks). Paints and solid-color stains simply cannot hold up to the severe exposure of a deck surface. As small cracks develop on the deck’s surface from exposure to sun and water, water passes through and the paint soon peels. Penetrating finishes cannot fail in this way because they do not form a film, so they are much more suitable for decks. In addition, the wood species used for pressure treating is usually southern pine, which does not hold paint well because it tends to expand and contract a lot.

Studies at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., have shown that semitransparent stains and clear finishes will actually last longer on pressure-treated wood (CCA, or chromated copper arsenate). This is because the chromium in the treatment protects the wood surface from ultraviolet degradation. Paints and solid-color stains will...

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