Strength in Numbers: Protecting the New Balcony Floor

Strength in Numbers: Protecting the New Balcony Floor

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After the 10-hour venture to pick up our Marine-Grade Plywood, Brian and I took a week to research how to best protect it. Fresh from the aftermath of a waterproofing failure, we’ve become obsessed with learning about protective measures.

It’s important to us to do the best we can – even if we have to do things over and over again to get them right. Of course, this means that we sometimes run into long nights and costly mistakes. It’s all part of the learning curve, though, isn’t it?!

For Comparison’s Sake

Though the original plywood is warped from moisture, it’s actually very sturdy. It is really tough to cut through. In fact, Brian and I were disappointed that we couldn’t just sand it down and re-paint it. It’s good quality plywood! Unfortunately, it just wasn’t maintained over the years.

We looked over the small, rectangular piece we cut out. It revealed layers practically unscathed beneath a top coat of peeled paint and primer. No other protective barriers existed.

It’s a BCX pressure-treated pine plywood, which is different from the Marine-Grade AB Douglas Fir we picked up. When we settled on plywood for the floor replacement, we knew we wanted it to be highly durable. We had six sheets of plywood to seal and protect. Once we saw how the original plywood was prepared, we tapped into our obsessive (i.e. excessive) habits and decided to:

  • Epoxy-seal tops and edges
  • Double-prime ALL surfaces
  • Double-paint bottoms
  • Triple-paint tops and edges

Was all of this necessary? Nope.
Do we feel comfortable about its waterproofing? Absolutely.

Epoxy All Night Long

It’s funny (though partially expected) when you start researching Marine-Grade Plywood and, inevitably, find yourself among boat builders and boat lovers alike. So – how do they seal their boats? With a marine-grade epoxy finish!

Now, this is overkill for us, especially since we have zero plans to submerge our balcony in water. Our overly cautious concerns, however, encouraged us to be way more prepared than necessary. The plywood won’t be sailing the open seas, but it will definitely be subjected to rainfall, humidity, and more. Brian and I want to be safe rather than sorry!

Epoxy creates a long-lasting protective barrier. It cures to a strong, solid plastic that provides a reliable moisture vapor barrier and waterproof seal.

We pulled the trigger and purchased the WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin with the 205 Fast Epoxy Hardener. For sufficient coverage, we ordered 3 bundles at a total cost of $613.33. It was a hefty price to pay, but in this case, it was worth the cost!

West System Epoxy

The Set Up

Before we applied the first layer of epoxy, we needed to make sure all of the plywood sheets were clean and level. What a pain this was!

Brian and I spread them across the entire basement and had to use a room upstairs. Once we figured out spacing, we had to concoct makeshift supports to create a level surface for even dispersion. This was probably the most trying part of our balcony project. As we have learned…nothing is level in this old home of ours.

Our basement floor is a sloped treasure trove of partially carpeted hills and valleys.

I don’t know who poured that concrete, but boy oh boy, they must have been pressed for time.
Look – we even found some army men among the rigid landscape.

It took us more than ten hours(!!) just to set up and level the plywood sheets. You best believe we will be leveling out that floor in the future.

Science Class

Brian and I began our epoxy adventure mid-afternoon on a Monday. We did not get off to a great start. Blame it on the exhaustion or frustration from the day before, or a little of both, but we somehow misread (and mis-watched via YouTube) the mixing instructions. Oops.

First, we didn’t pay attention to the WEST SYSTEM pump instructions and completely blundered the ratios. After fixing our mistake, we struggled with timing and didn’t work quickly enough through our batch. This led to us dealing with a melted container and a smoking foam roller. I ran that sucker outside and left it on the sidewalk to “cool off”.

Lessons learned. It’s a good thing that we didn’t hurt ourselves or waste too much product. We spent the rest of the evening correctly mixing and applying the epoxy. At 2:00AM Tuesday morning, we rolled our final coat.

Four coats of epoxy down, multiple layers of primer and paint to go!

In the meantime, while we waited out the four days for the epoxy to cure, we attempted to find and remove all of the nails from the original balcony floor. This little treasure hunt proved to be cathartic after a stressful couple of days.

Together, Brian and I:

  • Used an ultra-strong magnet to detect hidden nails
  • Circled each identified spot
  • Removed nails with a cat claw and standard pry bar
  • Sealed nail holes with caulk

It was a decent success! It’s wild how rusted some of these nails were. Unfortunately, we would eventually find out that we missed quite a few…

Prime Time

The epoxy finish left our plywood slick and glass-like to the touch. It shimmered with a sheen of chemically-induced beauty. Having never epoxied anything before, we were pretty impressed with the results. The wood itself felt even more sturdy and protected than before.

To prepare for priming, we sanded down all epoxy-coated areas and kept the surfaces clean. We took the afternoon to apply two coats of Kilz Exterior Primer to all surfaces. Even though the bottom of the plywood floor wasn’t going to be directly exposed to the elements, we wanted to make sure we protected the entire sheet as well as we could.

Epoxy Finish

Rolling Along

Brian and I decided to keep the balcony the same color it was previously, though we opted for a semi-gloss for a brighter finish. Per the reviews and specifications of Behr’s Porch and Patio Floor Paint, we thought it would fit the bill. It’s our first time using this kind of paint, so the jury is still out on its overall durability. However, we can definitely tell that it’s not as strong as its oil-based (and likely lead-based!) predecessor. Though the old paint was peeling, it was likely due to poor maintenance over the course of 20 years rather than the paint quality itself.

In any case, Brian and I wanted to ensure complete and thorough coverage. We began with one coat, which turned into two, and then a third for the tops and edges.

Painted Plywood

Admittedly, we initially struggled with our decision to paint the tops before we installed them on the balcony. We both knew there was a good chance that the paint would get scuffed up during installation. Well…we were right!

Post-installation, Brian and I had to re-paint the tops, as well as the edges, twice. The reason for that is forthcoming in a future post!

For now, please enjoy this photo of the only serious casualty we suffered during this entire project: our basement carpet!

Sad Carpet Mess
Sad Carpet 🙁

Do you see the oops in my face?! Well, I sure do! Doofus me forgot that I filled the paint tray more than I should have and then forgot to support the corner of it as I moved from one area to another. Imagine my heartache when the paint poured onto the ONE SECTION of the carpet that I left UNPROTECTED. Oy. Well, at least that was the only serious mistake I made this time.

To Sum It Up

Where are we with the number of layers we’ve applied to our fresh-faced plywood?

For the exposed areas of what would become our balcony floor:

  • 4 Coats of Epoxy
  • 2 Coats of Primer
  • 3 Coats of Paint
    9 Coats

Are we excessive? Yes. I honestly cannot tell you whether or not doing all of these things was a major waste of our time. At this point, we are comfortable with what we’ve done. We know everything is protected, that’s for sure! Out of all of our protective layers, the only frustrating part so far is that we probably should have waited to paint after installation.

More on that to come…

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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2 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t beat myself up about overdoing the preventive coats of epoxy and paint. You only have to look at unprotected exterior wood to see how readily it degrades. Any level of protection adds significant life to the project and over time you’ll be glad you made the investment up front.

    Yes, you still have to monitor and maintain the deck and include it in yearly inspections for any changes in coverage, i.e. peeling of paint and the like. But these will be easy to fix compared to the work you just accomplished.

    1. Yes, it’s true. We are really happy that we took all of the extra measures…even if it was a bit of a pain at the time! However, it will be worth it considering the amount of effort we put in versus efforts prior. Hopefully, short of normal inspections and upkeep, we won’t have issues for many years to come.

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