If your house has a deck, you are probably aware of how important that outside space is for your enjoyment of your home. A deck is a wonderful place to spend a sunny day, or entertain friends and family on a warm evening. However, because your deck is outside, it gets exposed to much more wear and tear than the inside of your home. Poor weather, sunlight, and temperature changes all affect your deck and can cause it to look shabby, or even develop dangerous weaknesses. With that in mind, we’re going to look at three things:
- Basic maintenance to keep your deck safe and looking good
- How to know when you need to replace your deck
- What you need to do to prepare for replacing your deck
Basic maintenance and inspections
Let’s begin with a thorough checklist for inspecting and maintaining your deck. This should be done seasonally, as changes in temperature and the daily weather will cause damage to your deck throughout the year. During your inspection, you are looking for a few key issues: corrosion, cracks, and rot. These are all problems that lead to safety issues for your deck.
- Corrosion can make metal pieces weak, and they might eventually fail. It can also be a sign too much water is getting into an area.
- Cracks can form where wood or other materials are stressed over time; make sure to be especially thorough when you check stairs, railings, and structural beams. Cracks often start to form around nail or screw heads, or knots or other weak spots in the lumber.
- Rot causes wood to get progressively weaker, until it is no longer able to stand up to stress. If you notice nails are coming loose and working themselves out of a piece of wood, inspect that piece for rot. If you can push a screwdriver with relative ease into any wood, especially if it will go in a centimeter or more, you should replace that piece of wood. Areas of high moisture, such as where posts are close to the ground, are at high risk of rot.
Before you start to make any repairs to your deck, follow this inspection checklist:
- Inspect the underside of your deck: Using a flashlight, look at the underside of the deck. Make sure to check the metal flashing that attaches your deck to your home. Look for signs of water damage where your deck connects to your house.
- Check the joists, posts and beams: After you check the underside, check the structural parts of your deck, especially the ones out of sight. Look for signs of rot on posts and joists and check all the hardware, making note of what’s seriously rusted and needs to be replaced. Most importantly, check the bottoms of the posts where they meet the ground, and make sure there is no sign of decay in the wood; this is an area where moisture from the ground can cause a lot of problems.
- Check the surface: Inspect for cracks, rotting deck boards or protruding nails. Walk around the surface of the deck to listen for squeaks. Feel for soft spots or sagging areas and make note of any cracks or loose nails that need repair.
- Inspect the railing and stairs: Make sure your railings are sturdy, with no loose posts or slats. Inspect any stairs leading to the deck to make sure there are no loose, damaged or rotting stairs that need to be replaced.
- Hot tubs/jacuzzis: If you have a hot tub/jacuzzi, make sure you have inspected its area of the deck very well, and that you are also inspecting and maintaining the hot tub regularly . A hot tub is heavy! It can be dangerous if the deck underneath it is damaged. Furthermore, a leaky hot tub can cause rot from water constantly seeping into the wood around it.
Once you’ve done your inspection, you’ll need to assess if you can do repairs and maintenance to your deck, or if there are any more serious problems that mean it needs to be replaced. If the deck is in good shape, you should do the following maintenance:
- Replace any rotten wood and corroded metal fixtures
- Fix loose nails and other fasteners
- Clean and stain your deck – power washing can remove dirt, mold and plant growth, and insects, and regularly staining and sealing the deck is the best way to protect wood from sun and moisture.
- Prepare for seasonal changes – for example, if you get snow in the winter, it’s a good idea to lay a tarp over the surface of your deck to protect it from standing moisture, and/or clear the deck regularly.
Planning to replace the deck
What if, during your inspection, you realize that your deck is starting to have too much wear and tear, and it needs to be replaced? Or alternatively, it’s no longer meeting your needs and you want to upgrade it? Replacing a deck is a relatively straightforward job, but it does count as construction on your home and there are rules and standards that need to be followed. We always advise hiring a qualified contractor to do big projects such as deck replacements, but this is also a common DIY project. However you choose to proceed, make sure you plan for the following:
- Get a building permit: Decks fall under building codes and bylaws, and you need to get a permit for the work before you start. If you don’t, you might be forced to stop work and face fines.
- Obey building codes: A qualified contractor will always stick to building codes when designing and building your deck. Be prepared to pay for a building inspector to come and check the deck when it is finished.
- Use the right materials: Make sure all of the lumber, fasteners, stains, and other materials being used are designed for outside use, meaning they will resist corrosion and rot better.
- Block off the deck access: once the old deck has been removed, there is a risk of people accidentally falling from the patio door. Make sure this door is locked and secured for safety.
A deck is a wonderful feature for a family home. With care, yours can have a long useful life. Or, you can replace it with the deck of your dreams!