Because decks are exposed to the elements all year round, it’s a good idea to establish a routine of upkeep that’ll protect your deck and prevent expensive repairs.
Here’s a simple deck maintenance schedule to keep it safe, sound, and looking great.
An unwashed deck is an invitation to mold and mildew, which can cause rot. Here’s how to wash your deck: 1. Remove debris from between deck boards using a putty knife. Pay special attention to the areas where deck boards cross the joists -- the structural members underneath the decking. TIP: For a makeshift extension that’s a real knee-saver, try pushing the handle of your putty knife into a length of 1¼-inch PVC pipe. Some putty knives squeeze right in. Or buy a pole-type groove and crevice cleaner. 2. Protect all shrubs and plantings. Wet them and cover them with plastic sheeting. 3. Thoroughly sweep the deck. 4. Choose an appropriate cleanser.
5. Clean the deck. Choose a cloudy day when the decking is cool and the sun won’t evaporate the cleaner.
6. Let deck dry. Wait two days before sealing.
Sealers and stains are available at home improvement centers for about $30 per gallon -- enough to cover 250 square feet of decking. Your finish options include:
Expect to reapply clear sealers and toners annually. Reapply stain finishes as needed (every other year is a good routine) using the same or a slightly darker color. Be sure to wear gloves, a safety mask, and eye protection when applying stain and sealers. 1. Choose a two-day period when you’ll have clear skies and moderate temperatures. 2. Lightly sand the deck. Use a pole sander equipped with 80-grit paper to remove any furriness caused by washing. 3. Replace any missing or popped nails and screws. Replace protruding nails with deck screws slightly longer than the nail. If a nail only slightly protrudes, you may do more harm than good trying to pull it out. Pound it home. TIP: When pulling out the nail with a hammer or pry bar, use a scrap of wood as a fulcrum for greater leverage and to avoid damaging the deck. 4. Apply the sealer or stain. Use a roller to apply the sealer to the decking, covering three or four boards at a time. Use brushes and small rollers for railings, planters, and benches. Don’t let the sealant dry or puddle. Two thin coats is better than one thick one. TIP: Deck sealants aren’t required or recommended for composite decks, although some composite decking can be stained to restore its color. Be sure the product is intended for composites. Don’t expect the same density of color that you would achieve with wood
When the weather is warm and dry, it’s a good time to give your deck’s structure a close inspection. Pay particular attention to any areas within 6 inches of the ground or close to sources of water, such as downspouts and planters. 1. Look for signs of rot. Probe structural members with a flat-blade screwdriver. Begin by checking stairs, especially where the stringers (the saw-tooth notched pieces that support the steps) meet the ground. Also check each perimeter post. If you can push the screwdriver a quarter-inch or more into a suspect area, you probably have rot. TIP: Areas of rot that are no bigger than a silver dollar can be removed with a chisel, and the hole can be treated with wood preservative. Larger areas may require the structural member to be replaced. Consult a professional carpenter or builder for an estimate for repairs. 2. Inspect the ledger. Using a flashlight underneath your deck, pay special attention to the ledger — that all-important piece of framing that attaches the deck to the house. A damaged ledger is the cause of 90% of all deck collapses. TIP: The ledger should be attached with lag screws, not just nails. The flashing -- the metal cap that covers the top of the ledger and prevents moisture from getting behind the siding -- should be free of rust and holes. 3. Check remaining joists, posts, and beams. Check all the hardware underneath, especially joist hangers, and replace any that are seriously rusted. Probe for signs of rot on the posts and joists. If anything looks doubtful, call in a pro to provide an estimate for any needed repairs. TIP: If a framing member can’t be easily removed and replaced, reinforce it. For example, if a joist shows areas of rot, you can add a splint of comparable pressure-treated lumber alongside it, attaching the splint with two or three 3-inch deck screws every 12 inches. Then chisel away the rotten area and paint the raw wood with preservative. 4. Check for cracks or rotten decking boards. Not all cracks are a structural threat, but they’ll get worse with time. If you find damage, replace the piece. 5. Check the railing. Give it a good shake to be sure posts are not loose or damaged -- loose connections may be remedied by drilling pilot holes and adding galvanized lag screws. Look for cracks that, over time, may have developed around fasteners such as nails or screws. To remedy, remove the fastener and seal the crack with an exterior-grade adhesive. Then, drill a new pilot hole and add a new galvanized deck screw.
Fall is also a good time to wash and seal your deck if you didn’t get a chance to in the spring. The point is to do it when temperatures are mild. Otherwise, to keep your deck in good shape: