Take care of your deck
A deck is a great place to retreat to read a book, enjoy a barbecue, entertain, or just sit and savor a cup of coffee on a sunny morning. Decks can be found on homes anywhere from countryside backyards to rooftops in the city. While decks in the country allow homeowners to enjoy the sprawling landscape, city decks become mini-get-away locations for urbanites. The sound of a waterfall, smell of lush plant life, or sight of a colorful collage of flowers help city dwellers get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life, creating a garden of relaxation and bliss after a hard day’s work.
The components of a deck can be broken down into four different maintenance tasks:
1. Structural Maintenance
Let’s get started on keeping your deck in great shape, so that it will continue to be your oasis.
Concrete piers, posts, ledger board, joists, bridging, and cross bracing are required to help stop a deck from shifting side to side and to sustain load movements. These pieces are not usually visible when standing on the deck, but can be seen from underneath.
Joists, girders, and posts usually support the structural members under the decking. These wood members need to be checked periodically for any deterioration.
Look for defects in areas that are not easily visible. These areas can go for long periods without an inspection and are usually prone to long-term dirt and moisture accumulation, making them susceptible to rot or rust. Check suspicious areas for rotting wood by poking them with a screwdriver. If the screwdriver easily penetrates the lumber there may be cause for concern. This can mean that the wood has rot or termite infestation. If the screwdriver easily penetrates the wood, it will either crumble or have a spongy feel to it and brownish or yellowish discoloration may also be apparent. In some cases, you may need to use a flashlight under the decking if it is low to the ground, making it dark and difficult to see.
Although exterior fasteners are galvanized, after time nails and joist hangers can rust and corrode. When replacing defective nails, screws, bolts, or hangers, remove them one at a time. Removing them all at once can make the project very unsafe.
Look under the deck at the ledger board that keeps the deck connected to your home. Ledger boards are bolted every two feet. Bolts hold much better than nails. At times, you may find that a ledger board has been nailed instead of bolted. Nails can become loose over time and permit movement or shifting of the ledger board. This may cause the board to pull away from the main structure and could result in a collapse. If you find loose nails remove them and replace them with a slightly wider diameter lag bolt. Make sure that the bolts are tight and secure.
Look on top of the deck where the ledger board, decking, and house meet. Inspect along the length of the board and check to see if there is flashing and, if there is, its condition. (Flashing is a strip of aluminum that runs horizontally along the length of the ledger board preventing water and debris from getting between the ledger board and the home.)
Flashing should be attached under the siding at a 90-degree angle overlapping the ledger board. If flashing is absent, it must be installed; if the flashing is defective or corroded, it must be replaced.
INSTALLING NEW FLASHING
In order to replace or install flashing, the closest deck board to the home will need to be removed. Aluminum flashing can be purchased at your local home improvement center or hardware store.
Cut a sufficient amount to run the length of the ledger board.
Slide the flashing under the siding, allowing enough flashing to wrap over the top of ledger board.
Secure the flashing by nailing it to the house, right below the siding.
Bend the flashing at a 90-degree angle over the ledger board, slightly pitching it downward beyond the ledger board allowing water to flow off and away from the house.
Inspect the deck posts. They should be in galvanized cradles that lift them slightly off the concrete footing or pier. If you find dirt around the decking posts, clear away the dirt and apply roofing mastic around them in order to stop any moisture seepage, which will eventually cause them to rot. Place a piece of felt paper along the side and bottom of the dirt as well as 3/4″ gravel on top and around the bottom of the post. This will help keep water and dirt from settling around the post and prevent damage to the supports, sustaining the life of the posts.
Whether you upgrade your deck or build a new one, maintenance is the key to having it last a long time. Regular upkeep like power-washing, staining, or tightening a few loose screws can keep your deck and railings safe and attractive year round.
Get into the habit of sweeping debris off your deck. Leaves, branches, and dirt hold moisture and will discolor and deteriorate decking material. In worse cases, the debris will cause mildew, mold, and rot.
If you find boards on your deck warping or cupping, carefully remove them, turn them over and nail or screw them back down. If they are too far gone, replace them.
Nail pops are common occurrences on wooden decks. (A nail pop is when the nail has become loose and the head protrudes beyond the lumber.) They are dangerous because someone can catch a foot on the nail. Remove them and use galvanized decking screws to secure any loose wood caused by nail pops. Screws have a better grip and will hold down the decking boards much better than nails.
Splintered wood is another common problem. Use a wood chisel or utility knife to cut the splinter off and sand the area down to a smooth finish.
When you’re purchasing lumber for your deck, be sure to order quarter‑sawn lumber and not flat grain lumber. Flat-grain lumber has a predisposition to splintering.
Water and termites are a deck’s worst enemies. Power-wash your deck every year and coat it with a deck sealant or stain. Doing this will replenish the finish and make it look new again. The beauty of a composite deck and railing is that they don’t need sealing, only power-washing.
If you don’t want to power-wash your deck, pick up a deck wash at your local home improvement store. Apply the deck wash, wait about twenty minutes and simply rinse it off with water. The dirt and discoloration will run right off the deck and railings. After you are finished, wait forty-eight hours before applying a sealer or stain.
Railings and safety go hand in hand and are just as important as any other component of deck safety. Railings help you keep your balance when going up or down the stairs and stop you from falling over the side of your deck. A safe height for railings is 42″ from the top of the deck to the top of the railing. Check with your local building code official before attempting to make any major changes to your deck. Most towns have local building regulations that a code official can interpret for you.
1. Check deck railings to ensure they are sturdy and properly secured. If someone should happen to lose his balance, he should be able to grab the rail for safety. Railings should be able to hold up to 200 lbs. of lateral pressure should someone happen to trip and fall. Many wood railings, which are the most common, are fastened with nails and after time become loose due to the constant back and forth tugging and lateral pressure they are subjected to. Also, wood can shrink over time and, in some cases, the nails will begin to pull away.
There are many different types of railing materials from which you can choose. Redwood, cedar, or wolmanized (pressure-treated) are good wood selections, while there are a number of decorative plastics or stainless steel designs to choose from. There are also steel cable and glass railings that allow you to take in the landscape without ruining your view. For more selections, go to your local home improvement store or lumberyard to view samples of the many varieties of railings available.
Verify that the nails holding the railings in place are secure. If not, remove them and replace them with screws. Use a screw that is longer or wider than the nail for a more secure setting. Rails are attached to posts and sometimes a stainless or galvanized L bracket can be used to secure the handrail to the posts. Attaching it from underneath will make it less noticeable. If the bracket is an eyesore, paint it to match the railing. If a bracket is not practical, toe nailing— securing a screw or nail at an angle—will be necessary.
Make sure that the railing system is firmly fastened to the house. You can also use the galvanized or stainless steel L brackets to secure any loose rails to the structure.
Wood can sometimes twist with age and will need to be replaced in order to have a flat, secure setting. The 2″ × 2″ vertical balustrades are thinner than most of the other railing components and are subject to twisting more often than any other part of a railing system. (Balustrades are the vertical components of a railing system that fit between the top and bottom rails that prevent someone from falling through.)
Posts are main supports to a railing system. Occasionally, they become loose and need to be adjusted, but nailing is not a preferred way to secure a post. The easiest way is to firmly lag bolt them by drilling a smaller hole than the diameter of the lag bolt and ratchet the bolt into place. A better way is to drill a hole and using a carriage bolt, bolt them through with a washer and nut on the other side.
Check the bottom of the rail for rot. If rot is the issue, the post will need to be replaced.
Depending on the width, deck stairs are made up of two or more stringers, which support the stair treads. They are attached to a double joist at the top of the deck and are supported by a concrete pad or footing located at the bottom of the stairs. Footings are concrete supports that are set in place at a minimum of 36″ deep. Wood rot at the bottom of the stringer is a common problem.
Here are some tips if you are replacing your deck’s stair treads:
Before purchasing any lumber, make sure all the stair treads in a set of stairs are equal in thickness. A small difference in stair tread width, within a set of stairs, can be a dangerous trip factor when climbing or descending.
Stair treads should be no less than 1″ thick. A thickness less than 1″ can result in deflection, cracking, or personal injury. Make sure to be consistent with the thickness of the stair tread. Using different thicknesses can cause a person to lose their balance.
Any stair treads 36″ or wider will require a tread thickness of 11/2″ and may need an additional stringer centered under the tread for support.
Be sure to keep an eye on your deck’s stairs as they are an important part of your deck, which needs maintenance just as much as—if not more than—any other part of a house. A well-kept deck is a great feature of any home—rural, suburban, or urban.