Wood Deck Maintenance
We just gave a wedding shower for our cousin’s son. We decided that the theme would be a luau and thought that it would be really cool if we had it outside. Hello garden, goodbye house! We worked in the yard for several weeks pulling weeds, pruning, planting spring flowers, tilling soil painting, repairing and cleaning. What a job. We wanted everything to be just right for the kids and our guests. Unfortunately, as the yard got cleaner and neater our decks started to look shabbier and shabbier. It became apparent that it was time to perform a little serious deck maintenance. Well, they’re not all decks per say. One is a deck, one is a bridge and the other is a porch. All redwood. All natural.
The bridge was in pretty good shape. All it needed was a pressure washing and a very light coat of wood preservative.
The free-standing deck wasn’t shot, but it was close. After being used for several TV segments it was a mess. One section of the top had been pressure washed so many times that its surface looked like a lake in a windstorm. It required a full sanding before it could be oiled. First, we set the nails (so the heads wouldn’t be sanded off) and then we used a rented floor sander to make the surface look absolutely new again. A coat of fine oil and – all done!
The porch was simply not repairable. The decking was rotted when we moved in and it took a garden party to convince us that the boards should be completely replaced. In no time the decking came up and new boards went down. We even rebuilt the steps. The handrails were painted and in pretty good condition. However, they did need some caulking and touch painting.
Chances are, if you have a deck, it needs some sort of maintenance. What we have found is that decks that are maintained once every 12- to 18-months are comparatively easy to bring back to life. When things get tough is after several years of neglect or when rot sets in.
When we study a deck to determine the extent of repair needed we follow several steps:
- We look for cracked boards. Such boards are weak and can be dangerous. Too much weight or pressure and you can end up falling through what used to be a floor.
- Nail pops are next. They are unsightly and can damage little feet.
- Can’t forget wood rot. It can go unnoticed until one day what used to be wood – is no more!
- Whether it’s a handrail or a deck board, twisted, bowed and cupped lumber can make things look terrible.
- Finally, horrendous gaps at joints and connections can make your wood deck look as though armatures built it.
Split pieces of lumber and those that are cupped or twisted usually need to be replaced. We find that cutting the bad piece in half or thirds makes it easier to remove. Simply reverse the removal process to add in a new piece. Be sure to take a sample with you to the lumberyard so that you get the same kind of wood. It will be noticeable when first installed, but later, it should blend in quite nicely with the surrounding material. Oh, by the way, try to install the new piece without cutting it into pieces.
Nail pops are a constant menace in a wood deck. They must be frequently reset. Use a hinge pin as a nail punch it works great. If you replace your deck or build a new one we suggest that you use construction screws instead. Construction screws take longer, but they hold better. There is nothing quite like a grabber.
You can find out if you have rot by poking a small penknife into the surface of the wood. Soft spots are easy to detect and can be an early warning that harmful fungi exist. Rotted boards should be replaced. A fungicide can be applied to the new material to increase its longevity. Copper Green is a product that contains copper napthanate (a pesticide/fungicide), which is available in spray cans. Caution: follow directions for use and wear a breathing mask.
At hand and stair rails, gaps at joints should be caulked, primed and painted to prevent moisture attack. Remember: irrigation and sprinkler water can be just as damaging to wood as winter rain. Be sure that the wood is dry before repairing the joint.
Keep in mind that dirt particles, oil and other sticky substances are constantly falling out of the air onto your wood deck. This constant cycle creates a layer of dirt and debris that must first be removed before you can begin to gauge what maintenance must actually be performed. We always use a pressure washer to clean things up FIRST. At this point we can then decide exactly what process must be followed to preserve and beautify our wood decks. On our deck we thought we were going to have to replace the boards. After a quick wash we discovered that a sanding was needed, but that the wood was otherwise in good condition. And, good luck!