An investment in a new deck brings a promise of fresh air and sunshine. While decks provide a great return on investment, there are still costs and you want it to last as long as possible. With 90 percent of U.S. decks built on wood framing, you want to stop wood rot and protect your materials from the elements.
Below, we’ll explore 5 ways to extend the life of your deck. The best time to take action is before you even begin building.
- Cover the tops of your beams and joists.
Because the substructure — the beams and joists — that support your deck boards are most likely made of wood, you want to protect them from water damage. Even with pressure-treated wood, water is a threat.
Joists, the horizontal structures used to build a deck frame, are just below your deck boards. Beams, the vertical, main load-bearing elements, stand beneath your deck and support the weight of the joists and flooring. The beams, secured in footings, are usually cemented into place.
Covering the tops of your beams and joists with a quality flashing tape is relatively inexpensive and easy, even for a DIYer; however, it must be applied at the time of construction. Once you’ve installed your deck boards, it’s impossible to cover the substructure without removing the decking.
A quality butyl tape can add years to your deck’s usefulness by providing a thin, waterproof barrier. Seal the tops of your deck joists, rim joists, beams, and ledger boards. Apply the flashing tape directly to the top edge of the wood. The flashing can also protect around screw holes and prevent water from seeping in, which can cause corrosion. Additionally, the tape can help hold the screws in place.
- Keep the deck clean.
As we’ve already discussed, moisture damages wood over time, thus, do all you can to keep your deck clean and dry. If you’ve let leaves build up in the corners or allowed a plant to sit on top of the deck boards, you’ve invited in debris and water damage.
All year long, take time to sweep off any leaves or debris. Then, once a year, wash your deck. The best approach is warm water, a bristle brush, a gentle soap and a garden hose with a Gilmour hose nozzle attached to it. You may be tempted to clean more quickly by using a pressure washer. However, the intense pressure can cause your wood to splinter. Even with composite decking, you can cause damage with a pressure washer. If you want to go this route, hire a professional or take steps to lessen the pressure (by turning down the PSI, using a fan tip, and keeping the end of the nozzle at least two feet off your boards). Be sure to completely rinse off your deck boards, so you don’t leave a sticky film behind.
- Seal the deck boards.
Once the deck is clean, it’s a great time to seal any exposed wood. Wood will certainly crack and split if repeatedly exposed to water. Sealants protect like a good car wax protects your paint. Use a a deck sealer or stain with clear sealer to cover and protect those top boards. While a sealant is usually clear, deck stain can be semi-translucent or opaque.
You’ll need to reapply sealant as often as annually, depending on foot traffic. Note that composite decking (made of wood fiber, plastic, and a binding agent) does not require sealing or staining.
You can find step-by-step guidance for proper sealing on Decks.com.
- Do a maintenance check on your deck.
Be sure to do a thorough inspection of your deck on a regular basis. This North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) handout provides a 10-point inspection checklist. You may be able to fix minor damage to your deck or choose a professional to tackle more serious maintenance needs.
The main culprit in deck damage is rotten wood. How do you spot it? Look for soft, spongy or discolored wood. You may use a screwdriver to test for soft spots. Pay close attention to any place that the wood comes into contact with the house or the ground.
- Protect against fire.
Fire is a danger to both wood and composite decks. However, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce your fire risk.
First, remove fire fuel, whether it is logs stored under your deck or dried out vegetation. Next, never leave a fire unattended. Don’t step away if you’re grilling, and be sure the fire is completely extinguished when you’re done. When you grill or use a heat source (such as a patio lamp, fireplace or fire pit, keep water hoses and extinguishers nearby. Cut back trees or bushes that are too close to the deck.
Never put a gas-burning fire pit directly on your deck boards. Invest in a high-quality barrier or move the fire pit off the deck. It’s also advisable not to use a wood-burning pit on top of a deck or near it, as embers can escape and damage your deck.
Ensuring your deck’s longevity isn’t difficult. It’s really about paying attention and taking a few proactive steps. Don’t delay on maintenance, cleaning, protecting or sealing. It can add years to your deck’s enjoyment.