Pro Tips for Deck Maintenance
Spruce it up for springtime.
By Mark Clement
No matter the material, all decks and porches require some maintenance. The good news is that regular upkeep is an easy way to preserve your wood deck’s beauty for years to come. Since wood comes from nature, it’s naturally at home in the outdoors. When properly finished and maintained, many wood varieties will last for decades, even in harsh environments.
To get the most out of your deck, once a year, take the following steps:
1. Inspect the boards for damage such as splitting, warping and major checking (‘checking’ is cracking parallel to the grain, i.e. “the long way”). An important step here is to check each fastener to be sure none are coming loose. This may require walking the deck back and forth along the joists, to sense any weakness or instability. This also presents an opportunity to check railings and bannisters by pushing them to make sure there is no give.
2. Check that the flashing is still sound and be prepared to replace this essential component if necessary. Flashing is a metal or plastic guard that directs water out and away from sensitive areas (areas prone to hold moisture and thus weaken). Properly installed deck flashing should be roughly “L”-shaped. One leg of the L runs up behind the siding. The other over the top of the board that connects to the house (this is called the ‘ledger board’).
Remember, flashing is often installed where the deck and house come together, and its purpose to keep moisture and debris from collecting between the house and the deck’s ledger board. Pay special attention to any areas that tend to remain damp, are regularly exposed to water (like exposed end-grain on post tops), or are in contact with fasteners. These are areas of stress that need to be carefully examined. Even if no signs of deterioration are present, you still may want to consider proactively adding or replacing flashing if you notice areas in which a significant amount of water is collecting.
3. Check the framing connections. Where the joists meet the ledger board, there should be metal hardware (joist hangers). Nails driven at an angle (‘toe-nails’) are not a sufficient structural connection. Bolts in post and beam connections should be 1/2-in. diameter and galvanized.
Check that stairs are of proper rise and run. The combined rise and run of a code-approved stair should be no more than 17-inches: ideally 7-in. rise, 10-in. run (tread depth). Check that they’re properly connected to the deck framing and that stair nosings are intact.
Posts, beams and angle bracing should be of appropriate size and spacing. Your local building inspector will be able to tell you what’s expected where you live. Generally speaking, however, deck posts should be a minimum 6×6 spaced 6 feet on center.
If you can get under the deck and inspect the ledger, check that proper fasteners—bolts, 1/2-in. galvanized lag screws or structural screws like the RSS screws from GRK Fasteners—not nails—have been used where the deck attaches to the house, since this is a common source of deck failure.
You will need to replace fasteners that show any signs of significant rusting or corrosion. This is because a corroded fastener can cause deterioration in surrounding wood. Check for nails that have lifted and for screws that show signs of significant deterioration, and replace as needed.