Prepare Your Wood Deck for Fall
Summer is officially over and it’s time to start prepping for fall. Now is the time to take steps to keep your wood deck safe and looking its best through the colder months.
1. Inspect Your Deck Surroundings
Keep your eyes open for any tree branches hanging above the deck or thick shrubs around it. It’s important that air is able to circulate over and around your deck to prevent moisture from building up that leads to mold, mildew and rot. In addition, check your roof gutters above the deck to make sure they are clean. Clogged gutters won’t drain and will end up spilling over onto your deck. Also, take note of any erosion around the footing of your deck.
2. Clean and Inspect Your Deck Surface
Remove, cover or store any freestanding furniture, as well as any outdoor rugs, planters, umbrellas, portable grills and bar carts, so you can clean the surface of the deck. Be careful not to drag heavy items so you don’t put scratches into the deck.
Put fitted covers over your furniture to prevent damage from weather. Fitted covers won’t blow away. Try to find covers made from a two-layer material with a waterproof layer on top and a softer layer on the bottom that won’t scratch the furniture.
Remove any accumulated leaves and debris from the deck and wash the surface off with a garden hose or pressure washer. For stubborn stains, try using a stiff-bristled brush and a bucket of warm water mixed with a mild detergent. Also, look for any loose boards and see if damage is limited to one area or more extensive. If you find debris between the boards, try using a plastic putty knife to remove it safely. You always want to keep the space between the boards clear to promote drainage and air circulation. Moisture is one of the biggest factors affecting deck longevity.
3. Visual Inspect Your Deck Overall
Look closely at the structural components that keep the deck secure, and check for any signs of decay, mold or fastener corrosion under your deck. Also check posts for signs of warping, beams for any loose hardware, and the stability of joists and stair railings.
In addition, look at the ledger (where the deck connects to the house). This is a large part of the deck’s strength. Make sure its connections are secure and take note if it’s pulling away from your home. The majority of deck failures happen because the ledger was not connected to the house properly. But even if the ledger is connected correctly, decay can happen over time.
If you find a problem area, it is always best to call a licensed home inspector or contractor to look at it and advise on the best solution.
It’s also a good idea to check the deck utilities as well. This means if you have a gas grill, inspect the gas line. If you have any lighting, see if connections are secure and if any bulbs need replaced.
4. Look at Deck Hardware for Tightness and Corrosion
Inspect the hardware on your deck stairs, railing posts and balusters, looking for rust or corrosion. A lot of older wooden decks have nails, which can loosen due to seasonal movement and temperature changes. If you have any nails that have popped up, hammer them back down or replace them with deck screws.
Walk up and down any stairs looking for movement in the stair treads, and grab the railings to see if there is any looseness. If railings are bolted, see if you can simply tighten the bolts to secure the post. For any areas of concern, consult with a building professional.
5. Make Sure the Area Under Your Deck is Safe and Secure
If your deck was designed with storage space underneath, make sure it is kept clean. In some places, storing furniture or firewood under your deck is considered a hazard, so be sure to check local building and fire codes. Storing items under your deck means more moisture, leaves and vermin, which are detrimental to deck health.
In areas prone to water accumulation, adding gravel under your ground-level or raised deck helps promote proper drainage and combats moisture. In any case, the best bet for making sure the underneath is safe is to inspect it frequently and clean it regularly.
6. Keep the Deck Surface Clean Over Winter, and Plan Ahead
Checking weekly for any accumulated debris will help avoid problems that might otherwise build over the winter months. But even in a milder climate, it’s still important to clean the leaves off your deck regularly. A buildup of leaves can lead to mildew and mold issues.
For those in a cold climate, pay attention to how much snow or ice ends up on the deck. Shoveling snow and chipping ice on a wood deck can cause damage, so take it easy. Try letting it melt naturally, unless you are concerned about the weight.
When warmer weather arrives again, consider a new seal for your deck that helps lock out moisture. Reseal as often as needed depending on the type of deck you have and the location of the deck on your property. Decks made from mahogany and redwood may need to be resealed every 1 to 3 years, while other types of wood decks may need to be resealed every year, or even twice a year.
Look for a sealant that acts as a water repellent, provides sunscreen for your deck and makes it mildew-resistant. There are many different kinds of sealants on the market today, including combination sealant and stain, and eco-friendly choices. If in doubt of which type to use, try consulting with your deck installer.