With summer nearly upon us, this is a great time to make sure your deck is both safe and beautiful. Here’s how.
The first point of inspection should be the way the deck is fastened to the house. What you want to see is the hex-heads of bolts staggered along the deck’s rim joist, which is attached through the siding into the rim joist or framing of the house.
If you only see nail heads, you will want to consult with your contractor or building official for a complete deck inspection. The installation of lags or bolts doesn’t have to be expensive, but there may be other things that need to be done.
For example, decks built closer to saltwater tend to have more problems and sooner. That salty air makes anything made of metal deteriorate more quickly. These can be metal saddles embedded in the concrete pier blocks holding the support posts; joist clips holding each joist end; and, of course, nails. Even treated wood can fail, especially where the deck boards are nailed into each joist. This is where water tends to get trapped, leading eventually to rot and failure.
The posts holding up the deck tend to rot at the piers if they are touching concrete. The metal brackets attached to the beam above it are also included in a “first points of failure” inspection. They should be checked and the beams should be stab-tested annually.
Don’t be lulled into thinking that because your deck is just a few feet off the ground, a major failure couldn’t happen. In fact, limited ability to inspect and limited air circulation under a deck create an even better chance of wood failure from another condition we see. Let’s call it “moist pier block syndrome.”
When pier blocks are constantly shaded, they tend to stay moist, even gathering moisture from the ground when everything else is bone dry. The moist underside of pier blocks becomes a desirable environment for bugs and worms, followed by other critters that burrow under them looking for that sort of food.
The problem is they leave tunnels that undermine the pier-blocks, and eventually the piers settle — sometimes several inches, and not all at once, which can stress the rest of the deck support system.
That’s when the next weak links show up, such as the nails connecting the deck to the house pulling out or rusty metal connectors failing.
That’s why, before holding a big party on your deck, we suggest getting a code-knowledgeable person to check its components. If issues are found, consult with your local building official and make any and all corrections under the auspices of a permit. Then get the final building official’s inspection and sign-off that you pay for as assurance that the job was done properly.
Making a deck inspection part of your annual maintenance plan means you can always be ready to party!
Cleaning, painting decks
Once you are certain your deck is secure, your focus can change to improving its appearance.
Whether it is built from pressure-treated wood or some sort of Trex-like manufactured materials, it will likely need some attention annually to look its best and last for a long time.
Just as houses around here need to be painted frequently because of our saltwater environment, decks need to be painted or stained quite frequently — typically more often than your house.
Consider making it an annual or biannual chore to paint your deck. (Just imagine what the walls of your house would look like if the sun hit them directly all day and people walked on them!)
Before committing yourself to painting, you will want to wash the deck. Do not use a power washer unless you are very, very skilled with it. A power washer can drive water so deep into the deck that it can actually cause damage, or at least take a very long time to dry out.
A better method of prep for a stained or painted deck would be to scrape off any loose material first, then wash the whole deck with something like 30 Second Cleaner and then flood-rinse it off. The dry time is much less, and it minimalizes wood damage scars that will be seen forever.
Who knows? After a good wash you may determine the deck doesn’t need a new paint job at all.
Or you may be like many people for whom freshening up the deck with a coat of paint is just part of their annual list of summer chores. In that case, buy stain or paint especially designed for the tough demands of a deck.
For those who opened their pocketbooks a little wider when building or replacing their deck and purchased a manufactured wood product such as Trex, now is when you can thank yourself for doing that — and get a payback in time and money.
Virtually every deck around here could benefit from an annual wash to remove mildew, moss and the dirt that encourages both. (Plus, you’ll likely be removing bird droppings, cobwebs and maybe even the beginnings of a wasp nest or two.)
For those with manufactured decks, a good scrub with Dawn soap and a nozzled-hose or pressure washer should do the job. Or, if you can actually see some green moss and mildew, first apply 30 Second Cleaner to the deck’s surface dry, lightly scrub it in and wait 30 seconds to a minute and rinse off.
The good news for you is that once the deck is dry, you are likely done for the season!
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is fully ADA-compliant.