Deck Check: Is It Time to Restore Your Wood Deck?
This is Part 1 of 9 in our Series on Restoring Wood Decks and Building New Wood Decks. Navigate to the first article: Restoring a Wood Deck
If you have an old house, there's a good chance your old deck has seen better years. Restoring a deck or building one yourself will save you bundles of money and let you make sure the work is done right.
Old Deck or New?
If you are thinking green, remember that the greenest deck is the one that has already been built. You may have a couple of boards that are starting to disintegrate--perhaps they've picked up excess moisture under a planter--but overall you may still have many years left in your deck. Prodding your old deck to make it last a few more years means that more trees won't have to be cut and transported. You may need to re-stain or re-seal the boards, but you can buy eco-friendly stains and sealers low in volatile organic compounds.
On the other hand, rotting boards could be the indication of severe structural problems. To judge your deck's soundness, you need to make a physical inspection: eyes alone won't do the job. Begin with simply walking the deck, checking that it is sturdy. Wood does not deteriorate overnight: subtle decay can creep up on you. Walk your deck taking bouncy steps: any give in your deck is cause for concern.
Test for Rot: Getting the Point
To test for rot, use a poker, small nail punch, 16-penny nail, or even a small Philips screwdriver. If you cannot get under your deck, poke into the joists between the boards, feeling if the wood is soft. If beams are not covered by fascia, poke them. Remove a fascia board, or a couple boards of decking, to better access the beams and joists. Be sure to test posts at the bottom--sprinklers and splashing rain are the enemies there. Check the post brackets, as even galvanized metal will rust. Any wood that gives readily to the pointed tip has gone bad.
Remember, wood will rot from the moisture side--rain on top, soil on the bottom. And while darkened wood indicates decay, clean-looking wood still may have rot underneath.
Check the Ledger
Even if your beams and joists are in great shape, they may be attached to a rotting ledger board--the board along your house to which the joist-hangers are nailed. In old houses it isn't uncommon for a rebuilt deck to be attached to an original ledger. If the ledger was not flashed to prevent exposure to water running off the decking, it could be crumbling. A rotting ledger board is immensely dangerous: joists could pull out of it in a domino fashion, dropping the deck to the ground.
Next article: Deck Repair Tools. Looks at tools that will make your deck project easier.
Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.