Restoration Guide: Site Work: Wood Decks, Porches and Fences

Shannon Lee


Meta Title: Old House Restoration Guide | Site Work -- Wood Decks, Porches and Fences
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Title: Restoration Guide: Site Work: Wood Decks, Porches and Fences

Editor's Note: This is article 2 of 5 in Chapter 9: The Site Work and Landscaping Guide of Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab guide.


Section 1--Deck and Porch Structure

Wood decks and porches are always subject to the elements of nature. Problems with moisture, including rotting of the deck boards, is always possible; when the rotted wood comes in contact with the structure of your old house, the decay can spread to the house and cause even more problems. One of the easiest ways to fix damaged areas of the deck or porch is to simply remove the rotting wood and replace it with new material.

  1. Repair the posts or columns. Since the posts and columns of your deck are often supporting elements, their good repair is crucial. If you must remove the posts and columns, be certain to provide temporary support to the structure with a jack post or house jack.
  2. Repair joists. Sistering the old joist with new, high-quality wood is a sturdy repair for moisture-damaged joists. You must have good access to the underside of the deck to make this an easy job.
  3. Repair ledger boards. The ledger board is where the joist actually connects to the house. Improper flashing can let water seep in behind the ledger boards, leading to moisture damage. Replace the ledger board with a new one, or use epoxy filler for those ledger boards you can't remove.
  4. Stabilize what you can't replace. Sometimes it isn't possible to replace rotting material completely. In that case, wood fillers and epoxy restoration can be used to bond with the "good" wood and restore your deck to the best condition possible.

Section 2--Repair and Replacement of Decking Materials

If the wood has been discolored or shows minor signs of damage, it can probably be repaired. Extensive damage, however, often means replacement.

  1. Clean the deck. Stains and common wear and tear can be alleviated with a deck brightener, also known as wood bleach. Solutions that cater to both spot-treatment and whole-deck treatment are available.
  2. Replace the decking. If your deck boards are splintered or otherwise damaged, look at the other side before throwing them out--many boards can simply be turned over, sanded down, and used again. If you must remove the board, replace it with a board of similar look and grain.
  3. Use sustainable woods. Be kind to the environment by using sustainable hardwoods on your deck. These woods are carefully harvested in ways that alleviate stress on the natural habitat.
  4. Use redwood and cedar. Good for at least 20 years of solid service, redwood and cedar decking is naturally resistant to rot and insects. Their beauty makes them a popular option for home renovation.
  5. Use tropical hardwoods. Much harder than redwood or cedar, tropical hardwoods are known to last for 40 years or more. They do cost more than other options, but their resistance to the elements is impressive.
  6. Use plastic-wood composites. A blend of wood fibers and recycled plastics, plastic-wood composites are long-lasting and impervious to water, insects, and the like.
  7. Use vinyl. Much lighter than traditional wood, vinyl requires no sealing or finishing, and keeps its beauty for decades. The downside is the expense, and sawdust or shavings are not biodegradable.

Section 3--Treated Woods

If the wood you choose does not have natural insect and rot resistance, it should be factory treated. Pressure treatment is a process that uses several different chemicals to enhance the existing properties of the wood you choose.

  1. Preservatives applied at the factory. Insecticides and wood preservatives added at the factory provide protection from moisture and decay; however, sealants must be applied at regular intervals to maintain the protection. Some pressure treated wood should not be used in structures that will be enjoyed by children.
  2. Non-toxic finishes and stains. Wood preservatives and stains help maintain the strength of the wood you use, but they cannot be applied within 150 feet of a water source or near a well meant for drinking water.
  3. Boron preservatives. Boron can provide protection against beetles, termites, fungus, and rot for up to 50 years. It also helps increase the fire resistance of wood.

Section 4--Handrails and Stairs

If your steps have more than three risers, handrails are required. Handrails and supporting posts are often susceptible to decay from standing water and other infiltration, but you might be able to replace portions of the stairs without removing the entire structure.

  1. Support existing posts. Stabilize posts with lag bolts, or simply re-nail the posts to make them sturdy again. If there are signs of rot, the posts might have to be replaced.
  2. Replace railings. Where two pieces of wood intersect, rot has more potential to form. Replace the areas that have rotted with a new piece of treated lumber, and attach the new pieces securely to the posts with brackets, galvanized screws, waterproof glue, or a combination of the three.
  3. Replace treads or risers. Cut the tread through the middle and pull up the remaining pieces with a prybar. Replace the tread with one of equal depth and thickness. The same process works for risers.
  4. Replace stringers. Rotted stringers must be replaced to ensure the integrity and safety of your stair structure. Your stringers and cleats should always be firmly bolted to the carriage.

Section 5--Fences and Retaining Walls

Preservation of original fencing is often a priority for home renovation. If the posts of your wood fence are not set deep enough, or set with insufficient concrete, fence failure can be the eventual result. Inspect your fence posts regularly to ensure you catch any moisture damage or cracking in plenty of time for an easy repair.

  1. Reinforce the posts. Wobbly fence posts could be a sign of rot. Rotting posts should be replaced. If there is no sign of rot, the post might need to be reset, or reinforced with a stake support. If the post is set in concrete, pounding the existing concrete deeper into the ground and covering it with another six inches of new concrete might do the trick.
  2. Replace the posts. Carefully remove the screen and rail boards, then remove the post. Treat all new posts with wood preservatives before anchoring them in the ground. If you opt to replace only the bottom portion, sistering the existing post with a brace post will make for a good repair.
  3. Strengthen the fence rail. Fence rails that have rotted between posts are an easy fix; however, those that have rotted at the point where they meet the post are more difficult. A corner block attached with galvanized fasteners can help.
  4. Replace the fence rail. Remove the screen boards, remove the fence rail by splitting it in two, and then add a new piece of pressure-treated lumber. Paint the rail before you install it.
  5. Replace the screening. Pickets can often be replaced by simply pulling the damaged one away and nailing a new one in its place. Take care to remedy the source of the damage before you install new components.
  6. Straighten a sagging gate. Sagging gates can be difficult or impossible to close, and in many cases, that can defeat the purpose of your fence. If the gate is sagging thanks to decay, replacement might be required. If the gate is in good condition, bringing it back into plumb or reinforcing it can be done with many different techniques.
  7. Realign a retaining wall. Retaining walls can be pushed out by the weight of the earth behind them. Re-stacking the wall will often work to shore it up, and gutter spikes can be driven through the timbers to strengthen them even further.

Get more information about concrete and masonry landscaping and site features in article 3.

About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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