Homeowners often overlook deck maintenance needs that go beyond the occasional stain job. Termites, animals, water damage, erosion and any ground movement can all lead to a weakened deck, and you need to look for warning signs to make sure your deck stays safe.
Decks wear out, and when they do, it’s not just another DIY project -- it’s a safety issue for your family. Here’s our five-point deck maintenance checklist for checking your deck for damage and determine if a fix is in order.
Floorboards experience the greatest wear and tear, and they’re the last thing you want to fall apart while you or someone else is standing on your deck. Get down and really look at the surface of each board. Wetness and moisture rot the wood over time -- even in specially treated boards. Look for signs of stress, from curling to cracking to straight-up rot. And if the wood seems to stay wet for more than a day, you may be in for future trouble. Many major deck problems are obvious; this step is just a reminder to pay attention to your deck on a regular basis.
Bring a flashlight along and check the supports holding the deck up. This is where termite damage can really take root, and you’ll need to determine if erosion has made your supports less grounded than they used to be. In some parts of the country, you’ll want to check for bite marks, too, as certain animals may start chewing into the supports and weakening them. This is also when you’ll be checking the joists holding the flooring to make sure they are intact.
Nails, Screws and Bolts
Your various fastening hardware can all pop out or shake loose over time, which makes your deck unsafe in two ways: The nails, screws and bolts aren’t holding the deck together the way they’re supposed to, and they can get stepped on easily, causing potentially severe injury. Wearing gloves, make your way around the deck and tighten any nails and screws you find that have worked their way out, even partially. If any have gone missing, and you don’t have spare hardware of your own, you should purchase and nail or screw in replacements right away.
The ledger board holds your deck to the side of your house, and when decks fall apart, the ledger is usually the problem. Depending on your deck setup, you may actually need to remove a board or two to take a look at the ledger, so you may want to leave it to professionals. If the ledger isn’t fastened correctly to a rim joist or concrete, then the deck is a dangerous place to be. Just like any other part of the deck, the ledger can rot or become unfastened. The important difference is that the ledger is holding the whole thing in place!
Lastly, you need to inspect the railing, and every post in the railing. You don’t want to find out you’ve got a loose railing when you lean on it one day. Termite damage, cracks and shifting over time can all loosen up the railing and expose weaknesses. It needs to be able to support the weight of several people, especially if it’s the sort of rail you and your friends and family might sit on.