Get your deck ready for spring and summer

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Mar. 29, 2012
- Contributed Photo

Spring is the perfect time to revitalize your deck for the coming outdoor entertaining months. Even if it looks and feels pretty shabby, it can probably be resurrected. Sun and weather can really wreak havoc with wood. You can undo much of that wear and tear. Decks made of composite or vinyl material should look much better than weathered, pressure-treated wood, but they still need a face washing.

First, inspect your deck before you decide how to resurrect it. If your deck is composite lumber or vinyl, this may be a formality. If the deck was made with pressure-treated wood, this step is an absolute necessity. Start from the bottom and work your way up to the highest reaches. Carefully inspect the support beams for signs of decay. Stick an awl or screwdriver into anything that looks soft or spongy. Replace the wood, but determine what caused the rotting. Chances are it was caused by lack of airflow required to keep the wood dry. Correct that problem so it does not occur again.

The most common problems are cupped or split boards and loose or missing screws or nails. Wooden boards can cup from edge to edge, and hold water that damages the wood. The best solution is to remove these boards and flip them over, cupped side down. If that's not possible, or if they are damaged in the removal step, replace the board with similarly treated wood. Be sure to use hot-dipped galvanized nails or decking screws, and drill holes slightly smaller in diameter than your nails or screws.

Boards that have split should be replaced. Checking in the wood or raised wood grain are both signs that water has invaded the material. These should be partially or completely removed. Sometimes a wood plane or chisel can take care of small issues of this nature.

If yours is a 100-percent wooden deck, and you are very dissatisfied with the look of the weathered wood, consider flipping all the boards. You will get about 50 percent more wear out of them. There is a lot of work associated with that option, but think about the savings on the cost of materials. You may still have to replace some wood, but that can be minimized and perhaps even isolated in the design of your rebuilt deck.

Once the walking surface has been inspected, look at all the posts and railings. Since your family and guests come in contact with these exposed surfaces, they need to be friendly to clothing and skin. The cleaning steps below will go a long way to doing that. For seriously worn or damaged wood, use a belt sander, plane or chisel to smooth the surface.

Bounce a bit on the deck, to see if the superstructure seems weakened at all. You may need to replace or reinforce some members. Posts that give or sway will need to be secured. Tighten or replace lag screws or bolts that hold these structural units in place. Replace any pieces of damaged wood that cannot hold the hardware well enough.

It used to be standard practice to clean decks with a solution of chlorine bleach, TSP and water, or use a pressure washer with premixed deck cleaner. But chlorine is toxic, and endangers nearby vegetation. It also robs wood of its color.

Pressure washing wears away the softer grain of even-pressure treated wood, creating needless, premature wear. By choosing the oxygen bleach alternative discussed here, you can avoid the aggressiveness of a pressure washer, and instead use a low pressure sprayer, roller or brush.

Oxygen bleach is a non-toxic cleaner that will not harm the environment around your deck. It comes in powder form that you can mix yourself. It will not bleach the color of the natural wood, nor will it adversely affect nails, screws and other metal connectors. Whether your deck is made of wood, composite or vinyl boards, oxygen bleach is the best alternative for cleaning.

Sealing a deck depends on the type of materials you have used before and your own preferences. Both sealers and stains come in clear and pigmented versions, and the number of options has blossomed in recent years. You should be most concerned about how well the sealed deck will repel water, and how long that quality will last.

The UV rays of the sun will also wear your deck, affecting the color and general appearance of the wood. Select something that will protect the building material from sun and water, or you will have a more frequent maintenance cycle.

Once your maintenance work is finished, add or replace your deck furniture, and then sit back and enjoy!

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