Adding a deck to your home expands your living space and increases the value of your home. At the same time, it is an investment, which you want to protect.
Because 90% of U.S. decks are made of wood, plan from the start to stop wood rot. Taking steps at construction and planning for future maintenance will make a significant difference in extending the life of your deck. Here are 7 ways to enjoy your deck longer.
1. Use flashing tape.
During construction, adding flashing tape to your beams and joists is like adding insulation in your walls. It may be invisible, but it is essential. With flashing tape protecting the tops of your substructure, you add to your deck’s enjoyment and longevity.
The substructure — the beams and joists — that support your deck boards is susceptible to wood rot unless you are proactive. Even with pressure-treated wood or composite decking boards, water is a threat because most beams and joists are made of wood.
Adding flashing tape is relatively inexpensive and easy, even for a DIYer. A quality butyl tape provides a thin, waterproof barrier and protects around screw holes. The tape also helps hold the screws in place.
2. Clean off your deck boards regularly.
Moisture damages wood over time, so it’s essential to keep your deck as clean and dry as possible. Leaves and soil are especially problematic because they tend to hold moisture.
Take time to sweep off any leaves or debris all year long. Additionally, wash your deck annually using warm water, a bristle brush, gentle soap and a garden hose. While a pressure washer may seem faster, beware that the intense pressure can cause your wood to splinter. If you do use a pressure washer, hire a professional or take steps to lessen the pressure. When you’re done, rinse off your deck boards to avoid a sticky film.
3. Cut back overgrown shrubs and overhanging trees.
Sprawling trees, shrubs and out-of-control climbing vines are not only unsightly but dangerous. The moisture in their leaves and vines can cause wood to rot faster. Additionally, limbs can fall on your deck or home and cause serious damage. Take time to prune the vegetation yourself or bring in a pro. While any time is a good time to eliminate dangerous branches, be sure to check out the best time to prune your plants so you don’t damage them in the process.
4. Seal exposed wood.
If repeatedly exposed to rain, snow and moisture, wood will crack and split. Use a quality sealant to protect your deck like wax preserves your car paint. You might choose a clear sealer or a stain.
For most wood decks, you’ll need to reapply sealant annually on the deck boards. Use this step-by-step guide from Decks.com to guide your sealing process:
- Prep. First, check the temperature: between 50 and 90 °F is best to ensure the best seal.
- Clean. As noted above, you want to remove debris early and often from your deck’s surface.
- Sand. With sanding, the sealer adequately penetrates the wood. Clean off any sawdust, even between the cracks.
- Stir. Do not shake sealer because it may cause bubbles in the finish.
- Seal. Use a paint roller, brush or sprayer. Start by applying a thin coat over a two- or three-board section. You may add more coats if needed.
- Dry. Be sure the deck is completely dry before moving back the furnishings.
5. Inspect your deck annually.
Do a thorough inspection of your deck each year with this North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) handout, that includes a 10-point inspection checklist. Fix what you can and hire a professional to tackle more serious maintenance needs.
As already mentioned, the main culprit in deck damage is rotten wood. To spot it, look for soft, spongy or discolored wood. Use a screwdriver to test for soft spots. Especially pay attention to any place where the wood comes into contact with the ground.
6. Guard against fire.
In areas of the U.S. prone to wildfire, considering the fire danger of decks is essential. But everyone should guard against fire risks.
Both wood and composite decks face fire threats, but you can take steps to reduce your risk.
- Remove logs stored under your deck.
- Never leave a fire or heat source unattended, especially when grilling, using a fire pit or patio lamp.
- Keep water hoses and extinguishers nearby.
- Trim back trees or bushes that are too close to the deck.
Avoid putting a gas-burning fire pit directly on your deck boards. Look for a high-quality barrier or move the fire pit off the deck.
- Be sure embers don’t escape from a wood-burning pit on top of a deck or near it.
7. Invest in composite decking boards.
If maintenance makes you hesitant about adding a deck to your home, invest in materials that will take less upkeep over time. Composite decking, made of recycled plastics and reclaimed wood fibers, often carry a 25-year guarantee, never needs to be sealed and does not rot, splinter or warp. It is also insect-proof and mod resistant. While the initial cost is greater than with wood decking, the time and expense of upkeep may tip the scales in favor of composite.
Additionally, all that recycled material means is sustainable in another way. According to This Old House, every 20 feet of decking contains about 30 pounds of material that would have ended up in a landfill. That’s just another beautiful thing about decks: They can be environmentally friendly.
There are so many reasons to add a deck: a strong return on investment, adding entertaining and relaxation space to your home, and adding beauty to your backyard. So add that deck before spring comes, and keep it looking great for years to come with composite decking or sealed wood, a little cleaning and maintenance.