By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia
Depending on your geographic location, your deck may be one of the most popular areas of your home. Just like the rest of your home, decks require ongoing maintenance and inspection to make sure that all components are functioning as intended. A well-maintained deck adds both form and function to your home. Over time, however, several factors contribute to wear and tear, giving home owners a choice between replacing the deck or attempting deck repair.
Cleaning and treatment of the deck boards is often overlooked. Decking is exposed to the elements and over time may show signs of water damage, fading color, and deterioration or rotting.
Decks require cleaning and treatment every couple of years, and this may include applying paint or sealant. Cleaners can restore some of the original color. Power washing the deck is an option for cleaning, but care is required in not using too much force or too narrow of a spray pattern. This is also a good way of removing algae, that unsightly green coating that you may see.
Once the deck is cleaned, and prior to treatment with paint or stain, examine the condition of the deck boards and replace any that may be deteriorated or rotting. If you are experiencing wood rot, it is important to determine why. There may be an issue with the gutters or flashing that is directing water onto a particular area of the deck. There are a number of restoring deck paints that are thick and able to fill in some cracks, but if the wood is too deteriorated, then rotting may continue under the paint.
The most common material used for decking is pressure-treated wood. Cedar and redwood are also used, but may require more frequent maintenance. Composite decking is now becoming more popular, as it requires less maintenance. Certain types of wood will shrink over time and may create gaps, and you may also find that the deck boards are cracking or splitting. It is best to replace any deck boards that show evidence of these issues.
Proper Deck Construction
Too often, decks are installed by inexperienced home owners and the structural integrity may be compromised. Ledger boards, fasteners, posts, footings and railings are all critical components of the deck. If any structural compromise is suspected, it is best to have the deck examined by a qualified contractor.
Decks should be attached to the house using ledger boards and lag bolts, and this is one of the most critical aspects of deck construction. Deck joists should be attached to the ledger board, either by joist hangers or setting atop a ledger strip. If using joist hangers, attention must be given to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you must use approved nails. If using a ledger strip, it should be a minimum 2 in. x 2 in. that is fastened to the bottom of the ledger board with three nails under each joist. The joists are then toe-nailed into the ledger board. Toe-nailing of the joists alone, without hangers or ledger strip, is not recommended.
Beams should be secured to the top of the posts, not to the side of the posts. Beam attachment to the posts should be done with either a bracket or by notching the post and securing the beam with bolts. The exception to this would be only for a low-level deck that has short-spanning joists and beams and a number of support posts.
Deck footings should generally be set below the frost line. In regions where the frost line is not an issue, it is common to see precast foundation blocks on top of the exposed grade. At a minimum, regardless of frost line, the footings should be set 12 inches into the soil. In colder climates, the minimum depth may be much higher, up to 36 inches in some cases.
Finally, your deck’s guardrails should be 36 inches minimum height, with balusters not exceeding 4 inches separation, and there should be a graspable handrail with four or more risers.