You’ve just bought a house with a deck— but how on earth do you look after this thing?
Decks are amazing assets to any home, adding an outdoor space for relaxation and dining, and they can even add value to your home. But if you’ve never had one before, you may be unsure how to handle deck maintenance. The good news is, decks are fairly easy to look after and won’t take up too much of your time, as long as you look after a few things.
Keep reading to find our ultimate guide to looking after your deck.
How Long Do Decks Last?
A deck is a serious investment, but it will bring joy to you and your family for a long time.
If you’re wondering about the longevity of decks, good news— a well-built deck can last 15-20 years, at least. Although decks can always be replaced, they’re an expensive add-on to a home, so it’s best to look after them to the best of your ability.
Decks are usually built from hardy, long-lasting woods, such as cedar, pressure-treated pine, although some decks are made from composite materials or PVC plastic.
However, the lifespan of your deck will depend on how well you maintain it.
Why Should I Maintain My Deck?
Decks should be maintained for several reasons.
First, from a cosmetic perspective, treating a deck will help it to look its best. Over time, wood will wear and fade, nails start to pop out, the surface can become rough and splintered, and your glossy deck finish will start to disappear.
Our decks bring us a lot of fun for relaxing and entertaining. As we all take pride in our homes, we want them to look as best they can, inside and out.
Deck care is also important for safety reasons. With a wooden deck, often raised well above the ground, loose boards or wobbling railings can put our children and us at risk of accidents or falls. Read this blog post to learn more about deck safety.
Even cuts or splinters from a poorly maintained deck can be health hazards that are best avoided. Deck maintenance helps to keep your deck structurally secure and safe for your family to use.
What Materials Will I Need?
If you’re looking after your deck as a home project, everything you need can be easily obtained from your local hardware store.
You’ll want a broom, a hose or power washer (which can be rented or hired), a scrubbing brush, a sanding machine, a wood stain, and paintbrushes. If you need to remove old paint first, you may also need paint thinner.
A tarp is also useful if you’re concerned about the wood stain dripping, and pick up a mask if you’re bothered by the smells of the stain or paint thinner. Always use these products in an area with good ventilation.
What Do I Need to Know About Deck Maintenance?
Once you understand what to look for, it can be easy to keep your deck in great shape. Although there are plenty of landscape companies or contractors who can do it from you, deck maintenance is straightforward and easy for most homeowners, and can be a fun DIY project.
Here are the main steps for wood decks maintenance, noting not every deck will always need all of the below treatments.
Clean and Prepare the Area
Before starting any work on your deck, prepare the area. Move any furniture or grills out of the way, so you have unobstructed views of the whole deck. After it has had a good sweep to remove any leaves or debris, give it a thorough visual inspection so you can look for anything that might require attention.
This could be loose floorboards or railings, wood that’s warped or twisted, uneven surfaces, rough or splintered wood, or damage from insect or termite damage. Note, if this is the case, you may need to call an exterminator before proceeding with repairs.
If any ivy or plants are growing on the deck, consider trimming them back. Over time, the vines can cause structural damage. Plus, large shrubs or plants make it hard to see the deck, meaning mold or rotting could be happening without you noticing.
Check for Rot or Mold
Next, inspect your deck for rot or mold. If you live in a rainy area, or water tends to pool up around your deck, then you could be at risk. Or, if your deck isn’t draining correctly, then this allows standing water to damage your deck.
If you’re able, crawl under the deck to view it from all angles, as mold particularly likes dark, damp spaces, such as underneath the deck. Both rot and mold like to hide away in hard-to-see places, so don’t forget to look under railings and steps or even between floorboards.
Flakey, softwood can be a sign of dry rot. In this case, the damaged boards should be removed and replaced. If mold or mildew is present, this should be removed immediately, as it’s both bad for the deck and can be hazardous to the health of the home’s inhabitants.
To remove mold, make a solution of one cup of vinegar for every gallon of water, and scrub it off, ensuring it is all removed. Bleach can be used for this as well, but always use caution as it is a potentially dangerous chemical.
Scrub the Deck
Scrubbing the deck with a bristle brush will give it a thorough clean, removing dirt, mud, or stains. Water will often do the trick, but you can use a deck cleaner as well.
If you’re planning to sand and refinish your deck, always scrub it down first to prepare the surface. For larger decks or those with multiple stains, it might be faster to clean with a power washer. However, proceed with caution, as wood can sometimes be damaged by over-zealous power washers.
Follow the user instructions and take care not to hold the nozzle too close to the wood. Or, you can always hire a power washing company to do this part of the process for you.
Sand as Needed
If your deck is starting to age and has become rough, you may want to use a sanding machine, or even sandpiper, to improve its surface. We want our decks as smooth as can be, especially if the kids may be playing on it without shoes.
It’s recommended to use sandpapers with grits of no more than 60 or 80, to make sure you don’t smooth the wood too finely, which can prevent absorption of your sealant or stain. The sanding should be done after the power washing, but wait until the deck is completely dry first. When sanding, pay particular attention to the railings and handrails as well, as these are the surfaces people are likely to touch frequently.
You want to ensure they are smooth and free from splinters. After you’ve sanded each area, wipe it down with a rag or towel, removing dust and bits of wood from the deck before applying the stain or finish.
Perform Needed Repairs
If you haven’t already, perform any needed repairs before you reseal. This could be fixing protruding nails, replacing or fixing floorboards, rebuilding a section of railing, or anchoring down loose stairs.
Once you’re sure the deck is in perfect condition, structurally, you can move on to the resealing process.
Consider staining your deck every one to three years to keep it looking in top condition. However, this will vary based on your climate, sun exposure, the type of sealant you use, and your desired look.
Most sealants you use actually seep into the surface of the wood. However, if you’re painting your deck, the paint tends to sit on top of the wood. It can flake off over time, so you may need to paint more frequently to keep your deck looking pristine.
You can use a clear stain or a wood finish, both of which can create a beautiful look. To apply, use a paintbrush, a paint roller, or a paint sprayer, being mindful that you may require several coats.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and go slowly, ensuring you’re consistent and even in your application. For most people, this can easily be done within a weekend. Try not to touch or walk on the deck until it’s completely dry— a full day is best. Then, it’s safe to return your patio furniture to its place and start using it again.
Start Protecting Your Deck Today
Deck maintenance, if done properly, will keep your deck in perfect condition for years to come. Make time each year to look after your deck and deal with any issues as they arise, before they can become bigger problems.
With a bit of planning and elbow grease, you and your family will be enjoying a beautiful, smooth, and safe deck, just made for barbeques, parties, play dates, and fun.