Deck Repairs: 5 Ways to Locate Them
If you notice a slow decline in the appearance of your exterior deck or porch, it’s time to figure out what is needed to shape things back up. What are the indicators and signs of damage that deem replacement? Knowing how to identify these potentially problematic areas is essential. We are offering a few pointers on how to tell if your deck or porch requires repair or replacement.
We identify five of the most common areas to inspect for damages. But first, you must understand a few basic structural terms! Continue reading, and you will be able to view your deck and understand what needs to be done before an opportunistic deck builder has a chance to convince you to replace the entire deck if it’s not required.
Our Top-5 list will include structural explanations and visuals illustrating these areas and the technical names for structural and non-structural boards. But most critically, we will explain the difference between normal wood wear and total wood decay!
After reading this article, you will better understand your deck needs before calling a professional to do the work! Or, if the repairs are minor enough and you are handy, you may even be able to handle them on your own!
Deck Repair Locations & Common Failure
Before we cover the areas of a deck, here is an illustration to reference.
1) Deck flooring covers almost the entire deck’s surface, and most areas are exposed to UV, rain, and other elements. Horizontal planks that are subject to standing water take a beating. So, these areas are the most prone to failure.
2) Code requires rail caps on stairs to be no wider than 3 1/2 inches so that handrails are easy to grab. While this may help ergonomically, the 2×4 used to cap the handrails is more prone to failure. But this is not limited to stair rails – 2×4 caps are prone to failure regardless of the location. In the case of a well-built deck, all rail caps outside or stair railings should be capped with a 2×6 for added durability and strength.
3) Support posts are another area that fails over time. Most posts measure 6×6 for well-built decks or 4×4 on older builds. Both sizes are ground contact grade lumber but can decay prematurely if your deck posts are inside concrete footings. As the ground gets wet, concrete absorbs and holds water exposing the wood to moisture for an extensive amount of time.
4) Floor joists are also subject to premature failure if your deck is less than 3 feet off the ground. The best way to manage a deck close to ground level absorbing moisture is to place a vapor barrier under the deck. This barrier will dry out faster than wet soil and keep the soil underneath the barrier dry, prohibiting vegetational growth.
5) If your deck steps are not supported by a concrete pad but rather rest directly on the ground, you should inspect the stringers underneath the steps for excessive mildew growth and rot.
So, these are the areas to inspect, but how do you discern normal wear from wood that needs replacing? That’s the million-dollar question that we are going to answer!
Distinguishing Normal Wood Wear from Failure
For safety, structural integrity is critical to any deck, porch, or suspended structure. Freshly stained wood is beautiful, but it’s hazardous and useless if it can’t be weighted and doesn’t safely support foot traffic.
Although when your deck is showing slight wear or has a few boards that are starting to fail, it doesn’t mean your deck is a total loss! The floor and handrails can be removed and rebuilt if the substructure remains intact. But there is a distinguishable difference between normal wood wear and decay.
Normal wear includes the wood changing color, often to gray. Most wood sold is farm-raised and more subjected to splits and wood checking. So, minor breaks and cracks are regular and do not deem replacement.
On the other hand, wood rot is another subject. Pull it out even if the wood doesn’t appear degenerated entirely yet is soft and pliable! Follow the mold and mildewed areas when searching for wood rot and failure. These areas typically fail and degenerate faster than drier areas.
Wood rot is perpetual, causing further damage, and should be removed. For example, rotted deck boards can lead to a rotted sub-structure, such as floor joists!
Suppose you see black or green areas on your deck. Normally any discoloration is either mildew or decay, and both need to be eliminated. The mold can be cleaned, but the rot must be replaced immediately.
The Best Deck Build Practices
In the ’80s, there were cases where decks were collapsing by pulling away from the house. Today’s code requires lag bolts as a minimum fastener requirement, but carriage bolts are the best fasters to attach ledger boards to the house.
Deck screws are also best practice for fastening deck planks and handrail caps. Nothing is worse than having nails back out, causing the deck floor to become uneven.
Ground contact lumber is exceptionally critical in how long your deck will last. Whether you want a composite or wood deck, always purchase premium materials. You will be surprised how much longer, thicker, and more heavily treated lumber will last.
As a surprise to some, Home Depot has excellent deck lumber. For example, their floor planks are ground contact and measure 1 1/8 thick. They are actual 5/4 boards, unlike boards found at Lowes and other improvement stores that measure equal to or less than a solid inch.
Treated lumber is expensive, and for that reason, you don’t find 2x6s used for deck flooring like once before. But some may argue that a ground contact 2×6 will last just as long as a composite deck board. The only difference is the maintenance of having to stain it.
How To Apply Your Deck Repair Knowledge
Now that you improved your knowledge of deck building, what are your next steps? Here is a shortlist that may help!
- Before calling a deck builder or repair contractor, take a close look at your deck.
- Record measurements and take photos of what you find.
- Contact a professional, explain your concerns, and show them what you have found.
- Ask for their professional opinion.
- See how it compares to your expectations.
There is always room for healthy discourse by asking questions without making a contractor feel challenged or belittled. In doing so, you will learn and better understand the overall process.
When you generally understand the process, it equips you to make informed decisions confidently.
Hopefully, your deck project won’t be as intimidating and overwhelming as you thought! Maybe you can salvage your old deck after all.
Whatever the case, maybe having a little knowledge and insight will help along the way. Contact us anytime for your deck repair or replacement needs for further assistance!