As the days warm up and the evenings get later, it’s time to get ready for summer! We’ve written before about sprucing up your entire back yard for summer, but today we’re looking specifically at getting your deck ready!
Your deck needs tender loving care each year to stay in top shape –and that’s not even counting the harsh winter weather that may have left your desk looking a little worse for wear come spring!
However, with these few simple tips and tricks, you’ll have your deck ready for summer in no time!
What Causes a Deck to Age?
To understand how to get your deck ready for summer, you have to understand what causes it to wear out in the first place.
Wood is a natural material that will age very rapidly without an intact layer of sealant protecting it. Aged wood becomes gray, warped, and brittle, and can give splinters to bare feet, playful kids, and pets.
A protective sealant layer prevents this from happening year-round but can break down over time. Transparent and semi-transparent coatings also wear thin, exposing bare wood; whereas solid and semi-solid coatings accumulate an unpleasant layer of grime and become sticky underfoot.
Both the sealant layer and the wood underneath typically wear out from:
Normal Use: Simply walking on your deck breaks down the sealant coating and also warps the wood over time.
Rain and Dampness: This causes moisture to get into the wood which can cause it to swell, distort, and potentially rot.
Windy, Dry Air: This dehydrates the wood, making it thirsty and brittle, which causes it to warp and give off splinters.
Direct Sunlight: This breaks down the wood chemically causing it to turn gray and lifeless.
Freezing and Thawing: The water in and around the wood expands when it freezes, putting enormous stress on the wood and eventually causing it to crack.
Heavy Smog or Wildfire Smoke: Air pollution damages the sealant layer and can discolor the wood underneath.
Infestations: If not properly sealed, a deck can eventually become infested with termites or mold, creating various safety hazards.
How to Inspect and Refurbish Your Deck
To get your deck ready for summer, we recommend a three-part plan: inspect, repair, and reseal.
● Inspect the Support Structure:
Your first step should always be to inspect the structural integrity. Go underneath the deck with a flashlight and look for rotted posts or joists (see a list of deck terminology). Inspect every piece of wood, using a damp towel to get past any mud, dust, or cobwebs so that you can look at the wood itself. Also, check for signs of sinking. Any problems with the support structure of your deck is a major repair project that you should probably leave to a contractor.
● Inspect the Topside:
Usually, the underside of the deck will be fine. Next, go up top and check the status of the stain and sealant layer. Most decks need to be restained and resealed every one to five years, give or take depending on usage and weather. Longer than that and the wood starts to age poorly. After checking the surface of the deck as a whole, check the individual deck boards and railings themselves, noting any wood pieces that are cracked, chipped, splintering, or warped.
● Replace Damaged Wood Parts:
Any cracked or severely chipped wood should be completely replaced.
● Sand, Scrub, and Clean Your Deck:
Now you’re ready for the main step! Sand smooth all splintering and chipped areas. Then use a bristle brush to give the entire deck a thorough scrub. You need to get the old sealant layer completely off.
When you’re done, sweep all the debris away and hose down the deck. Next, clean the wood with a deck cleaning solution, following the instructions on the label. Afterward, you’re ready to apply the new stain and sealant layer.
When choosing a stain, a transparent or semi-transparent stain will make the wood look more natural, which is great for newer, beautiful wood. A solid or semi-solid stain will give you more control over the final color and offers the wood more protection from sunlight. You can also use paint instead of stain, though make sure you use paint graded for being walked on, as regular paint won’t hold up.
Don’t Forget Electrical Safety!
Refurbishing your deck is also a good opportunity to inspect and improve your outdoor electrical wiring, and hire an electrician to take care of any problems you find, such as:
Replacing Damaged Wiring:
The insulative cover on electrical wiring can be torn by accident and can grow brittle and crack on its own over time. The wiring underneath can also become frayed or bent in various ways. Even your deck repair work can unintentionally damage any existing wiring. Damaged wiring is always unsafe, but it’s especially dangerous outdoors where exposure to the elements is likely.
Replacing or Upgrading Outlets and Junction Boxes:
Do you have outlets and boxes where you need them out on your deck? It’s not a good idea to run extension cords (though if you do, use heavy-duty ones). A qualified electrician can run safe conduit wherever you need it, even clear across to the far side of your deck!
Upgrading Electrical Capacity:
If you plan to run stereo equipment, large numbers of lights, or any high-wattage appliances (500 watts or more) on your deck circuit, it may be wise to upgrade the circuit to a higher amperage or even add an additional circuit. This may be especially important in an older home with wiring that was installed to less stringent safety standards than we have today. Remember that running power over a longer distance (i.e., a large deck) adds strain on the circuit!
Do-It-Yourself vs. Professional Deck Maintenance
Refurbishing and resealing your deck is a lot of work. Professional labor is available, but of course, it will cost extra. If you’re having trouble deciding which way to go, take a look at the pros and cons of DIY vs. professional deck maintenance.
Whichever option you choose, we hope this guide helps you to get your deck looking beautiful, healthy, and ready for summer!