Hit the Deck

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

It may be a little crisp outside right now, but before you know it, itll be time to hit the backyard again. Is your deck ready for the rush of spring gatherings and barbecues that are sure to creep in along with the warm weather? The cold, wet winter can leave unused decks dirty and weatherwornnot an ideal place to entertain guests. So put on some old clothes, gather up a few supplies and dedicate a weekend to dealing with your deck.


Photo courtesy of DeckWright

Weatherworn
As with all outdoor spaces, decks are most affected by the weather, particularly the constant wetting and drying of the wood by rain and sun. One of the best things you can do for your deck all year round is to keep it clear of debris. Leaves and pine needles that collect in piles and in corners hold moisture, which is what causes rot, says Rick Goldstein of DeckWright.

Warped and cracked boards are also products of the elements, especially in the winter months. When water freezes in the cracks of the boards, it expands, and the wood splits and cracks, says David McWhirter, president of SealMaxx of Greater Atlanta. Even pressure-treated wood, which can help prevent some rot and termite damage, is not immune to the weather.

Aesthetics should come second to ensuring that your deck is a safe, durable structure. You can always make it look better, but its not as easy to rebuild the structure, McWhirter says. Of course, warped or rotted wood is no fun to look at, and the sun also plays a roleultraviolet (UV) rays can bleach the wood, turning it gray. To keep your deck safe and beautiful, restain and reseal it every one to two years.


Photo courtesy of DeckWright

Wash up
Before you seal the deck, it will need a thorough cleaning to wash off dirt or algae. Youve got two options: pressure washing or hand washing. While renting a pressure washer for a couple of hours is probably the quickest and easiest option, you need to be careful. In fact, Goldstein recommends that nonprofessionals skip the pressure washer altogether. Most people have the pressure on too high, and they end up splintering and damaging the wood, he says.

Instead, try using a deck cleaner and a broom with stiff bristles, followed by a wood brightener. If you do decide to pressure wash, use the lowest setting possible to make sure your deck stays in one piece.


Photo courtesy of Dry-B-Lo

Support system
With the winter grime washed away, its time to play deck doctor. Examine every part of the deck for any safety issues that may have arisen since your last inspection. If your deck is nailed, check for nail pops, says Frank Pologruto, owner of Decks & More Inc. Also check for loose, warped or rotted boards, and check the vertical supports.

The vertical supports are the most important thing to check, since they are responsible for holding the whole thing up. On wood supports, check for rot and large, deep cracks. A lot of people have steel supports, and those tend to rust, says Goldstein, who recommends cleaning the supports and spraying them with a rust inhibitor. If the supports look extremely rotted or corroded, or if theyre wobbly, call a professional to come take a lookthe company that built the deck should be able to fix the problem.


Photo courtesy of Dry-B-Lo

Nailed down
Loose nails are easy enough to fixjust use a nail set to drive them back inbut it might be a good idea to go ahead and replace any popped up nails with screws. Stainless-steel screws with screw fasteners will hold better and last longer than nails, Goldstein says.

If you find any rotted or warped spots, replace individual boards that have problems. Make sure any new boards you buy are the same dimensions as the old ones, and cut them to fit the space exactly. When youre replacing boards and nails, dont forget the railings and stairs, both of which can pose huge safety problems if theyre not sturdy. Once everything is screwed in and ready to go, check one last time for rough spots in the wood that may need to be sanded. When all the repairs have been made, youre ready to seal the deck against the elements.

Photo courtesy of Decksouth Inc.

A tight seal
There are several types of finishes to choose from when coating your deck, but the most important part is the sealant itself. With most sealants, you need to reseal every year or two, but some of the newer products will allow you seal once and then give up the chore for good.

SealMaxx of Greater Atlanta offers a sealant that penetrates into every pore of the wood. Many other sealants are just surface sealants that wear off pretty quickly, McWhirter says. A lot of homeowners who seal their own decks get tired of doing it every year. Products like SealMaxx, which comes with a 25-year warranty, will last for yearsat least as long as youre likely to be in your home. This type of treatment can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on location and square footage, but it may be well worth it when it comes to protecting your investment. And the more protected your deck is, the longer youll be able to enjoy it.

DRY
DOWN UNDER

Photo courtesy of Dry-B-Lo
Want to expand your outdoor space? Just look below your deck! Several companies now are offering deck drainage systems that allow you to construct a usable two-story space for outdoor entertaining.

Dry-B-Lo in Atlanta offers five different hidden channel systems that drain water away from decks to provide a covered lower level. People with raised decks are often frustrated with the wasted space underneath, says Grant Moore, founder and president of Dry-B-Lo. We can create an attractive custom system for them that really increases their living space. Lots of people put in fans, swings, outdoor kitchens and spas that they didnt have room for before.

Deck drainage systems can also help prevent moisture and mildew problems from water from collecting against the side of the house, and you may see less erosion around your home, too. So get ready to take the party below deck!

Overwhelmed by the choices when it comes to finishing your deck? Consider a few key points about the most common types of finishes.

All Finished

Film-Forming Finishes
Pros
Form a thin layer over the surface to which they are applied.
Pigments protect completely from UV rays.
Slow the movement of moisture into and out of wood.
Seal in natural resins.

Cons
If the wood has been dried, it needs moisture replenishment.
Can wear away in high-traffic areas.

Solid-Color Stains
Pros
Also form a film.
Look and act like thin paints; sometimes called opaque stains.
Difference between paint and solid stains is that solid stains can show the
grain of the wood.

Cons
Will wear away quickly when walked on often.
May peel or trap moisture.

Varnishes
Pros
Another film-forming finish.

Cons
Very impractical for outdoor use due to high maintenance issues.

Penetrating Finishes
Pros
Absorb into the wood, saturating surface fibers and completely filling surface pores.
Many contain wood preservatives in addition to water repellents.
Preservatives control the growth of mildew and other fungi.
Two categories: transparent and semi- transparent.

Cons

More expensive; take longer to apply.

Source: Decksouth Inc.

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