24 August, 2016
Having a wooden deck or patio is a great way to enjoy the beauty of nature. Whether you’re entertaining guests at a dinner party, reading your favorite novel, or enjoying a mid-day snack with the kids, your outdoor space is an extended area of your home that offers endless benefits. However, without properly caring for your deck or patio, the wood can quickly become mistreated and dangerous, causing it to splinter, erode, and even rot.
Make sure your wooden outdoor areas are in prime condition and looking their best with these four simple maintenance tips.
1. Wash Away Winter
After several months of winter weather abuse, your deck needs a thorough cleaning come late spring. By neglecting this critical step, you’re essentially asking for mold and mildew. Thankfully, cleaning your deck is easier that you might think:
- First, clear away any debris that might have taken up residence over the winter. Use a putty knife for hard to reach areas like in between boards and areas where the decking crosses with the joists.
- Cover plants or shrubs with plastic to protect them from debris that might shake loose during the cleaning process.
- Using a standard wooden deck cleaner (found at any local hardware store) use a paint roller, garden sprayer, or stiff push broom to evenly spread the cleaner across your deck. Avoid letting the cleaner pool, and try not to let it dry until you’ve thoroughly scrubbed it into the wood.
- Rinse well with cold, clean water.
- Repeat the process to clean wooden railings.
Note, too, that the best time to clean your deck is during a cool, cloudy day when the sun won’t evaporate your cleaning solution. After two days of letting your deck completely dry, you can then move on to tip number two: sealing your deck.
2. Seal for Summer
Now that you have given your deck a good, hearty clean, it’s time to seal the wood to prepare it for harsh sun rays and endless summer activities. Sealing your deck is best done in late spring, just before summer kicks into full swing. Visit your local hardware store to pick up the deck sealer of your choosing. Below is a list of popular options to consider before making the trip:
- Transparent sealers are the perfect option if you want to highlight the natural tones and grains in the wood.
- Toners allow the natural essence of the wood to shine through but also provide a minimal amount of tint that helps protect the wood from UV rays. This is a good option for decks that only get a few hours of sunlight each day.
- Choose a semi-transparent stain for added color that still shows a bit of the natural grain.
- Solid stains completely cover the grain and color of the wood but provide the ultimate protection against weather damage and heavy traffic.
Mark out a two-day period on your calendar when you’ll have time to complete the project, making sure to avoid high temperatures, wind, and rain. Sand away any scuffed up marks from washing and replace or repair any nails or screws that have come loose over the winter. Use a large roller brush to completely cover the base decking and a paintbrush or small roller for railings and benches. Apply three coats for best results and be careful not to let the sealant or stain pool in any one area.
It’s important to remember that while solid stains and opaque finishes should be applied every other year, clear sealants and transparent toners must be reapplied annually to maintain optimum effectiveness.
3. Check The Deck
A good scrub and a thorough seal will help maintain your deck for most of the summer. However, to ensure it’s properly maintained, it’s a good idea to schedule a midsummer inspection. Make a checklist for your walk through:
- Look for rot. Areas that are six inches above the ground, close to water spigots, or surrounding planters are often prone to excessive water damage which can cause the wood to expand and rot. Use a flathead screwdriver to gently probe prone areas, stairs, and perimeter posts. Rot is typically indicated if your screwdriver sinks more than a quarter-inch into the wood.
- Go underneath your deck. Check the ledger, or section of framing that connects the deck to the exterior of your home. Use a flashlight to ensure that the ledger is still connected with lag screws as well as nails and make sure the metal sheet covering the top of the ledger – the flashing – isn’t rusting or deteriorating.
- While you’re underneath the deck, inspect other joists, posts, and beams for rot. Look joist hangers and nails over for rust. If you sense you have a structural issue, call a professional for repair.
- Finally, check for rotting or splitting deck boards or railings. If the wood seems to be splitting or cracking, seal it with an exterior adhesive and replace with a new deck screw.
4. Prevent Winter Problems
Come early fall, it’s time to start thinking about ways to protect your deck during the upcoming winter.
- Consider washing and sealing your deck again, or if you didn’t get a chance to do so in the spring.
- Trim surrounding trees and bushes to at least 12 inches from the deck to prevent mold, fungus, and rot.
- Sweep away fallen leaves, pine needles, dirt and other debris.
- Relocate chairs, tables, planters, benches, etc., to prevent discoloration over the winter.
- Clean and repair gutters and downspouts to ensure excessive moisture stays off of the wood.
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