Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Kevin in KY: Hey Brian. The deck outside our back door isn’t huge but we use it a lot during the summer months. I’m not sure how old the deck is but we’ve been in our home for a little over six years and the house is 14 years old. Other than fading stain and some marks, there isn’t anything on the top side that shows damage yet. The deck is at ground level, I don’t know what condition it’s in underneath. Considering the cost of lumber these days, I’d like to maintain the deck as long as possible. What maintenance do you recommend before the end of the summer?
Answer: Hello Kevin. I like the way you think. A little maintenance before the end of the summer could save you a lot of money and time next summer and for many years after that. You might be surprised how much longer a deck will last with proper maintenance. A deck built with low-quality materials and no maintenance can begin failing in three years or less. A properly built deck that is maintained can last for 20 years or more before needing to be replaced.
You want to start with an inspection of your deck. It’s much easier to do a thorough inspection if your deck is above ground a few feet so that you can get underneath to look around. Since your deck is close to the ground, you’ll probably need to pull up a couple of the top boards. I recommend pulling up top boards closest to where the deck attaches to the house. Look for screws and bolts that have loosened and/or rusted at the deck-to-house connection. Tighten and replace fasteners as required. Also, look for any indication that moisture might be getting inside your house. Most common are telltale black stains. You may also want to pull up a few more boards (several feet apart) to look for structural damage that isn’t near your house.
Inspect both under the deck and the top surface for cosmetic damage and rotted wood. If you find rotted wood in the structural members, you’ll need to determine if it must be replaced or if a deck repair can save your existing deck. There are good polyester fillers available to make repairs if the damage isn’t too severe. Use a wood chisel, putty knife, and/or screwdriver to dig out all the rot. Once you have all the rot out, you’ll know how bad the damage is. If you ignore rot, it will spread and cause more serious structural deterioration. Use a two-part polyester filler to rebuild rotted or damaged wood. If you can’t decide whether to replace or repair, the right choice is replacing. Fillers are more appropriate for cosmetic repairs than structural.
The next step is giving your deck a good cleaning. There are several deck cleaning solutions available. Many can be attached to the end of a garden hose for easy application. But don’t just spray it on and forget it. Doing a thorough cleaning requires a stiff-bristle brush and enough elbow grease to work the mixture into the wood. These are strong chemicals. Wear eye protection and gloves when working with concentrated chemicals. Also, protect anything that might accidentally get sprayed like plants and lawn furniture. If you have really tough stains, you may need a pressure washer. If you pressure wash, use a fan-type nozzle instead of a pinpoint nozzle that can dig into the wood. After cleaning, rinse thoroughly and let the deck dry completely before applying a new sealant coat. After you clean it, it’s a good idea to give it another inspection to see if the cleaning reveals any other damage needing your attention.
Now go over the top of the deck looking for more loose, missing, or rusted fasteners. Tap down any popped nails or consider replacing them with screws. Also, look for splintering. No one wants a two-inch splinter in their hand from a handrail or in their barefoot from the deck. Kevin, once everything is repaired, it’s time to put a good protective finish on your deck. Clear and transparent finishes often don’t work well on older desks. You probably want to go with a semitransparent stain that will hide any remaining marks or blemishes. The best technique is spaying a generous amount of the finish on first and then following up with a brush to work it into the wood and to get an even coat. Some people try a roller rather than a brush, but a roller tends to push the finish off the sides of the boards. If you don’t get an even coat, it can dry blotchy. Remember to protect the side of the house, plants, and anything else from overspray. If you want to apply a second coat of stain, it should be applied while the first coat is still wet or follow-on coats will not absorb into the wood.
Kevin, that should preserve your deck for several more years. The stain doesn’t peel, but it can wear away, in high-traffic areas. You can apply a fresh coat of stain every other year. A final clear water repellent can be applied now and between bi-yearly stainings for extra protection.
What tips do you have for bringing life back to an older deck? Please add your comments.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].