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Seasonal Deck Maintenance, Easy as 1-2-3

Deck maintenance is easily managed between three seasons—spring, summer and fall. It’s a simple way to stay on top of the job. Exposed to the elements year-round, decks benefit from annual deck cleaning and routine maintenance. Upkeep to protect your deck thwarts and prevents expensive repairs and protects your investment.

Here’s a simple deck maintenance schedule, along with a few tips, to ensure your deck has a long life and looks appealing.

Spring

Wash the Deck. An unwashed deck encourages mold and mildew, which can cause rot.
Here’s how to wash your deck:

  • Remove debris from between deck boards using a putty knife. Pay special attention to the areas where deck boards cross the joists—the structural members underneath the decking—and where stairs meet the ground.
  • Protect all shrubs and plantings. Wet them and cover them with plastic sheeting.
  • Thoroughly sweep the deck.
  • Choose an appropriate cleanser.
    • Wood deck: Use a standard deck cleaner and follow its directions. Some require the decking to be wet first. Some don’t.
    • Composite deck: Use a cleaner specifically formulated for composite material. Attack grease and oil stains with a commercial degreaser and detergents.
    • Vinyl (cellular PVC) deck: You’ll only need to use warm water and a mild soap to remove mold, mildew, and dirt.
  • Clean the deck. Choose a cloudy day when the decking is cool, and the sun won’t evaporate the cleaner.
    • Wood deck: Use a paint roller, a garden sprayer, or a stiff-bristled brush broom to apply the cleaner. Don’t let it pool and don’t let the deck dry until you’ve scrubbed it clean. Then let it soak according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually about 10 minutes). Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
    • Composite deck: Scrub with a soft brush. Do not use a pressure washer—it can permanently damage the decking and will void any warranty. Remove rust and leaf stains with a deck brightener containing oxalic acid.
    • Vinyl deck: Scrub in a circular motion using a stiff broom, then rinse thoroughly.
    • Allow deck to dry. Wait two days before sealing.

Seal the Deck. Choose a two-day window with clear skies and moderate temperatures predicted.

  • Choose a sealer or stain. These are available at home improvement centers. There are essentially two finish options: annual and biennial.
    • Annual:
      • Clear sealer, which allows the wood’s natural grain and color show.
      • Toner, which adds a bit of color but fully reveals the grain and provides some protection against ultraviolet sunlight.
    • Biennial:
      • Semi-transparent stain which tints the wood but allows some grain show.
      • Solid stain and opaque color, which seal weathering damage and completely cover the grain.

When reapplying stain finishes, use the same or a slightly darker color as previously used. It’s always recommended to wear gloves, a safety mask and eye protection when applying stain and sealers.

  • Sand the deck lightly. Use a pole sander and 80-grit paper to remove any furriness caused by washing.
  • Replace any missing or protruding nails with deck screws slightly longer than the nail. If a nail is raised only slightly, pound it in; you may do more harm than good trying to pull it out.

TIP: When pulling out the nail with a hammer or pry bar, use a scrap of wood as a fulcrum for greater leverage and to avoid damaging the deck.

  • Apply the sealer or stain. Use a roller to apply the sealer to the decking and brushes, or small rollers for railings, planters, and benches. Don’t let the sealant dry or puddle. Two thin coats are better than one thick one.

TIP: Deck sealants aren’t required or recommended for composite decks, although some composite decking can be stained to restore color. Only use a product intended for composites. Remember, the density of color will be less than that achieved with wood.

Midsummer

Inspect and repair your deck. Warm and dry days are the perfect time to closely inspect your deck’s structure. Pay particular attention to any areas within six inches of the ground or close to water sources, such as downspouts and planters.

  • Look for signs of rot. Probe structural parts with a flat-head screwdriver. Begin by checking stair stringer (the saw-tooth notched pieces that support the steps) and where the stringer meets the ground. Check perimeter posts. If a screwdriver pushes a quarter- to half-inch or more into an area, it may have rot.

TIP: Remove areas of rot the size of a silver dollar or smaller with a chisel and fill the hole with outdoor wood preservative. Larger areas may require the structural member to be replaced.

  • Inspect the ledger. The ledger attaches the deck to the house and is the most important part of the framing. Using a flashlight, check underneath your deck to closely inspect the ledger. Ninety percent of all deck collapses are caused by damaged ledgers.

TIP: For safety, the ledger must be attached with lag screws, not just nails. The flashing—the metal cap that covers the top of the ledger and prevents moisture from getting behind the siding—should not show signs of rust and holes.

  • Check remaining joists, posts and beams. Check all the hardware underneath the deck, especially joist hangers, and replace anything too rusted to be safe and secure. Probe for signs of rot on the posts and joists.

TIP: If a part of the framing can’t be easily removed and replaced, you have the option to reinforce it. This is sometimes called “sistering.” For example, if a joist shows areas of rot, you can add a splint of comparable pressure-treated lumber alongside it, attaching the splint with a few three-inch deck screws every 12 inches. Then, chisel away the rotted area and shield the raw wood with outdoor wood preservative.

  • Check for cracks or rotted decking boards. Not all cracks are a structural threat, but they’ll get worse with time. If you find damage it is best practice to replace the board.
  • Check the railing. Shake posts to find loose or damaged pieces. Fix loose connections by drilling pilot holes and securing them with galvanized lag screws. Over time cracks can form around fasteners such as nails or screws. To repair, remove the fastener and seal the crack with an exterior-grade adhesive. Then, drill a new pilot hole and secure with a new galvanized deck screw.

Fall

Preventive Measures. Fall is also a good time to wash and seal your deck if you didn’t get a chance to do so in the spring. The point is to do it when temperatures are mild. Otherwise, do these things in the fall to keep your deck in good shape:

  • Trim nearby bushes and trees.
  • Trees and bushes need to be at least 12 inches from the deck to slow mold, moss, and rot.
  • Don’t allow leaves and other debris to accumulate in corners.
  • Move planters, chairs and tables occasionally to avoid decking discoloring. Keep nearby gutters and downspouts in good repair.

A deck provides an inviting connection with the outdoors, adds to a home’s beauty and often serves as the first step into a world of outdoor activities. But decks endure continued exposure to weather. After a few years, without proper care, they become weathered and unappealing. Following the steps outlined above will ensure plenty of use in the years to come.

And regardless of the season, be sure to use a credit card with cash back and rewards so you can earn money back when purchasing supplies for your home’s outdoor spaces.

Bonus: Grill Prep and Maintenance

One of the most important things you’ll need for your deck is, of course, a great grilling set up. Here are some great barbeque grill tips and tricks.

  1. Season your grill. Some grills today have porcelain enamel grates which don’t require seasoning, so check your grill’s manual to avoid any unnecessary effort.

This isn’t about spices. For grills, seasoning is about oil and helps avoid grate rust. For new grills, spray cold grates evenly with a high-heat cooking spray, like canola oil. Then, use medium heat for about 15 minutes until the oil burns off or starts to smoke. Then, at the end of each future grilling session brush off food debris. Now your grill is ready for seasoning before the next use.

  1. Fire safety. Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby while grilling. Ensure the area around the grill is clear of any flammable objects, including ample room between an open grill lid and other objects (like your home). Regularly check and empty the grill’s grease collection tray. Avoid a grease fire by emptying a full tray.
  2. Prep food. Prep all meats and veggies inside before you bring them outside to the grill. You’ll need a clean plate to place and serve the grilled food, as well as clean tongs and/or spatula. It’s important not to use the same utensil used with raw meat to remove or serve cooked meat.
  3. Preheat. Gas grills only need about ten minutes of preheat time. Then, keep the grill’s lid raised while lighting, turn the valve of your propane tank to open, turn one burner on and press the ignition button on the grill. Once the first burner is lit, continue turning on as many other burners as you’d like to use.

Charcoal grills need about 20 minutes to preheat. Discard ashes from any previous use. Next, open all the vents on the bottom of your grill to allow maximum airflow to fan the flame. Start your charcoal grill with a small amount of lighter fluid and some old newspaper or with a chimney starter. Your grill’s manual will provide information about the right charcoal size and shape for your model.

  1. Grill maintenance. If you’ve regularly checked and emptied the grease tray and brushed food debris from the grates after each use, then you’ve already completed half the maintenance. Additionally, check your propane tank for leaks throughout grill season. Lastly, invest in a grill cover to protect it when not in use.

Resources: bobvila.com, CNET, HFTV.com, Home Depot, HomeTips LLC, Houselogic.com, DIY Network

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