Protecting Your Deck From the Elements

Whether it’s the harsh winds of winter or the blazing sun of summer, your deck can stand the test of time – if you take measures to protect it from the elements.

You can safeguard your favorite outdoor living space with small additions like flashing tape or bigger investments such as composite building materials.

The average wooden deck – unless protected – begins to rot at age 8-10. However, you can ensure your deck lasts much longer with these steps:

For a new deck

If you’re starting from scratch, you have the perfect opportunity to build a deck to last. While the deck’s substructure is under construction, take time to use deck flashing tape to cover all joists and beams.

Because it’s harder to see this foundation once the top deck boards are installed (and nearly impossible to install after construction), using a high-quality butyl tape can give you peace of mind.

When wood joists and beams are regularly exposed to water, they can begin to rot. Water may also seep into screw holes and damaged fasteners. Flashing tape helps to seal around these vital metal connectors and prevent rusting and cracking.

While you’re at it, cover the ledger board – where your deck attaches to your home. The first deck board is generally mounted slightly away from your house, leaving a small gap where water and ice can become trapped.

Over time, this trapped water will cause your wood, even treated lumber, to rot. Wall flash seals the space between your house and the deck to keep water out of the gap. Easy-to-install, self-adhesive wall flash protects the gap.

Additionally, while under construction, you can add an under-deck drainage system to your two-story deck and create dry, useable space beneath.

With a drainage system catching and diverting water, you can even install a ceiling and create a room beneath your deck for storage, entertaining, or relaxing.

An under deck drainage system installed at the time of construction, one that goes over the joists, is much better than drainage systems added later that allow water to drip through the deck boards, over the wooden substructure, and then into the guttering. This is a recipe for moisture and wood rot. Remember to install an over-joist system.

For an existing deck

Dirt, debris, and vegetation are magnets for moisture, your deck’s greatest enemy. Keeping your deck clean is as easy as regularly sweeping or leaf-blowing away any leaves or other elements that land on your deck boards.

Then, wash off the boards with soap and water. Scrubbing by hand is better than using a power washer, which can damage wood fibers and create splintering. Rinse off all soap to avoid building up a film on your deck boards.

Once your deck is clean, consider taking time to stain or seal your deck. This helps to ensure that water runs off your deck rather than seeping into the wood and causing damage.

Adding stain or seal enhances the beauty of your deck while helping to waterproof your valuable outdoor living space. Follow these steps to apply sealant:

Timing. A sunny day, preferably above 50°F is best for sealing.
— Cleaning. Make sure the surface is clean, as noted above.
— Sanding. If needed, sand down any rough surfaces. Clean off sawdust, especially between the boards.
— Prepping. Stir, don’t shake, the sealer to keep out bubbles.
Applying. Apply a thin coat with a brush, roller, or sprayer. Thinner is better, and more can be applied as needed.
— Drying. Let it dry completely before moving furnishings back on deck.

Take time each year to inspect your deck for damage and rusty fasteners. Look for dark spots where water may be pooling. Check for cracked, rotting, or spongy boards. Use a screwdriver to check for flaking or soft spots.

You may be able to replace boards and damaged parts yourself or you may need to hire a pro. Either way, be sure the job is done right so your deck is safe for visitors.

Additionally, look for signs of insect damage: wood shavings below the deck, winged ants on the deck, a hollow sound in the boards, spongy boards, or sunken wood.

Keep snow and ice off the deck boards when possible.  Keep a broom and plastic shovel on hand to push off the snow as soon as you are able after a snowfall.  If you don’t act quickly, the snow may melt in the sun and freeze at night making it much harder to remove.

Some homeowners use a tarp to cover the entire deck for the winter. If you do so, make sure it’s a breathable tarp so that moisture doesn’t get trapped, growing mold and mildew.

Cut back overhanging tree limbs, overgrown shrubs, and climbing vines. These natural elements can be dangerous as well as aesthetically unpleasing. Be sure to prune the vegetation based on the variety and time of year to ensure you don’t damage your favorite plants.

In the heat of summer, provide some shade with an awning or sun umbrellas. This will prevent the quicker fading of your stain. Plus, it makes it more pleasant to spend time outdoors.

Make sure your deck is an enjoyable and safe outdoor living space for many seasons to come. From relaxing with a cool drink in a hammock on a warm July day to grilling on deck as cooler temperatures set in, your deck provides a breath of fresh air. Cheers to that!

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