Deck owners understand that maintenance and inspection of their hardwood deck is the key to ensuring the deck has a long life. If you allow issues to go unattended for long periods of time, the strongest hardwoods will succumb to the elements. Rain, wind, heat, and cold all have adverse effects on hardwood decking over time, and the only way to keep your deck in great shape is to keep it repaired.
Many homeowners buy a home that already has a deck attached to it. When this is the case, it is important to know exactly what the deck needs in order to continue to be useful. A thorough inspection is necessary to determine whether a hardwood deck needs to be repaired or replaced. Here are some things you should look for to help you determine your course of action.
First, inspect the bases of the deck posts. All hardwoods can show signs of rot, if they’re left untreated, and the posts can be one of the first places it will be noticed. When deck posts are placed in the ground, most contractors will pour concrete around the base to secure the post and prevent it from moving. Sometimes the dirt will settle around the base of the post, and allow water to stand in puddles when it rains. While this may not seem to be that much of an issue, over time water can weaken the post, and the fact that it is allowed to settle around the base can cause the post to rot. Posts that show signs of rot should be replaced immediately, as they can break without warning, and could cause an injury to anyone standing on the deck, if the deck should shift or fall.
The next place to check for signs of rotten wood is under the deck itself. The joists that hold the decking boards will often show signs of rot, due to the fact that screws or nails are driven into them when the decking boards are attached. Water will sit around the heads of the nails or decking screws and eventually will work its way through the decking board and into the joists below. While hardwoods are much stronger and more resistant to water damage than pine, over time water can cause serious damage. Signs of rotten wood can include mold, soft wood that you can easily break away with your fingers, and water stains that are a different color than the wood surrounding them.
Deck railing systems often show signs of rot after years of being in the weather. Wind and rain beat on the railing system and the sun dries it out, which can cause the boards to warp and crack. When hardwoods begin to crack open, they are more exposed to the elements. Water can find its way to the heart of the board, where it works the most damage. When deck railings become weakened or rotten they pose a serious risk to those who may spend time on the deck. Children often climb on deck rails, and adults tend to lean on them. Rotten rails can break without warning, and could cause serious injuries.
The final place to inspect is the deck surface itself. Soft wood decking weathers over time, and will often crack, warp, and twist. Hardwoods are less prone to these problems, especially hardwoods like Ipe and Tigerwood. While this is a natural process, it can be slowed through the use of water sealers and special treatments. Weathering is not necessarily an indication of trouble or decay, but is simply a sign that the wood is aging. Over time, individual boards may need to be replaced as they could pull free from the support system. In some cases, such as when a home is purchased with an old deck attached to it, the entire surface may be beyond repair.
Hardwoods offer some of the most beautiful construction options for decks. However, they do require some maintenance to keep them in good repair. Regular inspections and preventive maintenance, such as yearly treatments with a water sealant, often go a long way toward increasing the lifespan of your investment. If rotten wood is noticed in multiple places in each of the areas mentioned above, then replacing your deck might be the best option for you. However, if a thorough inspection reveals only a couple of decking boards that should be replaced, or a piece of the railing system that is giving in to time and age, then a few minor repairs might get the job done. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, call a local deck contractor and ask them for an inspection. Good contractors are familiar with hardwoods and know how to maintain them. They can easily tell you if you should repair your deck, or replace it with a new one.
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