In maintenance shops around the world–whether they’re responsible for maintaining lawn mowers or supersonic fighter jets–the preventative maintenance schedule is an unforgiving taskmaster. Preventative maintenance is responsible for keeping problems at a minimum–for keeping aircraft flying and mowers mowing in the face of Murphy’s Law. It’s such a mighty force for good that it’s a wonder that we don’t all have a preventative maintenance schedule for our homes.
Instead, what usually happens is that your spouse says they noticed a loose board on the deck, you say you’ll look at it, and you forget. A month later, when all your friends are over for a barbecue, that board gives way and your foot plunges through the deck, introducing your groin to the deck’s surface. Because there are a lot of witnesses, the other end of the board swings up to smack you in the face, possibly propelling you to YouTube fame, and certainly creating an evening that will be remembered. To keep your deck flooring safe (and prevent your humiliation on YouTube), it’s a good idea to make time once a year to take a good hard look at each major part of your deck structure and ask, “Should I repair or replace my deck?”
Where to Look and What to Look For
To ensure that your deck inspection is thorough, it’s best to look at each component of your deck in turn. There are four areas that you need to focus on when you do your own inspection:
- The surface of the deck includes your deck’s handrails, railings, and the deck boards themselves. Wooden surfaces exposed to moisture can and will rot, and UV light fades the color of wood, as well as damages the wood’s fibers making it easier for water to penetrate into the wood and damage it. Since the surface of your deck is most exposed to UV and moisture, it’s also the most vulnerable part of your deck, and is likely to degrade most quickly.
- The deck posts are the vertical parts of the deck’s substructure that hold it up and off the ground. Posts don’t usually receive large amounts of UV light and they shed water due to being vertical. However, there are two places that can accumulate water. The base of the post where it rests on the footer can rot if water gets caught there, and the area where the beams are attached to the post can also collect moisture.
- The beams and joists are the horizontal pieces of wood beneath the deck that support the deck boards. The beams are the larger of the two, with the joists running between them. Horizontal lumber, like beams and joists, usually rots first at the ends where it joins other timber. This is because the joint can trap moisture, and fasteners like screws provide a path for the moisture to penetrate the wood.
- The fascia board is a wide, thin board that wraps around the perimeter of the deck either just below the deck boards or concealing the ends of the deck boards. It is not a structural board, but is used to give the deck a neater appearance. Unfortunately, it can sometimes serve as a water trap, keeping moisture trapped against the beams behind it. If you notice discoloration of your deck boards around the perimeter of the deck, this may indicate that your fascia board is trapping moisture and possibly causing rot.
Now, no matter how regularly you inspect or maintain your deck by staining and sealing, its surface is going to need periodic replacement. If you’ve already reached that point, then you may want to consider replacing the deck’s surface with composite decking that looks like real wood but resists the elements better than wood does. If you do remove the surface of your deck, this is an ideal time to inspect the deck’s substructure. Damage in the substructure is a major issue, and if it is significant enough, it may be wise to replace the entire deck.
When Should I Repair or Replace My Deck?
When the cost of repairs starts to get close to the cost of replacing the entire deck, you should consider replacing the whole thing. Even decking materials that are structurally sound are still old, and you may have to replace them anyway in just a few years. The trick is figuring out where that line is. Something like a single rotten post is a pain to replace, with the surrounding beams needing to be braced with temporary supports while the post is swapped out with a new one, but it hardly justifies the cost of a new deck. Even replacing multiple posts hardly equals the cost of an entirely new deck. The exception, however, is if your posts are buried in the ground rather than resting on footers. This is an older practice, and while still used sometimes, it has a serious drawback. Buried posts have a tendency to rot beneath the ground level, dramatically shortening their lifespan. If you see this when repairing a deck, it is definitely worth giving serious thought to a complete rebuild using concrete footers.
While posts are fairly easy to swap out, beams are a different story. These hold up the joists, which are the supports for your deck boards. Having to remove a beam means having to remove a number of joists as well. Outside of some narrow circumstances, replacing a beam means replacing large sections of the deck. If you’re taking care of things yourself, then carefully removing the joists for reuse may be practical. If you’re using hired labor then the cost per hour of doing this may make replacing the entire thing cheaper. Finally, if water is getting trapped behind the fascia board then it’s likely that water is being held against the entire length of the beam. Because of this, if you have a fascia board problem you’re probably better off replacing the deck than repairing it.
Choosing Materials to Replace Deck Components
Whether you’re replacing or repairing your deck, you should consider using materials that may hold up for a bit longer than pressure treated lumber. Galvanized steel substructures are a new and longer-lasting alternative to pressure treated lumber for the deck’s substructure. For the surface, which is most vulnerable to UV and water damage, you may want to consider composite decking. Composite deck boards have a few advantages over wood:
- Plastic components make them less vulnerable to microbes and less appetizing to insects.
- Fully capped boards resist moisture from all sides. Capping also makes composite decking barefoot-friendly and splinter-free.
- Engineered fasteners ensure proper ventilation and don’t provide moisture a path into the board.
Whether you’re repairing your deck’s surface or replacing the whole thing, it is worth considering alternative materials like steel substructures and composites to extend the life of your deck. They’ll save you money on repairs over the long haul, and they’ll save you time. They may also save you likes on YouTube that you’d rather not have.
There are many composite decking solutions out there, but one of the best is Infinity composite decking by Fortress Deck. It’s bamboo-based composite decking with a rigidity that compares favorably to wood–requiring no extra joists–and is far more durable and resistant to the elements than your typical pressure-treated pine. Infinity decking also works with hidden fasteners, so you can create a smooth, comfortable, indoor-like deck surface. If you like Fortress’ uniqueness and durability, take a look at their other lines of stylish, tough products.