Outdoor Decking: 10 Important Areas to Check
1. Check for splitting, warping and rotting.
Boards on your deck which have begun to split or warp will create tripping hazards, and further, they can be a sign that your deck is not being properly maintained for protection against moisture. Lack of protection from moisture allows wood to swell and then shrink, which leads to splitting and warping. If you see splitting and warping this could mean that your wood does not have the proper stain / sealant (and we’ll be discussing how to do a simple “Splash Test” later), or it could mean that you do not have proper drainage of water away from your deck. But if left un-repaired, this situation could result in the wood deteriorating to the point where it affects the structural integrity of your deck, creating a significant safety problem for you. When you are doing your inspection, use a strong screwdriver or wood awl to explore any soft areas for wood rot, and keep an eye out especially for any signs of bugs boring into your wood.
2. Look for signs of mold and mildew.
Mold, mildew, and rot can be caused by a number of factors. It could be from water not draining properly from your deck, or it can be caused by the type of oil-based stain that you are using, which actually acts as a food source for molds and algae. In addition to being unsightly, mold and mildew can create slipping hazards and can lead to rotting that can ruin your deck.
3. Check water drainage around your deck.
Sealing or staining your deck will provide some protection of your decking again moisture, but without proper drainage of water away from your deck, your deck can still be damaged by moisture. You will want to be sure that your decking has the proper pitch to keep water from standing on your boards. And you will want to be sure that roof gutters are not blocked and allowing water to splash onto your deck. Also, you will want to be sure that the ground underneath your deck is graded properly to have water drain away from your deck.
4. Conduct a “Splash Test.”
For wooden decks, a “splash test” is a simple test to see if your wood is being properly protected against moisture. All you need to do is to splash some water on your deck boards, and then wait 15 minutes to see if the water beads up, or if it absorbs into the wood. If it absorbs into your wood, then your deck needs to be re-sealed / re-stained to give it the necessary protection against moisture.
5. Check for loose nails or screws on the deck.
Walk around your deck with a hammer (or screwdriver if your boards are screwed down), and fix any places where the nails or screws have started to come up. Loose nails or screws create tripping and safety hazards.
6. Check railings/ balustrades.
An important safety feature of your deck is its railings and balustrades. You should check all of them to be sure they are still strong and firmly attached. Any that are loose should be fixed immediately.
7. Check support posts.
Check for any for loose connections between posts and the deck’s beams. Tighten any bolts as needed.
8. Check flashing and ledger boards.
Flashing is the sheet metal where your deck meets the walls of your home, and it is there to deflect water to keep it away from the ledger boards which attach your deck to your house. Repair or re-caulk any damaged flashing, and if you can get under your deck, check your ledger boards for bolts which need to be tightened, signs of rotting, etc.
9. Check the electrical sockets on the deck.
If you have outdoor electrical receptacles near your deck, these should all be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (“GFCI”). You should press the buttons on the GFCI to test that they are operating properly, and if not, they should be immediately repaired.
10. Check trees hanging over the deck.
And finally, if you have trees overhanging your deck, you might want to consider cutting back their limbs to help reduce sap stains and reducing the risks of limbs falling down on your deck.