The Everyman’s Guide to Keeping a Deck in Top Shape

The deck of the house is where you host neighborhood cookouts, crack that first beer with junior as you give him your sage advice, and reflect on your own life with a cuppa Joe most mornings. In other words, decks are where life’s finer moments often occur.

Such occasions remind us how much our decks mean to us. But decks are not merely a stage. They require our attention from time to time so they can continue to play host to us in recline.

Have no fear, though. Maintaining your deck is easy enough and needn’t take an entire weekend. Heed the steps below and you’ll be manning that prized grill out there for years to come.

Replace any old screws or nails that have popped

Periodically it’s good to examine your deck for loose screws or nails that might have popped out. A simple, annual, systematic inspection works well here. Replace any old screws. And for the rare loose screw, just tighten that sucker down. For any nail that is protruding slightly , try pounding it down first and see if it will hold. For the more common popped nail, you should pull it out and replace it with a slightly longer deck screw.

Replace old wood (and check the railings)

Build it and they (the neighbors, family, relatives) will come.

Build it and they (the neighbors, family, relatives) will come. | Bill Wren


Even though deck wood is pressure treated, it’s still wood and the elements will eventually get the best of it if left alone. It’s a good idea to regularly check for wood rot and splintered wood. Make sure to examine railings closely as they can pose particularly dangerous situations.

Depending on the extent of any splintered wood, you might be able to just sand it down without replacing it. This will be a judgment call. Any wood that has visible cracks to the point that strength of the wood is jeopardized, replace it. Same goes for any wood rot. Simply go to your hardware store and match up the dimensions. Make sure to buy pressure-treated wood. Cut the wood to fit and screw it down using deck screws. Finish with a stain or sealant to match the rest of the deck.

Clean the deck

A simple annual cleaning is advisable to keep wood rot at bay and to preserve finishes. Start by sweeping all debris off of the deck, followed by a good rinse. Next up is a trip to your local hardware store for a deck-specific cleaner. Apply the cleaner using a sponge and bucket, paint roller, or stiff bristled brush depending on the level of grime. Follow the directions for how long the cleaner needs to sit in order to work. Generally the longer you let the cleaner sit, the better the results. Like all heavy cleaners, it is wise to apply on a sample area first. Once the cleaner has sat long enough, thoroughly rinse with clean water.

Refresh the stain/sealant

A deck requires infrequent but ongoing maintenance.

A deck requires infrequent but ongoing maintenance. | Bill Wren

One of the most important things to do to keep a deck in tip-top shape is to re-armor them to protect from water and sun damage. A wide variety of sealers and stains are available. Generally clear sealers need to be reapplied every year, whereas you can usually get two years out of tinted stain finishes. Use gloves, a safety mask, and eye protection when applying all sealers and stains.

The first step is to lightly sand the wood in order to raise the grain and get a better wood-stain/sealant bond. Pole sanders work great for decks. (This is also a good time to check for any popped nails or loose screws.) Use a roller to apply your stain or sealant to deck boards and a brush for railings. It is important to not let stain or sealant pool up. You are shooting for a clean, even application of product. It is always better to apply stain or sealant twice rather than lay on one thick coating.

Inspect the ledger, joist hangers, and all hardware

It is important to check the integrity of your deck from time to time. A simple annual inspection of your ledger, joist hangers and all hardware is a good idea. Use a flashlight to do a thorough inspection. Ninety percent of all deck collapses are due to failing ledgers. This isn’t meant to scare you, but don’t be that guy.

Ledgers should be attached with lag screws, not just nails or deck screws. Check the flashing for rust. Rust is a sign that moisture is getting behind your ledger. If that’s the case, you might have wood rot which would be a serious cause for concern. Check joist hangers for rust and replace any that you feel have been compromised. Inspect all hardware to make sure it’s tight and rust free.

The rule of thumb here is if you believe the strength of any part of the deck is compromised, replace it with new materials.

Trim tree branches

Man's best friend loves a good deck as much as the man.

Man’s best friend loves a good deck as much as the man.| Bill Wren

Trees are great for yards and create ambiance, but they can also pose potential threats to your deck. Keep an eye out for any limbs that could come down in a storm and be proactive and trim them back. Trees are also the main source of dirt and deck grime. Keep your deck out from under a canopy and you’ll save yourself work in the long run.

There you have it. Follow these easy steps and you’ll be back to making memories on your deck well into the future.

Originally written by RootsRated for Gerber Gear. | Featured image provided by Bill Wren

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