Emerging from a pandemic, we all realize more than ever how important are homes are as a safe haven for our emotional and physical health. During the time of COVID-19, home improvement boomed — in fact, three-fourths of Americans said they completed a major project in the last year. Many of those improvements happened outdoors: in the garden, on the lawn and on deck.
Whether you built a deck in 2020, are considering building one in 2021 or have had one for years, you want it to last. Little things, such as joist tape, and big things, like your choice of composite versus wood deck boards, really matter during construction. After the deck is built, cleaning and maintaining make all the difference. To get the most life out of your beautiful outdoor living space, use these 4 essential tips.
1. Plan for the long-term
If you are planning to build a deck in the near future, talk to your builder about ways to make it last. During construction, you can make decisions that permanently impact the longevity of your deck. For example, only during construction can you add joist tape.
What is joist tape? It protects your deck by covering the wood most susceptible to rot: the beams and joists that are just below your deck boards. You may not see this day to day, but over time, rain and snow can damage the deck substructure if it is not protected. In fact, wood rot is your deck’s worst enemy and any wood that gets repeatedly wet can be damaged.
When you install joist flashing tape, you protect your deck’s joists, beams, ledger boards, and stringers with a thin, waterproof membrane. Deck flashing helps reduce future maintenance, protects the deck’s structural integrity and holds decking screws and deck fasteners tighter and stronger.
Also, at the time of your deck build, you can choose materials that will last longer. Whether you go with a rot-resistant wood or composite decking boards guaranteed to last 25 years, you will enjoy your deck longer. Composite decking, made of recycled plastics and wood particles, requires almost no maintenance, while wood usually needs to be sealed every few years. In the past, composite decking cost much more than wood, but with lumber prices soaring, that gap is closing.
2. Keep it clean
Whether you choose wood or composite decking, regularly sweeping it off and washing it down at least annually is key to good maintenance. Make sure you don’t let garden containers rest directly on the deck boards, which can cause stains and create rot where moisture remains. Use risers and cut back vegetation.
To prepare for a deck cleaning, gather a broom, scrub brush, bucket, cleaning solution and garden hose. Using a power washer may be faster, but be cautious, as high pressure can splinter wood and chip composite boards.
Use cleaning products and materials that won’t harm your deck; look for one made for your wood or composite deck at your local hardware store. If you want to make your own, for a wood deck, mix up: 2 tablespoons of ammonia-free liquid dish soap, 1 gallon of water, 1 pint of rubbing alcohol and 1 quart of oxygen bleach (for example., OxiClean).
Stay away from chlorine bleach. If you have a composite deck: Mix a half-cup of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar to a quarter of a cup of baking soda with 1 gallon of water. Make sure you rinse off all cleaning solutions to avoid a dull film.
3. Seal the wood
As mentioned, moisture is the biggest danger for your wood deck. Once you’ve cleaned it, you take the opportunity to seal or stain the wood. If you stain it, be sure the product has sealant. Sealant protects your wood fibers and is translucent once dried, while stain colors the wood.
If your wood is splitting or cracking, sand it down before staining or sealing. Be sure to remove any dust that remains after sanding is done. The deck should be clean and dry before staining or sealing. It’s best to apply the sealant in thin coats, starting with the railings and working your way down.
Wood requires sealing every 2-5 years, depending on wear and tear. Composite decks never need to be stained or sealed.
4. Inspect the deck
As with anything in your home, you want to be sure it’s safe for you, your family and friends. With a deck, it’s optimal to do a safety inspection at least once a year. Take note of any discolored or flaking wood. Look for signs of insect damage. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, have a professional builder check it out. The North American Deck and Railing Association provides a helpful checklist for your inspection.
If you have little ones, make sure all railings are secure and that the individual spindles are no more than 4 inches apart to prevent children from slipping through. The space between the bottom of the railing and the top of the deck surface also should be no more than 4 inches.
Build your deck to last and enjoy it year after year. The delicious barbecues and relaxing afternoons in the hammock will be worth the intention you’ve put into caring for your favorite outdoor living space!