Dishing on Decks-Is It Worth Fixing?

Ah, home. There’s nothin’ better than kickin’ it at the casa on a day off, and one of the best places to do that has to be a good backyard deck. Cold drink in hand, laid out on the deck chair with a bit of music and maybe a book or two- does it really get better?


Well, it can definitely get worse, that’s for sure, and one way that your relaxing day can be utterly ruined is if your deck has gone the way of so many before it and has become damaged. The truth is, decks are meant to be kept up with a little repair here and there, and with the right attention, a good one should last a long time.

If your deck is already feelin’ the years, you’ve got the choice to either fix the issue yourself with a little know how and elbow grease, or you can call in the big professional guns to lend a hand. Knowing what kind of deck issues you can take care of yourself and which should be dealt with by the professionals, or which mean you should take the whole thing down and start again, is something every deck-owner should know.

If you’re feelin’ like your deck might need a little (or a lot) of TLC, consult this list and see if it’s something worth trying yourself, and find out some basic instructions on what to do for each issue as well.

You Should Fix it Yourself If:

If you have a crack under four inches
-Use a putty knife to fill the crack with an outdoor latex wood filler.

If the decking (the flat boards on top) is rotted or broken
-Get planks of the right size and color, preferably weather treated. Pry the damaged planks up with a nail puller or flat bar, or unscrew the screws and remove the wood. Use deck screws and screw your new boards in place by screwing them into the joists (the vertical boards holding up the decking).

If the ledger board (board that attaches deck to house) isn’t firmly attached to the house
-This can make the deck fall off or make the deck lean and is the most common thing wrong with decks.
-A ledger needs to be attached with 1/2-in. x 3-in. lag screws that are put in every 16 inches. You can also use lag bolts if you have the ability to access the other side of the wall you are attaching to.
-Use a drill to put two ¼ inch holes offset from each other every 16 inches. Drive the screws with a drill and an impact socket, using a washer on each. Avoid countersinking the screws, as this can weaken the strength of the board.

If the joist hangers don’t have enough nails
-Joist hangers are what hold the “joists” (vertical boards under the deck) to the ledger.
-ALL holes on the joist must be filled with joist hanger nails only.

If a post or two has rotted due to having no base brackets and you have the tools to fix it, or if a post is not attached with carriage bolts (such as ones that just have nails)
-Check for rot by poking at the bottom of the post with a screwdriver. If it’s spongy, it needs to be replaced.
-You’ll need to put two temporary braces in to hold up the deck if the post is rotted. Use sturdy wood of the correct length (at least two 2x4s nailed together the length of the old post), a scrap of wood for a base and a hydraulic jack for each brace that you remove.
-To replace, you’ll need a post brace, a treated piece of lumber the correct size for the post, a hammer and (if the footing has no bolt) a 3/8 inch by 4 inch wedge anchor and a drill, as well as a connector and carriage bolts to attach the post to the rim joist. Place the post base over the place where the last post was, mark the center, drill a hole there, hammer the wedge anchor in, place the base over it and tighten the nut, then attach the post to the base with 8d or 10d galvanized nails. Then install the connector, drill holes through the rim joist and the post and drive the carriage bolts through these holes, installing washers and nuts on the other side. Use this same process minus replacing the actual post if your posts are connected with just nails and not carriage bolts.

If your deck has a slight wobble
-Get a 2×4 the length of your deck diagonally and nail it to the bottom of the joists with two 16d nails in each joist. Use two boards that overlap over at least two joists if one board isn’t long enough.

If your railings are loose
-Get ½ inch carriage bolts and drill two ½ inch holes at offset angles from each other through the rail and the rim joist, then hammer the carriage bolts through and tighten the nut with a washer on the other side.

If there is splintering and/or mold
-Use a half bleach/half water mixture and spray it on the deck, especially where there might be mold. Warning: this will bleach your deck to a uniform color, so don’t do it if you want to retain the color. Scrub the mixture with a scrub brush until it’s worked in.
-For splinters, sand the entire deck until it’s smooth and even.

If you just want to help prevent rot
-Help prevent rot by putting plastic sheeting under the porch and painting on wood preservative all over the deck.

You Should Not Fix Yourself If…

If Your Deck is Extensively Damaged
-If your deck has more than just a small area of rot, if your deck has  more than a couple broken boards, posts or joists, if nearly all of your nails are missing and you have no carriage bolts at all, if the entire thing is a splinter land-mine, is leaning more than just a little, is more than a little wobbly or you have any other damage that would mean more than one or two of the above fixes, it’s time to call in the pros. They’ll either give you an estimate for what it would cost to fix, or they’ll tell you it’s hopeless. Either way, attempting to fix a seriously damaged deck yourself is going to be dangerous and probably more expensive in the long run, so trust the pros.

Give your deck a once-over with this list in hand, checking to see if you might need to do any or all of the above to get it in tip-top shape again. And always remember: the costs you might save by trying to fix a seriously damaged deck aren’t worth the possible medical bills and pain, so be honest with yourself when evaluating your ability to fix the thing. Do that, and use this list for the small issues, and you’ll be enjoying your backyard days off for years to come.

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