With Deck Safety Month® upon us, it's worth it to consider the role ongoing maintenance plays in keeping your backyard a safe and functional space. With a little bit of care and attention, it's possible to prevent damage that can make your composite deck unsafe. Not only that, you'll extend the life of this important part of the backyard, and ultimately save money and time.
Any ambitious homeowner should be able to take care of regular deck maintenance on their own. However, if you have any concerns or are unsure about whether or not a part of your deck requires repair, be sure to call a professional. Damage that's left unattended can potentially lead to expensive repairs that would be avoidable if caught earlier. With that in mind, here are some deck maintenance tips to follow.
Deck Maintenance Warning Signs
In order to properly maintain your composite decking, it's important to know the difference between regular wear and tear and severe damage. Some things to look for include:
- Split support structures. Particular areas of concern include the spot where the deck attaches to your house, known as the ledger board, as well as the support posts and joists, stairs and railings. Look at any areas with scuffs to make sure they haven't caused the board to split or splinter, though this is rare with composite decks.
- Loose or damaged flashing and fasteners. Flashing — the metal or plastic guards that keep water from accumulating — and fasteners keep your deck secure and structurally sound. Look for loose or rusted hardware, nails or bolts that have popped up, and replace anything that appears worn out. Also, check your deck structure for sagging or sway, as either can indicate a problem.
- Insecure stairs and railings. You never know when you may need a railing for support. Make sure all deck railings and stairs are securely in place and capable of supporting your weight. If you "jiggle" your handrail and it moves with ease, you'll need to check its fasteners. You should also keep stairs clear of flower planters and other potential tripping hazards.
- Lighting and electrical issues. Adequate lighting is critical to deck safety, plus it lets you host family gatherings into the evening. At the same time, any electrical connections must be up to code. Make sure there are no loose cords and that all outlets are safe and secure.
Catching these and other problems early can save you both time and money, and avoid repairs that can interrupt your enjoyment of the summer.
Tools You Need
If you’re going to maintain your deck and railings, your toolbox needs to be ready for the job. After all, how do you clean composite decking if you don’t have what you need on hand? Here’s what’s handy to have:
- Cleaning products: Look for a cleaner designed for composite decking or a mild soap. Be sure to test the product on an inconspicuous area first. Using a cleaner or soap and water is best for composite. Use a degreaser for any stains left over from a cookout.
- Exterior-grade wood filler: This can be used to treat minor imperfections.
- Your warranty: Before you attempt any repairs, check to make sure you’re not invalidating your warranty. Keep a copy in your toolbox to make referencing easy.
- Screwdriver: Keep a screwdriver and extra screws and nails in your toolbox to fix anything loose or rusty.
- Putty knife: Use this tool to dig out debris from in between boards and to apply filler when needed. You can also use a plastic putty knife to gently dislodge debris ground into the deck.
Maintaining Your Deck and Railing Through Seasons
As you learn how to take care of your deck, you will notice each season brings its own required maintenance tasks. These seasonal deck care and maintenance tips can help you stay on track all year long:
- Spring: After a full winter, it’s time to get decks and railings ready for warm weather. This is the season of most deck maintenance. Carefully wash the deck and railings and check for any signs of damage. This is the time to re-seal if the deck needs it.
- Summer: During heavy use, your deck can take a beating. Be sure to inspect it carefully, especially after any events or entertaining, and repair any problems fast. Be cautious about using harsh chemicals that can invalidate your warranty and cause damage. Check your warranty first and use mild detergents. Test them on a small spot before cleaning the whole deck.
- Fall: In the early fall, all decks contend with debris. Left on the surface, leaves can be dangerously slippery and can stain surfaces. This is the time to clear leaves and other debris. Autumn is also the time to trim back nearby trees and bushes, which can threaten the structural integrity of railings and decks. In late fall, try to remove grills, furniture, planters and anything else from the area. Left on your deck, these items can cause rust spots and other damage. They can also make it harder to shovel snow correctly in winter. Give your deck one last thorough cleaning before you move indoors for the winter.
- Winter: Snow is a possible hazard for your deck. It can get wet and frozen, which can make it heavy enough to cause railings and even the deck to buckle. It’s time to dig out the trusted shovel and clear the deck — literally. Just make sure to only ever use a plastic shovel, since metal versions can cause damage.
Keeping Your Deck Well Maintained
Even if everything on your decking and railings looks OK, a small amount of regular maintenance will extend their life even further. Some easy things you can do include:
- Clearing away leaves and other debris that accumulate. Not only do they pose a slipping hazard, but they also take away from the natural beauty of your deck.
- Washing the deck with a garden hose or, ideally, a pressure washer. Use a little dish soap - Dawn works great - to clean any dirty areas. This step will keep your deck clean throughout the year and have it looking brand new.
- Pruning any large trees hanging over your deck. In the event of a storm, falling branches can cause not only expensive damage but more work for you.
- Rotating planters, furniture and other items on your deck. If left too long in one spot, they can cause discoloration or other signs of wear.
While outdoor deck maintenance requires some time and attention, the features of composite decks make them much easier to maintain, in comparison to wood decks. And while they require a higher upfront investment, their long-lasting performance and comprehensive warranties make them a purchase that's an investment — not a purchase that decreases in value, like a vehicle.
The best part? If you're vigilant about cleaning your composite deck and maintaining it, you can extend its life well into the future.