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Decks need love after winter

Photo by Firkin/openclipart

With warmer weather approaching, most of us soon will looking for more opportunities to get outside. A favorite way for many is relaxing on decks attached to our homes or businesses.

But after winter cold and snow — and maybe several years of wear and tear — our decks can look pretty rough. A few simple steps, however, can make decks look bright and new again and also ensure the safety and security of deck structures before another season of outdoors enjoyment.

Here are my tips for making your deck an attractive and safe space:

Work on the surface. The first thing we usually see when we look at our decks — eliciting smiles or frowns — is the condition of the surface deck boards. If they have been covered by paint or stain, they may be showing their age with cracked, peeling or faded versions of what once were pristine coverings.

The most effective way to remove old paint or stain is sanding and scraping. Most deck owners don't like to hear this, as both methods usually involve a bit of work. But the old, failing surface coverings must be removed before new ones are applied. Sanding and scraping also help remove dirt and grime, which also must go before you add new surface coverings.

After sanding and scraping, consider power-washing your deck with any one of a number of readily available solutions specifically made for decks. For decks that have not been painted or stained, a power-washing alone can do wonders, followed by a coat of clear water sealant.

Check for safety. In our rush to make the showy parts of our decks look nice, we often forget about the less-visible and structural elements that ensure our decks are safe. Any complete annual review of a deck should include these checks as well.

First, make sure there are no exposed nails, screws or splintered wood on the deck floor, railings or other exposed elements such as built-in seats that could cause dangers. Pull out or sink in any nails or screws with heads that have popped out of boards. Remove and smooth any jagged or splintered wood. Hammer or screw down any boards that are loose or wobbly.

Also check underneath and along the sides of the deck attached to your structure to make sure your support wood and fasteners remain strong. Probe with a screwdriver to verify that wood, especially any closed to the ground, has not become soft or rotted. Replace any compromised pieces.

Seal out water. In addition to covering your exposed deck surfaces with paint, stain or water sealant, look for ways to keep water from infiltrating the less-visible structural parts of your deck. Tighten fasteners and brackets connecting the deck to your building.

Also, inspect, tighten and caulk flashing, which consists of thin metal strips placed on or along parts of your deck that are susceptible to water. Flashing is designed to keep water out and to ensure that any water seeping in can exit instead of staying in and rotting the wood.

You should find flashing on parts of your deck where it abuts your building or in other areas where moisture congregates or is present, including where boards stand on cement or block supports at ground level. If your deck doesn't have flashing in these areas, consider installing it.

There are lots of ways to enjoy our decks when the weather turns warm. A little attention to decks at the start of the season helps ensure that the fun will be safe and pleasant for our family and friends.

Tony Lasky

Tony Lasky is owner of Building Logic, a commercial property care and repair company based in the Twin Ports. For questions or to suggest column topics, please contact him at (218) 279-5300.