How Do I Prepare My Deck for Winter?

Serving the Greater Richmond area since 2016 | Over 100+ projects completed in 2021 alone

Fabling Built, Richmond’s deck contractor, recommends that homeowners first inspect the surface condition of the deck as well as underneath to determine the stability of the infrastructure. It is important to check your deck annually because once your home’s deck begins to deteriorate, and here are some things to look for. Water damaged wood becomes unsafe, initially causing slippery surfaces where you could easily fall down; rough patches in pressure-treated wood where you could catch a deep splinter; or eventually it will rot and cause instability where the deck could collapse. 

Now that the sizzling hot months of summer are behind us, temperatures are falling into more comfortable, cooler weather, a lot of us are spending more time enjoying the outdoors. Fall is the ideal season to winterize outdoor living spaces and decks. In Richmond, where we enjoy four-seasons, temperatures expand and contrast dramatically throughout the year. And where snow and wet leaves accumulate, it is especially important to assess the condition of your deck now and to prepare it to withstand the effects of harsh winter elements.   

The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) notes an estimated 40 million residential decks in the United States are between 20 and 30 years old. The older your deck, the more likely it is in need of TLC. Regardless of your deck’s age or material, though, walk around it to feel for any loose boards and to sprinkle water on as many different wood areas you can to determine if the surface repels or absorbs the moisture. If the boards soak in the water, it is time to seal your pressure-treated wood deck boards.   

Pressure Treated Decks

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Pressure-treated decks typically have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years. As the boards age, they become more susceptible to decay, rot, warping, splintering, and cracking – all eventually jeopardizing the integrity of its infrastructure and stability. The wood needs to be stained or sealed to preserve and protect it from the rain and sun. Winterizing and maintaining your deck will help it last a long time, and be a safe outdoor living space for many years.  

Composite Decks

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Composite decks are easy to care for, and if you do not want to think about wood rotting in your deck, composite decking material may be a good option for you. If you are willing to invest a bit more money at the time of installation, composite decking materials offer significant benefits. They can look like hardwood in design and are quite sturdy, but remember to regularly inspect the wood framing underneath. Low-maintenance does not mean no-maintenance. Fabling Built recommends an annual professional washing to help keep it looking beautiful and clean.

How to Insect Your Deck For Damage

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Damage to your deck boards is not the same as weathered or warped boards due to age and weatherization. Until it becomes structurally unreliable, aging wood is not something to worry about. Inspect your deck from above and from below, looking for the signs of damage, listed below, that jeopardizes safety. If you find something that concerns you, Fabling Built can confirm whether it is a problem needing repair or replacement, or whether it is a maintenance issue; either way, Fabling Built can help you prepare your deck for winter. 

Wood Deck Board Dry Rot

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Do the deck boards feel spongy, bouncy, flaky, or loose? These signs of decayed, rotting wood are a common issue that can be the result of developing water damage. This can also occur on individual boards where dripping water from an eave or tree repetitively rests on one spot, or where a pot or other item regularly sits, leaving a ring of mold.

To start, tap your foot on the board, but do not step heavily onto it, to check for signs of decay, change in color or texture, loose boards or missing screws. Visually inspect the depths of any cracks, and overall condition of stain, paint, or sealer.

Test the wood with an ice pick or screwdriver to see if the tip can penetrate it more than a ¼-inch. If the wood is soft or spongy, or if it can be splintered off easily, these can indicate rot or pests. Oftentimes, just the damaged boards can be replaced or repaired, and not the entire deck. Once repairs are made, then it can be winterized.

It is also important to replace any rusted or loose fasteners or anchors and tighten any loose screws or nails. These can lead to warped boards, tripping hazards, or very uncomfortable foot injuries if stepped on.

Wobbly Support Posts or Sagging Support Beams

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To be sure the integrity of your deck is not in jeopardy, check underneath the deck as well. Push against the beams to confirm their sturdiness, poke boards to ensure they are solid, and look for any signs of warping or cracking in the horizontal support boards. Are the joists, beams, and posts in good condition?  

When posts are installed, they are usually set in concrete footings. Occasionally, water or mud will pool around the posts, and after a while, the wood beams absorb moisture which creates instability. Sometimes this is right under the surface of the ground, grass, or mulch, so dig down a little to properly inspect. If you find damage to your deck’s support beams, it is time for a serious repair or replacement as soon as possible. Avoid going out on the deck, or putting additional weight on the deck, as this is an unsafe situation. Fabling Built can work with you to fix the damaged posts and address any ground issues so that the water and mud stay away from the infrastructure.

Sometimes when we find a deck that was not built properly or designed well, we recommend that a structural engineer examine the joists to assess the deck strength. An indication that they may be too weak is you will see signs of sagging or warping in the joists, beams, and girders. Because joists are not exposed to direct sunlight, it can be a common place for moisture build up. This is the primary enemy of wood, it can foster fungus growth, which leads to dry-rot, and it can attract termites and other wood-eating pests. Similar to post damage, joist problems are very serious as they hold up the entire deck surface. Fabling Built can help you replace individual damaged joists, sometimes without having to dismantle your entire deck.  

Flush Ledger Boards

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Your deck’s ledger board is the horizontal wood framing of the deck that is attached to your home. The building code has changed to limit the use of a ledger board, but it was a very common building method used over the past couple of decades. Some things to look for, there should be no space between the ledger board and your home. If there is, this is a serious issue that can potentially cause the deck to collapse, and quickly! 

This is also an area where water damage can occur if proper flashing was not installed. This is usually apparent with rusty fasteners and hardware, or rot on the bottom edge of the board. It is imperative to quickly address any issues with the ledger board. We often recommend installing a structural girder to better support the deck, as is recommended by the modern residential building code. As your deck contractor, Fabling Built is available to answer any questions and address any concerns you have.

Deck Railings

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Overtime, your deck railings can become loose, causing a serious hazard. This happens from people leaning against them, or the loss of structural integrity with the post or fasteners at the connection point. So be sure to check that the railings are secure. 

Decks and balconies that are more than 30-inches off the ground are required to have a guard or railing measuring at least 36-inches above the finished surface, or floor. The space between each banister must not be wider than 4-inches in diameter. Having a safe railing will protect from nasty falls, but they can also be beautifully designed to add to the aesthetic value of your outdoor living space.

Wood Deck Board Peeling Paint or Stain

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Sealers, stains, and paint protect your pressure-treated wood from moisture and UV rays from the sun. Peeling paint or stain exposes your deck, where damaging sun, water, mold, or rot can quickly deteriorate the solid wood surface, resulting in more extensive damage sooner or later. Damaged wood can be more costly to repair or replace than regular maintenance.  

Tip: If your paint is not outright flaking, but you think it is on the verge of peeling, place a strip of tape on top of the deck boards and pull it back up. If the tape removes some of the paint, you know it is time to plan for some deck maintenance. This requires pressure-washing, sanding, or scraping to remove the old loose and flaking finish, and then applying a new finish that protects and seals the wood. 

Fabling Built is a seasoned home contractor and can help you build or maintain your deck for continued use safely throughout all four seasons of the year.

Deck Winterization Tips

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After you have completed your safety inspection, the best way to proceed to repair or maintain your deck is to follow these steps:

  1. Clean your deck with a pressure washer in fall prior to winterization. Remove any dirt or algae that will hold moisture on the wood. When washing, do not use a setting that is too forceful, because it could remove the protective finish. The appropriate pressure washing will usually blow out any boards that exhibit rot and flaking or old paint or stain, but not strong enough setting to remove a well-bonded finish. Use a lighter setting if you are simply removing only dirt, mold, or algae build up. 
  2. If your wood deck no longer repels water, it is time to lightly sand and reseal your surface with water repellent materials. This can be a clear sealer, transparent stain, semi-transparent stain, solid stain, or paint.
  3. If your deck is damaged in localized areas, you can often replace only those boards or sand down and repair the specific areas before treating the entire deck.
  4. If your deck is damaged throughout, it may be time to replace the top boards, or even the entire deck. At the very least, thoroughly strip it of its entire finish, sand, and reapply new coats of paint or stain and sealer to the pressure-treated wood surface, this will usually buy you a year or two until you’re ready to replace your deck.

Maintaining Your Deck with Richmond’s Best General Contractor

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Deck maintenance and repair is an annual task, and it is important to check the deck’s ledger board, support posts and beams, joists under the deck, deck boards, railings, and stairs. Any areas that are damp or do not repel water need to be resolved prior to re-sealing your pressure-treated deck. If you have a composite deck, you will want to check its infrastructure and support system as well as clean the top boards before winter.

If you have a deck in need of winterization or just a little TLC, Fabling Built can help you professionally pressure wash, seal wood boards, repair or replace damaged decking or framing, and upgrade your decking boards to composite materials. Our team of highly skilled home improvement professionals can help you create the home, inside and out, you love to enjoy all year round. Please send us an email at hello@fablingbuilt.com or call 804-822-2625.