By Julie Young
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE
Published: June 21, 2008
Our deck is 18 years old. Our granddaughter, Ivy, is 9 months.
Those numbers are totally incompatible when it comes to hanging a baby swing.
Ivy would not be flying back and forth in her new red-and-blue bucket swing under any structure until we called in an expert inspector. Every post and joist must be sturdy, every surface board sound, every nail secure – we’d prefer there not even be a splinter.
We called Isaac Gonzalez, the owner of Trini Home Inspection in Mechanicsville, Va., for a deck check. Cost was $125, which included a written report on needed repairs and a binder of tips on home maintenance.
As a result of Gonzalez’s inspection, we had a professional contractor do the following:
□ Replace the support posts under the deck and set the new ones in concrete. The wood in our existing beams had deteriorated below the dirt line because they were simply sunk into the soil instead of being built on concrete piers.
□ Replace split boards.
□ Level the deck, which was accomplished with the post replacement. It had begun to sink on one side.
□ Tap down loose nails and a few bucked boards.
We plan to replace our horizontal railings, which were common when our deck was built.
Gonzalez recommends that homeowners check their decks or have them professionally evaluated every year. Inspection is an easy do-it-yourself project, he said, although repairs should be handled by a contractor.
Following is what we learned about how to evaluate your deck:
□ Examine surface boards, railings and steps for signs of stress – rotting, sagging, splitting or swaying. Pay special attention to areas that tend to remain damp or are in contact with fasteners. Check for small holes in wood, which might indicate insects. If you find signs of insect damage, schedule a visit from a pest-control expert.
□ Check structural supports for signs of decayed wood, insect infestation or animal damage. Use a screwdriver or ice pick to penetrate the wood at various intervals. If you can easily penetrate about a half-inch or more, or if the wood feels soft and spongy, decay may be present and posts should be replaced.
□ Inspect the area under your deck with a flashlight. Scrutinize the ledger board, a common source of deck failure. Be sure that the flashing, a metal or plastic water guard between the house and ledger board is sound and firmly in place. Consider adding or replacing flashing if you notice areas that are allowing water to collect.
□ Look for loose or corroded fasteners – nails, screws and anchors – that could allow the deck to partially collapse. Tighten bolts with a wrench. Hammer in nails that have popped up or pull them out and drive in screws at least as long as the nails. Screws are stronger and won’t pop as the boards flex with heat and humidity. Screws that have worked loose should be twisted back in place with a screwdriver or a drill with a screwdriver attachment. Be careful not to strip screws. If you do, you’ll need to buy a slightly larger replacement screw. Replace any fastener that appears corroded.
□ Examine the deck for splinters. Cut away splinters at the head of the split and sand the remaining rough edges with an 80-grit abrasive sandpaper. Gluing a split may look better, but usually doesn’t last.
□ Clean the deck thoroughly. Use a flat tool to remove debris between deck boards. Once a year, give the deck a power wash. Gonzalez suggests renting a power sprayer from a hardware or home center and concocting a cleaning solution of half household bleach and half water. He recommends using a flat nozzle and water pressure of 1,500 psi. Keep the nozzle 3 to 4 inches away from the deck; any closer might cause splintering. If you prefer not to use a power sprayer, clean the deck with warm, soapy water and a scrub brush. Rinse with a garden hose to remove soap and loosened dirt, grime, mold and mildew. Once a deck is repaired and cleaned, consider sealing it to protect the wood.
■ Julie Young writes for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Once your deck is sturdy and clean, consider the following tips to spruce it up for spring and summer:
• PRESERVE THE DECK WITH a finish coat, preferably one that contains UV protection. Clear wood preservatives leave a translucent finish; to add color, use an exterior water-based or oil-based stain. To apply finish, wear eye protection and gloves, and cover surrounding areas with a tarp. Apply finish with a roller or brush and let it set for about a half-hour so that it penetrates the wood. Add a second coat for added protection. Allow the preservative to dry one to two days before refurnishing the deck.
• CLEAN YOUR OUTDOOR FURNITURE. Wicker pieces can be cleaned using a hose or pressure washer. If it’s especially dirty, wash it with a sponge, mild soap and cold water. Wooden furniture that has been coated with exterior-grade varnish can be cleaned with soapy water. Resin furniture requires only a spray-off with water. Use a gentle abrasive to remove scuff marks. Remove mildew with a mixture of 1 cup bleach, 2 cups detergent and 1 gallon of water. Aluminum, wrought-iron and steel frames should be cleaned with water and mild soap. If your metal furniture isn’t rust-resistant or rust-free, use paste wax or naval jelly to protect against rust and corrosion.
• **UMBRELLA COVERS SHOULD BE WASHED **and frame joints oiled. Wash the covers with a soft-bristle brush, mild soap and cold water. Use a spray lubricant on the joints of a wire-frame umbrella. If you have a wooden-frame umbrella, use paste wax to restore its shine.
• **CLEAN CUSHIONS WITH **a solution of 1 teaspoon dishwashing detergent, 1 quart warm water and 1 tablespoon borax. Apply with a sponge or spray bottle and let it absorb for about 15 minutes. Rinse with a hose and stand them on edge out of direct sunlight to dry.
• **ADD COLOR TO **your deck with a potted garden of flowers, vines and herbs.
• JAZZ UP YOUR DECK TABLE WITH a washable tablecloth, festive centerpiece and candles with wind guards.
• ENHANCE THE MOOD WITH strings of twinkle lights looped in trees or along railings.
SOURCES: LOWE’S, HGTV, FAMILYTIME.COM, MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE