How to Inspect Your Deck to See If It Needs Repair

An annual inspection helps keep decking repair to a minimum.
By: John Riha

Repairing Your Deck 01:00

Get your deck back in shape with a little elbow grease.

Few things around your house take more abuse than your deck. Exposed to the harshest sun, driving rains, ice, and snow, a deck can only take so much before it needs some repair. According to the North American Deck & Railing Association, there are more than 40 million decks in the United States that are at least 20 years old, and hundreds of reported deck accidents occur annually.

To avoid becoming a statistic, give your deck an annual inspection and make repairs so small problems don’t become expensive — or even dangerous — big problems.

In the spring when weather warms up and you have a couple of dry days is a good time to give your deck a once-over. Look especially close at prime trouble spots: structural members that are close to the ground and any parts of the deck that are near downspouts.

Check for Rot with an awl or screwdriver. Probe around posts where they contact the ground or sit on concrete foundation blocks. Any wood that’s soft is suspect. Check where stair stringers come in contact with the ground or landing pad. Probe around railing posts and the decking surface.

You can remove thumb-size areas of rot with a chisel, then treat the hole with a wood preservative to stop rot and keep it from spreading. Bigger areas of rot may require the wood member be replaced.

Check the ledger, the framing material that attaches the deck to your house. The flashing should be in good shape with no holes or rust, and the ledger should be attached with lag screws, not nails.

If the flashing looks worn out or the ledger is attached with nails, don’t hesitate to repair or replace as needed. Most accidents involving collapsed decks are caused by improper ledger installations. It’s a complex repair job — you might want to call in a pro.

Inspect joists and beams for rot and connecting hardware for rust. To replace hardware, put in a temporary support while you remove the old connection.

If a piece of framing lumber can’t readily be removed and replaced, you can reinforce it. First, remove any rot and paint over the area with wood preservative. Then install a “sister” framing member of the same size and dimension alongside the existing one. The new framing member must be secured in the same way as its companion — with joist hangers or similar connecting hardware. Complete the install by fastening the new member to the old with stainless steel screws driven every 8 to 10 inches.

Check for cracks in decking boards. Cracks usually are more of an annoyance than a structural problem, but they tend to get worse over time. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace a decking board. However, the new board might stand out like a sore thumb — try staining it to match the rest of your decking before you install it.

Inspect the railing system for loose posts and handrails. Fix the problem by drilling pilot holes and securing the members with galvanized or stainless steel screws.

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