Prepare your deck for patio season

Is your deck in rough shape? Not to worry, these handy tips will have you lounging outdoors in no time

By Jay Somerset


Photo by Kevin Marsh

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A few days ago the weather took a sudden turn and I was faced with a glorious summer-like day. Not bad after a long snowy winter. I made myself a little dockside drink and walked onto my backyard deck. Unfortunately, things back there weren’t looking so good. After a wet and windy winter, some of the railing and floorboards had come loose; there were small spots of wood that looked a bit mouldy; and overall, well, everything looked dirty, including the furniture I should have put away.

A drink on the deck? Not today. Not to worry though; cleaning your wood deck and furniture is a one-day-a-year event that will keep your backyard oasis looking great all summer long. Here’s how to whip your deck into shape.

Rotten to the core

If your deck is suffering from more than a dirty face, chances are you need to replace a few broken boards or spots where dry rot has occurred. For rot, the first step is to find why the rotting is happening. Is there a drainage problem (clogged drain pipes, runoff from the eaves) that is allowing water to pool? If so, fix this so that you aren’t faced with the same problem next year. Rot tends to first occur on posts, beams and joists that are close to the ground.

Once rot is located, test the extent of the damage by twisting a screwdriver or awl against the rotten spot. If the wood is soft it should be replaced–including all nearby boards that are infected. Like a fungus, wood rot spreads even when it can’t be seen. To be safe, remove affected boards and replace with new pieces. If, however, the wood isn’t soft, the piece can be saved by cleaning the surface and making sure the source of the problem is taken care of.

Sometimes winter weather causes floorboards to twist out of shape, creating an uneven surface. But rather than replace the board–assuming it is otherwise in fine shape–simply slip a notched two by four over the end of the twisted board and force the board back into shape. Then affix with screws to secure it in place.

Broken boards

Need to replace a board or two? No problemo. Simply remove the old and affix the new. You can even use the old boards as a template when you are cutting the new ones to the correct size. Of course, unless you want the board to stand out like a replaced door on a rusty Chevette–two-tone styling, country style–you will need to clean and brighten the rest of the deck so that all the wood closely matches. Of course, the wood will likely look the same after a single year, so if you can survive one summer, don’t worry about the contrasting colours.

When new boards are needed to replace damaged sections of the deck, it’s a good idea to use a biodegradable cleaner and brightening agent on the older portions of the deck so that the new and old parts of the deck more closely match. A sealer should also be used to finish off the deck and guard against moisture.

Constant freeze-thaw cycles coupled with extended periods of moist weather can cause deck boards to come loose. As wood shrinks and expands, nails can pop up. Assuming there’s no dry rot (see below) the easiest fix is to replace the nail with a longer, thicker one for a better hold; or, better yet, use a galvanized deck screw.

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