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Repair or replace: How to know when it's time for a new deck

Posted: 8:03 PM, Aug 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-13 20:03:21-04

No matter if you live in the city, the suburbs or the countryside, a deck can add value to your home and enhance your outdoor living space.

Whether you're considering building a new one or replacing an older deck, Consumer Reports' latest tests reveal which decking materials can stand up to wear, tear and weather.

Wood decking is the overwhelming choice for homeowners. But synthetic plank decking offers good looks with less upkeep. Composites, which blend ground-up wood and plastic, have chipped away at wood's popularity. Some even contain recycled plastic.

With so many materials available, it’s tough to know which will stand the test of time.

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Repair or Replace: Is It Time for a New Deck?

If your decking has cracks, looks dirty, or suffers from mildew, it's time to decide whether to refinish or replace it entirely.

Signs of an unsafe deck may not be obvious so safety checks are critical when deciding to repair or replace. Also, if your deck was built before 2004, it's probably made of lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate. Regular refinishing helps to seal in the toxic arsenic that CCA decking contains. But if the finish is flaking or worn off in spots, we suggest hiring a pro who's equipped to safely remove the old finish, dust, and debris and then refinish it. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind.

Weigh Costs

You can save hundreds by replacing the decking yourself. Along with a circular saw you'll need a drill, preferably cordless. Don't skimp on support joists if you choose heavier composites or less-rigid plastics. For wood, solid stains typically yield longer-lasting results. When pricing the materials, be sure to figure in the cost of railings, stairs, and supporting structure as well as the planks under foot. If you're hiring a pro, note that the cost of labor—either to build a new deck or to replace worn planking on an existing structure—can easily exceed the cost of the materials.

Complement Your Home’s Design

The width of the decking, its color and finish, and the design of the railing are important design elements. A ranch, raised ranch, or contemporary house style can work well with many deck designs. It's more challenging to make a deck work with older styles, such as Tudor, colonial, or 1920s bungalow. Many manufacturers of synthetic decking offer a variety of railings, such as provincial or Mission style, that can help the deck fit with the rest of the house.

Sidestep Missteps

Nails and screws are inexpensive, easy to handle, and suitable for nearly any material. But nails can pop loose over time, while screws are more permanent. Ceramic-coated screws come in several colors, which helps them blend in.

To avoid splitting planks, drill pilot holes for nails, countersink screws in wood, and predrill screw holes into composite. Choose zinc-coated or other corrosion-resistant fasteners, and use the right fasteners for composites. Also consider hidden fasteners or systems that hide the attachments.

Before staining, pressure-wash or brush the old surface with a cleaning solution. If there’s any remaining mold and mildew, remove it using a solution of 1 part bleach and 3 parts water. When staining, use as many coats as the manufacturer recommends. And be sure it's at least 50 degrees F from the time stain is applied until it dries completely.

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