Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Lowdown on Decks (sort of)

Today I wanted to talk about outdoor living space in general, but more specifically decks. Outdoor living space is a key selling feature in almost every housing market. A home with a fantastic outdoor space opens up entertaining potential, a place to relax enjoying a beautiful view, and oftentimes is a deciding factor in a home buyer's decision. 
What if you want to spruce up your outdoor living space? Maybe you have a deck that isn't exactly inviting you to spend nights chatting with friends, perhaps your friends are scared to walk onto your deck and they are no longer visiting?? Here are some ideas on what you can do, and some options for replacement if things get that serious.  

Existing Decks 

Inspect your Deck with a Home Purchase
It is probably a wise idea to have your deck inspected by a professional home inspector prior to a home purchase. Most Realtors can recommend a list of reputable home inspectors, you can also get recommendations from friends or check with the Better Business Bureau...whatever you need to do to feel comfortable with your home inspector, do it. If you have any doubt about the safety or maintenance of a deck have a professional look at it. Inspections are also useful because the inspector should be able to give you information on your deck's capacity limitations, point out any problem areas, and give you tips on things to watch for in the future. 

What if you already own your home? 
If you already own a home and are questioning the safety of your deck I would probably err on the side of caution and have it looked at by a professional, or at least take some steps to feel more secure. Nobody needs to get hurt falling off a rickety old deck. 
If you think there is a problem...there probably is. 

Something to keep in mind   

Decks built prior to 2004: According to Consumer Reports, if your deck was built before 2004, it could be constructed with lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). CCA is a chemical preservative that was used to protect wood from things like dry rot, molds, and termites. But its arsenic, chromium, and copper content poses a health risk.  
What are your options? 
Removing and replacing the deck with a treated lumber. Or you could refinish it and essentially seal in the toxins. This will obviously be dependant upon your budget and the actual condition your deck is in. It is also probably a decent idea to consider talking to a professional if you go the refinishing route. You obviously never want to inhale sawdust from treated wood, and you also want to use care when disposing of the old treated lumber if you do decide to replace your deck. 

Some Bullet Points on Deck Safety 

•    Is the handrail height 34"-38"?
•    Is the handrail graspable? 
•    Are railing or handrails firmly in place?
•    Are there any visible signs of red rust on fasteners or connectors?

Ledger boards
The ledger board is the spot where the deck attaches to the house. Improper connections are a common cause of deck collapses. 
Tip: The ledger board should not be fastened just with nails.
Wood decay
Be sure the wood is sound. Check where the deck attaches to the house, support posts, the joists underneath the deck, and deck boards and stairs. 
Signs of decay include being able to easily insert a screwdriver ¼ to ½ an inch into the wood and being able to break off slivers of wood without seeing splinters. Spongy wood is also a bad sign. 
Support posts
Be sure the connections are tight between support posts and beams under the deck. 

Wood or Composite?

This, like most environmental or "green" decisions is a tricky one in my opinion with no clear answer. 

Here are just a couple of things to think about if you are building or replacing that deck and trying to decide the best material for you.

Wood is a renewable resource and trees are obviously good for the environment and remove carbon dioxide while they grow. Look for wood sourced from a Forestry Stewardship Council certified forests or you can always use reclaimed wood. Obviously with wood you need to use stains and sealers to preserve it so you need to consider the environmental implications of those when weighing your decision. More on that below.

Composite deck materials are often made from recycled materials and wood scraps and do not use any raw virgin wood. You don't have to stain a composite deck and the maintenance is greatly reduced. This is typically the more expensive option up front but could save you over time in maintenance and replacement costs. It is probably worth noting that although the planks themselves may be made from recycled material the scrap pieces or years down the road when the deck is torn out typically cannot be recycled.

There are pros and cons to both. Overall it will come down to your personal preferences and what your priorities are when making these decisions. At least you are thinking about it and making an informed decision regardless. 


Obviously it isn't always just doom and gloom. Your deck may be in great condition and you just need some ideas of a more environmentally friendly way to maintain it. 

If you have a traditional wood deck look for a water based stain or a stain made with beeswax or caranuba wax. Stains just like indoor paints have VOC ratings (volatile organic compounds) so it is a good idea to check labels as well. 

Typically clear stains contain more wood preservatives and pesticides than darker stains. This can vary, but it is something to keep in mind. Additionally a darker stain will provide more UV protection for your traditional wood deck.  

More information:
I have found that a great resource for consumers is the 
website. You can find almost everything you need to know here, including finding a deck builder and help with locating approved home inspectors.
They have also put together a 10 point consumer safety checklist that can be found here that I found helpful for those of us who have no idea where to start or what to look for when examining a deck.

Until the next time...

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