Wood decks see a lot of wear and use over the course of a year. The hot summer sun and the cold winter snow expose the deck boards to extremes of temperature and humidity, causing the wood to expand and contract. This cycle can lead decks to develop issues in structural integrity and appearance. The remedy for these problems can be simple DIY projects or may require the help of a professional. If the project seems beyond your scope of expertise, it is always best to consult with a knowledgeable deck builder in your area.
1. Popped Nails
Since most nails have a straight, smooth shaft, they are prone to popping. The protruding nail heads that result from this movement can be a hazard. Stepping on one with bare feet can be quite painful. Fortunately, fixing this issue is straightforward. The easiest way to deal with these nails is to drive them back into the deck boards using a nail set and a hammer. However, it is important to know that this solution may only last a year or two. A nail that has popped once is loose and is likely to pop out again.
The best solution is to remove the offending nail and replace it. Depending on the height of the nail head, you may be able to pull it out with a hammer or cat’s paw. If you can’t get under the nail head with one of these tools, a diagonal cutter may be able to get underneath it. To avoid damaging the deck’s surface, you will want to use a thin piece of wood between your tool and the deck board. Use this wood to push against as you pull the nail out. Once the nail has been removed, replace it with a 2 ½” deck screw using the existing nail hole.
2. Damaged or Rotten Deck Boards
The deck surface receives the most use. It is the surface you walk on, the sun shines on, the kids play on, and the rain falls on. It is not uncommon for some boards to wear out more quickly than others. The good news is that you do not have to replace the whole deck if there are a few damaged boards. You can replace entire or even partial boards. At first, they may stick out like a sore thumb, but after a year or so, the new boards will blend in with the rest of the deck. When replacing wood in your deck, be sure to use the same species and size boards used to build the original deck.
To replace an entire board, you must first remove the nails or screws holding the board in place. Measure the gaps in the deck to determine the length of the new board. To ensure a snug fit, be sure to measure and cut the new board to the opening’s precise length. Galvanized nails or decking screws can be used to secure the new board to the deck joists. If you decide to use screws, pilot holes should be drilled in the board first to avoid splitting the wood. Replacing partial boards requires extra steps, as supports will need to be added to the existing joists to support the new board’s ends. Remember that any board removed or added to a deck should span at least three joists to give it the proper stability.
3. Board Discoloration
Even decks that were properly sealed or stained will change color with outdoor exposure. If your deck is looking faded, discolored, or is chipping, it might be time to seal or stain it again. Not only will it improve your deck’s appearance, but it will protect it from further damage. While deck staining is a common DIY project for many homeowners, it can be a big job from start to finish, and you may want to hire a professional instead. If you do decide to stain your deck, be sure to check the weather first. Your deck needs to be completely dry before you apply a stain. Low humidity days that don’t exceed 80°F are ideal. This weather allows the stain to penetrate and adhere much better to the wood.
4. Bouncy Deck Boards
Over time, you may notice the deck bouncing as you walk around on it. While this movement may be indicative of more significant problems, the solution may not be complicated. If your deck has long spans between the joists, it may be naturally prone to developing a bounce. To remedy this issue, you will need access to framing beneath your deck. If your deck is low to the ground, the repair may be much more difficult. The best way to get rid of extra movement is to add extra support in the form of additional beams or posts. Adding this type of structure is time-consuming and costly.
Another possible solution is to add a row of blocking between joists to support the deck boards above. The wood used to add blocking should be the same type as the existing framing. In most cases, you will need 2×8’s or 2×10’s. Cut the blocks so that they fit perfectly between the existing boards. Note that the spacing between joists may vary slightly. Measure carefully before cutting each block for the best results. To avoid toenailing the boards in place, install the blocks between the joists in a step pattern. Alternating back and forth in this manner will allow you to nail the blocks to the joists securely to achieve the best support.
5. Loose Railing
A wobbly wood deck handrail can make this outdoor space unsafe, especially around deck stairs. Securing railing posts with bolts can make the deck safer for everyone and requires few tools. Before heading out for supplies:
- Measure the thickness of your railing post.
- Add to that number the thickness of the framing to which it attaches and add an inch for hardware. This length will be the length of your carriage bolts.
- Buy compatible washers and nuts for the bolts.
The first step to install the bolts is to drill holes for them. Ideally, you should drill two holes spaced apart from one another through the post and framing. You may have to angle your holes slightly to work around the existing structure of the deck. With the holes drilled, you can place the carriage bolts and tighten them with the washer and nut. Most decks are constructed of softwood, so be careful not to put the nut on so tightly that the bolt head sinks into the wood’s front surface.
Wooden decks are beautiful. However, they do require a certain degree of care to keep them looking that way. Checking your deck once a year for issues and addressing them promptly can keep them from developing into a costly repair down the road. If you are uncomfortable performing the maintenance yourself, call a local deck builder to evaluate your deck and remedy any problems. It will keep your outdoor space a safe and enjoyable place to be.