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Can Your Wood Deck Survive Another Harsh Winter? :: How to Winterize a Wood Deck

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There are few things more disheartening for a homeowner than emerging into the spring thaw and witnessing the devastation winter has wrought upon your outdoor living space. Excess moisture and changing temperatures are hard on a wood deck, and poor maintenance during the cold months can leave you staring in dismay at ugly stains, rotting wood and rampant mold and mildew growth.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wood decking, poor maintenance can also pose a safety hazard. Dry rot, weakened ledger connections and failing footings can all contribute to deck collapse. Not to get all doom and gloom, but deck collapses have injured 900 people and killed 20 in the last 15 years. Decking professionals estimate that half of the decks in the United States are either poorly constructed or in a state of advanced decay. One hard winter may be all that is needed to push some of these aging decks over the edge.

In order to keep your deck healthy during the winter months, winterizing your deck should become a regular part of your fall home maintenance.

Here’s a checklist of tasks for how to winterize a wood deck:

Remove dirt, debris, mold and mildew.

You can’t prevent your hardwood or cedar deck from taking a beating once the rain and snow set in, but you can at least start with a clean slate.

Move planters and furniture off your deck. This is an important step many homeowners fail to take. Just because your outdoor furniture withstands rough weather doesn’t mean it should languish on your deck all winter long. Water can pool beneath planters and cause staining as well as mold, mildew and rot, while any metal that remains in extended contact with the deck surface can leave rust stains.

Perform a deck safety inspection.

Just as you regularly change the batteries in your smoke detectors, you should also inspect your deck for safety issues. Things to look for include:

These are just a few of the things to look for when performing a safety inspection. If you have an older deck, or have reason to suspect a safety issue, I recommend bringing in a professional perform this task for you. Ask your local decking contractor whether they offer a free decking material safety evaluation.

Be prepared for snow.

Another thing to keep in mind during the winter is snow removal. Whether you plan on using your deck or not, it’s best to remove snow before it melts and sends all that moisture seeping into the wood. The safest method of snow removal is to use a large outdoor broom with stiff bristles. If you must use a snow shovel, stick to a plastic one and shovel lengthwise in the direction of the deck boards to avoid gouging the surface. Be especially careful with a composite deck, as shoveling can chip the decking material. Avoid using salt or other ice melters on a wood deck.

By performing these maintenance tasks, you can prep your deck to withstand the harsh winter and prevent any unpleasant surprises this spring.

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Note from the hosts:  Dave Nichols writes about cedar deck maintenance and construction, as well as other home improvement issues, for the Rick’s Fencing & Decking Blog.  We hope to incorporate more material from Dave & @RicksFencing in the future. Thanks Dave.

For more on preparing for Winter (often performed in the Fall) and Winterizing or for more on decking check out those top level categories here at Building Moxie. ~jb

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