The process of revitalizing your deck begins by evaluating the overall structural integrity and current decking materials you have. It’s no surprise that decks deteriorate and need to be replaced at some point. However, many homeowners rip out their existing decks too early instead of revitalizing what they already have. With a little bit of time, sweat, and hard work, you can redeem and restore a deteriorating deck before it is destroyed.
One of the key components of deck revitalization is understanding what causes your deck to deteriorate. Decks deteriorate due to three main sources: sunlight, moisture, and pests. The building materials industry seeks to combat all three of these by providing solutions in both natural and composite materials. For this page, we will spend most of our time discussing the implications that weathering (sunlight and moisture) and pests have on natural, pressure treated wood. Since composite decking is not a natural material, it does not require the upkeep that most natural wood decks do.
Sunlight – Over time, exposure to natural sunlight will cause your deck to deteriorate. This is due to more than heat; the greatest threat is the Ultraviolet Radiation (UV Rays) that travel in sunlight. UV Rays are the highest cause of fading because they break down the chemical bonds in an object, causing the existing color to fade. This is sometimes referred to as a bleaching effect and can be seen in everything around your home – from your exterior siding to your masonry and of course, to your deck and railing system.
You can tell that a deck is suffering from UV exposure when the boards start to turn a grayish hue, looking more natural and rustic in color. This common symptom indicates that a greater problem is at work. The radiation from the UV rays penetrates below the surface of the wood, compromising the fiber structure.
If left untreated and exposed for long enough, the radiation from the UV rays will cause the boards to warp, crack, or cup, resulting in not only a deteriorated deck, but a destroyed deck. The best way to combat UV radiation damage from sunlight is to apply a sealant that is rated for UV protection.
Moisture – Another source of deterioration is moisture.Depending on the climate and area of the country you live in, moisture levels will vary. Some areas of the United States naturally have higher levels humidity in the air, most notably areas along the coast or close to bodies of water – such as Washington, Florida, or even in States by the Great Lakes, such as Michigan. Other areas are prone to extended seasons of rain or snowfall, allowing moisture to sit on exposed surfaces, like decks, for long periods of time.
High humidity and moisture levels compromise the long-term integrity of wood because these conditions are perfect for the formation of mold, mildew, and wood decay fungi. If left untreated long enough, these problems will manifest and lead to wood rot, which flourishes in continuously damp environments. While wood rot may be a natural part of breaking down the wood of fallen trees in a forest, it is an unwanted symptom in the wood on your deck. This is why wood that is used for decking is pressure treated before it is installed. Additionally, this is why a sealant that is mold and mildew resistant should be applied to your deck about a year after installation, and continually applied every few years for upkeep.
Most oil-based stains not only shed water, but many contain special mildewcides that naturally resist fungal growth. Finally, understanding the conditions that decay fungi thrive in helps to eliminate it entirely. Decay Fungi can only survive when these four conditions are met: sufficient oxygen, temperatures between 40-90°F, moisture content in wood fibers above 25%, and sufficient energy source (i.e. the wood).
Pests – A final and often overlooked source of deterioration is pests. While most people consider the threat of sunlight and moisture in the planning of their deck, many often forget about the critters and bugs that can invade the decking area.
There are six common pests that live in, on, or under your deck: termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees, powderpost beetles, mice, and other rodents (such as rats, racoons, opossums, skunks, etc.). The best way to prevent pests from invading your decking area is to prevent the sources that attract them in the first place. Some common preventative measures include:
Another common practice is to give your deck a regular cleaning with a power washer, as well as with a type of surface cleaner that can properly remove excess debris or mildew formations from the fibers on the surface of the deck.
Finally, the best and most practiced remedy for both restoring and preserving the wood on your deck is to apply a highly durable exterior sealant. A sealant should be properly maintained and reapplied every few years, depending on the opacity and condition of the sealant.
After evaluating your deck, the very first thing you will need to do is to powerwash your deck. Powerwashing is the best way to remove dirt, debris, and even sealant or paint that has started to peel. Additionally, a good pressure wash to your deck will open the wood pores, allowing for a deeper penetration of your sealant or paint.
While powerwashing is beneficial and effective, it can be extremely harmful and damaging if not done correctly. There is more to powerwashing than simply turning on your powerwasher and spraying your deck. A few important techniques to remember are spraying at the appropriate pressure, maintaining consistent distance, and using additional cleaning products. If you do not have a pressure washer, consider asking your neighbor or a family member to borrow theirs. You can also rent one for a day from most local hardware or equipment rental stores.
You should start with pressure washing by experimenting with different nozzles on your wand at around 500-600 psi. This is an ideal starting setting for softer woods, especially cedar or pine. However, if you find that there isn’t a great deal of change, you can turn up the setting, as long as you do not exceed 1,200 psi.
If you start to see splintering or wood shavings, your are damaging the wood and should immediately stop. Reset to a lower setting and continue pressure washing. A helpful tip is to test your pressure on a more hidden area of the deck, such as a stair tread. You will find that replacing treads is much easier and cost effective than needing to replace an entire decking board. As you pressure wash, continue to move with the grain of the wood, following the entire length of the board before moving on to the next one.
We recommend using a fan tip with a 40 – 60 degree spread, moving side-to-side in a sweeping motion. Follow the grain of the board down the entire length before moving on to the next, repeating until you have successfully swept the whole deck with your power washer.
We recommend using deck strippers, such as Restore-A-Deck, which can be applied to your deck as you are pressure washing. Restore-A-Deck is one of the leading brands of deck strippers that are eco-friendly and yet penetrate stains deeply. Simply work in small sections, dampening your deck area that you are preparing to clean and apply the cleaner. After waiting for 10-15 minutes, resume and spray off the area you just applied Restore-A-Deck.
Not only will this get rid of those tough stains and discolorations, it will brighten and restore color back to your deck without the toxicity of bleach. In some cases, this removes the next step of Sanding entirely and is sufficient for moving on to Stain/ Sealant Application.
When it comes to removing existing railing, you should factor this into the overall evaluation stage of your existing structure. Demolishing or removing your current deck railing to be invasive and cause damage to your existing deck boards that would cause them to need to be replaced. This is especially true of railing systems that terminate into existing deck boards, such as vertical spindles or balusters.
(PRO TIP: Contact the manager of the lumber department and ask if they have any good boards that have aged for a year. You could also call a local deck contractor and ask to purchase a few boards from them. This will help you match existing boards with replacement ones much easier.)
This phase can be one of the most fun and liberating parts of the project. While it may be tempting to rush into demolishing everything, remember to do so safely. Grab some safety glasses to protect your eyes, ear protection, and a good pair of work gloves. Also, keep in mind that you may need a respirator if you are cutting up pressure treated wood that predates 2003. Until that time, pressure treated lumber was treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate, as a means of preserving the wood for outdoor use and protection against microbes and insects. Breathing in sawdust particles from demolition can be damaging to your body. So be careful and wear a mask.
The best place to start with demolition is with the spindles or balusters. This portion of demolition is pretty straightforward, especially if you are using a reciprocating saw. In some cases, the only tool you need for this is a hammer. A few hard hits may be all that is necessary to break through the railing. Depending if the spindles or balusters are screwed into the railing, you may need a power drill or impact driver as well. As you remove nails, screws, and sharp shards of wood, be sure to remove these to a safe area – you don’t want to leave these on the ground and step on them.
Next, cut the railing cap, handrail, and posts with a reciprocating saw. Make sure that you are using an appropriate blade for the material you are cutting. In some cases, a general-purpose blade (made for cutting through both metal and wood) may be best, as you will be cutting through both screws and wood that has been fixed together. You may need to use a pry bar and power drill as well. Remember, the goal is to leave as much of the existing deck as can be salvaged. Try to plan ahead and remove everything, posts especially, in a way that preserves the deck. After taking everything down, be sure to remove nails and screws from the old deck boards for your waste management company.
Now that you have removed all the previous railing structures, it is time to prepare your deck for finishing product. All wood decks need to be finished with product to both protect the wood and prevent damage to the wood. Wood decks are damaged from three main sources: sunlight, moisture, and pests. A good finishing product protects from these, as well as prevents your wood from cracking or checking prematurely.
There are two different ways you can seal your deck, either with a transparent sealer or a pigmented stain. While some might think that deck sealer and deck stain are the same thing, they are in fact two different products.
Semi-Transparent: Allows the grains and natural color of the wood to permeate through the stain pigment. Maintains the integrity of your wood deck board’s appearance and offers a more natural look. Lifespan varies between 2-3 years before reapplication is needed.
Semi-Solid: Allows minimal grains and natural color of the wood to permeate through the stain pigment. Beneficial in hiding blemishes or other unwanted appearances. Lifespan varies between 3-5 years.
Solid: Hides the grains and natural color of the decking board completely. Beneficial in providing a uniform look to your deck, making newer replacement boards nearly indistinguishable from older boards.
Lifespan in protected areas can be as long as 10 years, making a solid stain very economical. In areas where there is high sun exposure or heavy foot traffic, you will need to recoat every year.
Now that you have completed your deck renovation, you are ready to install your posts! After everything is complete, make sure that you know what type of railing system you want. Here at Viewrail, we offer 3 different types of railing options: glass, cable, and rod railing.
Glass Railing – Glass railing is by far the least obtrusive railing and maintains the entirety of your view. Due to increasing popularity, glass is rising as the railing option of choice for many homeowners. Not only does it boast unrivaled views, it also is incredibly safe, offering high-thresholds of tolerance even in the midst of hurricane force winds.
Cable Railing – Cable railing is our most popular railing system of choice. A very popular option, cable is relatively easy to install. From the avid DIY’er to the custom home contractor, cable railing is a staple in the railing and decking industry.
Rod Railing – Rod railing is our most innovative railing system. We manufactured rod railing to circumvent some of the install discomforts of cable railing, yet maintain the same aesthetic as cable railing. Rod railing is accessible for the DIY’er and custom home contractor, offering versatility in color options and installation formats. Additionally, rod railing can follow curves and is not bound to linear runs. Rod railing is quickly bringing fresh looks and innovation to the railing and decking industry.
All of our systems offer versatility of installation. Whether you prefer a surface mount or side-mount (often referred to as fascia mount), all three railing systems are perfect for your deck.