How to Know If Your Deck Needs Repairs or a Replacement

There are many ways to discover that your deck needs repairs.  Hopefully, you won’t end up like some of our customers who discover by falling through their deck! Ideally, you want to catch the signs that your deck is wearing out before it becomes a hazard.  It’s also important to know when you can get away with replacing boards, or if you are going to need to tear down and replace the deck altogether.  We’ve created a short guide to help steer you in the right direction, so you can make the best decision for your needs. 

First, note the condition of the deck boards. Obviously any rot on the surface can be a problem, but rot may be lurking inside the board beneath the surface of the wood.  This will manifest itself in softness and malleability of the board.  If there are any splits in the wood, there is a good chance that water has seeped into the boards, and created rot that may not be immediately visible.  High traffic areas such as stair treads are often the first places to show rot and wear.  Rotten boards can become hazardous, so it’s important to replace them soon after seeing the first signs of rot.  Thankfully, boards are quite simple and affordable to replace. 

Another important aspect to inspect on your deck is joists. These are the frame that the boards sit directly on, and are almost always made from pressure-treated lumber, which typically resists water very well. However, no wood is impervious, and joists on old decks frequently have issues.  Just like the boards, they can split, which makes them vulnerable to rot.  A single rotten joist can cause your deck to sag, and a deck that sags can also pool water, which accelerates rot and wear even more.  If your deck is elevated off the ground, you can view the condition of your joists by simply looking at them from underneath. If your deck sits closely to the ground, it can be trickier to visualize the joists. If you notice any sagging of the deck, that is a good indicator that you may have a bad joist. Also, if you are replacing boards be sure to inspect the joists beneath. Since rot tends to bunch together, if you have rotten boards there’s a fair chance the framing beneath may have issues as well. 

It’s also crucial that you inspect the beams and supports of your deck.  This goes double for elevated decks.  The joists sit directly on the beams, so if there is a problem with your beams the whole deck may become compromised.  Supports connect the beams to the ground. Both supports and beams can rot, and it’s not uncommon for them to split or crack.  However, the beams and supports are slightly less exposed to the elements, so they usually stay in good condition after many years. 

The big question is, should you repair or replace your deck? Ultimately, it depends on the individual situation, and every deck is slightly different. Our answer is typically, if you have to replace more than half of the framing, it’s probably not that much more expensive to completely rebuild it.  We do plenty of jobs where we replace every single board on the deck, and a few joists. This is completely reasonable, and it makes sense to replace instead of rebuild. However, if we need to replace over half the joists and a beam, we may recommend that you rebuild from the ground up. 

These are some of the main factors to consider when you want to get any sort of deck construction. We hope we’ve been able to provide you with enough information to make the right decision for your home!

-Written by Jeremiah Oropeza, Crew Lead, PHM   

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home improvement tips specific to Pacific Northwest homeowners