Replacing A Deck: (Old Story)
Are you trying to figure out if your deck just needs some minor repairs or is bad enough that it needs to be replaced? Are you curious to learn how and where most decks start to rot?
If so, you might be interested in this deck story which walks you through the process of discovering exactly what to look for to determine when a deck has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced.
The Story Begins With ...
I received a call one evening with a request to come take a look at a deck. The homeowner had recently noticed some problems and wanted an estimate for what it would cost to fix it. Of course, the only way to tell is to closely inspect the deck and find out not only what the problems are, but what is causing them.
An Aside About What To Look For ...
Determining the cause is very important, because in about 80% of the cases I see, the deck substructure has reached the end of its life span as rot and termites take their toll. Typically, unless the damage is caused by a specific factor and localized, the first small signs of problems indicate the beginning of wide spread substructure failures.
Local Damage Usually Means Repair
Localized damage factors are usually pretty easy to spot and repair. One example is a plant container sitting on top of the deck boards that has overflowed so often that wet rot has started to decay the deck boards, which are discolored, damp and mushy only under the container. Another is where termite damage is caught early and only one small area is effected.
Since I no longer do repair work, I refer the homeowner to someone else. If you need to find someone who does small repair jobs or a handyman, try these related links.
If a deck is at the end of its life span, there usually are clear signs. The deck frame begins to sag as rot makes the wood susceptible to termites. Termites eat their way through the wood, creating channels that allow water to seep in and accelerate the rotting process. This makes the wood even more vulnerable to termites, and starts an accelerating decay process that usually occurs throughout the entire substructure.
Common signs you can look for that indicate the deck is at the end of its life span include and needs to be replaced:
However, the best way to tell is to have a professional come and assess the status of your deck. Which is exactly what this homeowner did. And since the symptoms sounded like the damage was structural, we set up a convenient time to meet so I could inspect her deck and give her a good idea of her options.
Back To The Story ...
Once I arrived, the first clue came from walking across the deck. It gave under my weight in two key areas. Not a good sign. Next, I pulled up about 8 deck boards in the soft areas and took a look. First of all, I noticed the frame was substandard. The framing beams were undersized, too few and spaced too far apart. Even worse, the wood was not pressure treated. (In my personal opinion, pressured treated wood is an absolute must for framing and other substructures to ensure that the framing has enough protective power to withstand the onslaught of rot and termites.)
Next, I noticed that rot had destroyed the integrity of the joists and one of the most impressive termite infestations I had ever seen was at my feet.
I called the client over and had her take a look at the extent of the damage both rot and termites had done, which had been hidden by the deck boards. In this case, repair was not an option. The whole deck was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
Sometimes, when the damage is less severe, homeowners wonder about the tradeoffs of repair versus replacement. In those cases, I try to present their options and the tradeoffs, so the homeowner can make an informed decision. When a deck has started to decay in one area, usually it is only a matter of time before other areas start to show signs of decay too. So, investments made to repair the problem area do buy you time. But only until the next area decays to the point where it needs to be fixed. Each time you invest in buying more time, you need to weigh the cost of the short term extension of use versus the cost of a new deck averaged over its lifetime to see when it makes sense to replace the entire deck.
Since repair was not an option with this deck, the homeowner asked me to give her an estimate for a replacement. We discussed what she wanted in a new deck. She wanted the same size and height, but a step well add to the driveway entrance and the deck boards re-oriented to run parallel to the house. Because the deck was so close to the ground (and rot had been a primary factor in destroying the current deck), I suggested widening the gap between the deck boards and adding vents to increase the amount of under deck ventilation. These would help reduce the opportunity for wet rot to occur.
So I worked up an estimate with several options and delivered a written copy to her a week later for her review. A few days after that, she called me to approve the estimate and book my building her a new redwood deck. A couple of days before starting, I dropped by to discuss construction details, like where to stack the new materials and tools, as well as arranging for access to electrical power and a bathroom.
And Here Is When The Fun Begins ...
I demolished the old deck and hauled the remains to the dump.
I set steel column bases in new concrete and let it harden for 2 days.
Day Three & Four
While the concrete was hardening, I carefully selected the pressure treated lumber for the framing and stacked it in the yard, ready to go.
Day Five, Six & Seven
I built the frame for the deck.
Day Eight & Nine
The new redwood deck boards were installed parallel to the house wall and I used a "square stitch" pattern to create an appealing way to deal with the need to lay multiple boards to cover the length of the deck.
To create more ventilation under the deck, I increased the board gap and made slots to install vents along the house wall. I also finished out the step well.
I cleaned up the edges and finished the deck.
Permission is granted to anyone who wants to