Got a deck that’s a bit of a wreck — or at least in need of some TLC?
Maybe it’s time to rip out that worn wooden platform in the yard and start from scratch. Or perhaps it’s merely in need of a facelift or some maintenance and repair. It pays to ponder these options carefully and determine which choice is best for your short- and long-term needs, suggests the experts.
First, don’t kid yourself: No deck lasts forever.
“Wooden decks eventually rot and warp. Even if well maintained, a pressure-treated deck can be expected to last about 10 to 20 years, a cedar deck up to 20 years, a redwood deck 30 years, and a mahogany deck 40 years,” says Paul Farmer, vice president of marketing for Woodtex in Franklin, Tennessee. “And composite decking can last 15 to 20 years.”
Cristina Miguelez, a remodeling specialist with Wilmington, Delaware-based Fixr.com, says the elements take a significant toll on a deck and cause steady damage over the years.
“It could be rotting where you can’t see it, such as in the joists and supports below, and this becomes a hazard to anyone walking on it over time,” she says.
If you’ve noticed signs of rot, chipping, flaked paint or stain, a dull finish, loose planks, railings or balusters, or other problems, it’s time to do something about it before your compromised deck causes an injury or the repair costs spiral out of control. If your deck is over 10 years old, consider hiring a professional to have your deck and its joist system inspected. That can help you determine if it’s time to remove and replace the deck entirely.
“It costs up to $15 per square foot to remove deck boards, and labor to build new often starts at $40 per hour for a basic deck,” notes Farmer. If your existing joist system is in good shape, you may be able to reduce these costs significantly.
While a new deck — especially one made of composite materials that don’t need to be sanded/stripped or stained/painted — sounds nice, it’s your most expensive option. HomeAdvisor estimates that it typically costs between $4,000 and $11,000 to build a new deck.
If your deck is structurally sound and most of the materials are in good shape, think about repairing any loose/damaged boards and refinishing the deck instead.
“This is the most cost-effective way to extend the life of your deck, by as much as five to 10 years,” Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor in Denver, says. This idea involves renting a pressure washer to power wash your deck, sanding down the boards using a sanding machine or orbital sander (and 80 grit sandpaper), and then staining or sealing your deck. You can do this job yourself for a few hundred dollars or pay a pro.
“Count on re-staining or resealing your wood deck every three to five years, especially in high-traffic areas. A high-quality stain seals the deck by going deep into the wood grain, preventing fading and moisture,” recommends Jim Hunter, CEO of Milford, Ohio-based House Doctors.
Alternatively, if your deck is in decent shape and not too old, you could resurface it by implementing a floating deck system of interlocking composite or wood planks installed atop your existing decking. Doing this can hide an unsightly deck underneath and save you the hassle of power washing, sanding, and staining/sealing it.
“These resurfacing systems are usually easy to install, so an experienced do-it-yourselfer could manage the project,” says DiClerico, who adds that this option can save thousands versus the cost of building new.
Hunter cautions, however, that resurfacing is only an esthetically pleasing short-term fix that may obscure problems that could be happening underneath.
“It ignores the need to replace, repair, or cap joists where rot or other issues might be hiding,” he says.
Lastly, before committing to a deck project, research your municipality’s codes and rules when it comes to deck lifespan, a building permit that may be needed, and acceptable products.
“And before hiring a professional to do the work, ask people for recommendations, do research on the contractor, read as many reviews as you can, and get a detailed estimate in writing,” says Farmer.