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Decks take the most abuse of any surface around the home. Like roofs, they must withstand sun, wind, and rain year-round, plus snow and ice during the cold winter months. Like floors, they need to be able to hold up to heavy foot traffic, dirt and grime, and the dragging about of fixtures, such as grills, urns, and furniture. Like walkways, they need to bear snow shovels.

You may find that after a winter of neglect, your deck is suffering from a number of maladies: loose members, water damage, and mildew, to name a few. Now that spring is officially here, hit the deck and follow this thorough maintenance regimen:

1. Check for loosened nails and other fasteners, and reinstall or replace them with galvanized or stainless steel deck screws, which are made to withstand the elements. Having trouble spotting raised fasteners with your naked eye? Drag a garden rake across the deck board to help you catch them.

2. Reinforce loose deck and stair railings immediately.
Sand splintered areas with a belt sander, and plane raised board edges smooth. Replace rotted, or severely cupped deck boards (this happens when the wood's surface warps and it remains concave). In some cases, the cupped board is flat on its underside, so you can simply turn it over and reinstall for years of additional service.

3. Check that the deck, especially a high one, has not pulled away from the house. The point of connection, called the ledger, should be securely fastened to the house framing. If it isn't, call in a professional.

4. Clean debris accumulations from between deck boards with a putty knife. Doing so will promote better drainage and reduce rot and mildew.

5. Clean wood, composite, and aluminum decking every year. Use a stiff broom, a biodegradable detergent, and a strong blast of water from the hose. For large, badly stained and weathered decks, you can also use a power washer, but do so with caution. Set the pressure low enough as not to damage the decking surface.

6. Refinish wood decking with semi-transparent or solid stains, or with deck or porch paint. You don't have to do this each spring; every two or three years is fine. Don't bother with clear sealers and water repellent preservatives. They don't contain enough pigment or resins to protect wood from UV light and moisture penetration.

7. Trim excess vegetation growing around the deck to promote good air circulation and prevent the growth mold and mildew. If mildew does get a foothold, use a cleaner with oxygen bleach. It's effective and much less toxic than chlorine bleaches.

8. Sweep dirt and debris from all types of decks
. Continue to do this regularly throughout the outdoor season. Underfoot, grit will wear off the deck's finish, revealing unsightly traffic patterns.

9. Cover checked, splintered, and discolored areas with a sisal-style, outdoor synthetic carpet.
Doing so will buy some time before you'll have to tackle a bigger, more expensive, renovation. You can also use outdoor carpets in those areas where traffic (and traffic wear spots) is heavy. Choose an open weave that allows rain to pass through and the carpet to dry quickly once the sun returns. When it's time to clean the carpet, pull it onto the lawn and hose it off.



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