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How to Check for Wood Rot in a Deck

Wood rot is the enemy of an old deck. If you’ve had your home for more than 10 years, your wood deck probably isn’t in the shape it once was. Nowadays, many decks are being constructed using materials like PVC and other composites that don’t suffer as much damage through the passage of time when compared to wood decks. Wood, while it can be beautiful, has to be rigorously maintained in order to prevent wood rot.

Wood rot happens to most wood decks at some point, especially those that aren’t vigorously maintained.

Wood rot is a natural process that progresses thanks to fungus, bacteria, heat and water exposure. Water exposure from sprinklers and splashing rain drops have the most impact on how quickly a wood deck breaks down. For some homeowners, skipping a year of deck staining or using the least expensive protectants seems to be the best option, but the long-run costs can be much greater and potentially dangerous.

When wood rot strikes your deck, the fibers start to break down and soften. It’s pretty easy to tell if you have wood rot using some basic tools. Grab a screwdriver or a nail punch and get down underneath your deck. Take a flashlight to make sure you can see, and push the poker into the beams and joints (especially at the ends of the boards). If you can’t get under the deck, you may just need to remove a few of the top boards and test the wood beneath.

If you do find that the support beams are showing signs of rot, with darkened color and softer skin, the deck may not be entirely safe to use. In these cases, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional who can tell you the extent of the damage, how to repair it and help you identify the urgency of the problem. Often, rot that shows itself only on the top boards can be easily repaired with replacement boards, and you can either do this yourself (don’t forget to seal and protect it) or you can hire a pro to take care of it for you.

Another very important element to check is the ledger, or the boards on the exterior of your home where the deck connects to the house itself. If the ledger wasn’t properly protected after an original deck installation or rebuild, wood rot could be happening here. This is extremely dangerous as it can allow the deck to collapse, and it can affect all types of decks, including PVC and composite.

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