CAUTION: Could Your Deck Be Rotting? | Identifying Dry Rot

October 29, 2020

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If you have a wood deck on your property, it might not be long before you hit the internet and ask, “Is my deck rotting?” This is an excellent question, as identifying dry rot and addressing it quickly keeps it from getting worse, and can mean the difference between making some repairs or having to replace your deck altogether!

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Signs of deck rotting include:

  • Soft spots around the area where posts meet the ground
  • Grayish mold or spots of darker wood
  • Insect infestation, especially termites
  • Standing water, moist soil, and other causes of dry rot

Since dry rot isn’t always noticeable at first glance but can lead to severe deck damage, it’s helpful to review a few tips on identifying dry rot and related damage. It’s also helpful to learn how to fix deck rot and prevent this damage in the first place!

Knowing how often you should treat a wood deck, whether to repair or replace it, and why decks rot in the first place can also give you the tools needed to keep your beautiful deck in good repair. You can also discuss your concerns with a decking contractor near you, and know that you’ll always be able to enjoy that beautiful deck outside your home!

Signs Your Deck Could Be Rotting - What to Look for!

To identify dry rot, first, note what it looks and feels like, and then some added tips for identifying this rot as it develops along wood decks, fences, and other outdoor features.

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  1. One common sign of dry rot is spongy wood that might flake off when touched and especially when wet.
  2. Dry rot also causes wood discoloration; you might notice grayish or dark areas around the wood surface.
  3. Softwood also indicates dry rot. If you walk on the deck and it feels spongy underfoot, or push on areas with a finger or screwdriver and notice they’re softer than other spots, this might indicate dry rot.
  4. Dry rot often develops where posts meet the ground as soil holds moisture against wood, leading to rot on nearby deck surfaces. If you notice darkened wood or wood flaking away from the posts, this typically indicates dry rot.
  5. Note that moisture causes dry rot, and that moisture also encourages mold growth. If you notice long streaks of grayish mold along wood surfaces, rather than mold growing in cracks and crevices of wood, this might indicate dry rot.
  6. Moisture also attracts pests looking for a water source, and termites are especially attracted to wood! If your deck is always home to an insect infestation, don’t simply spray those pests with repellent but check the wood for signs of dry rot.
  7. Since moisture causes dry rot, you’ll want to check for soft or discolored wood near areas of excess water; if your home has suffered a plumbing leak that left a puddle in the yard near the deck, for example, ensure you inspect that wood after plumbing repairs are completed!

How Do You Fix Deck Rot?

To address dry rot, first, note the extent of the damage. If the wood is discolored but not soft and flaky, use an exterior shop vacuum and extract as much moisture as possible. Apply a wood preservative and refinish the wood, adding a top coat or sealant for added protection, and then monitor the wood and note if the damage returns.

Rotted wood that is soft and spongy, and especially if it’s started to flake or chip away, must be replaced! That wood is not only beyond repair but can also mean structural instability for your deck, which can shift and collapse on rotted posts. Rotted wood can also give way underneath you, or if you apply pressure on planks such as by leaning on a railing.

When removing rotted boards and slats, ensure you inspect adjoining wood. Note any discoloration, soft spots, or mold, as rot spreads rather quickly! You might even replace adjoining boards just to ensure their safety and stability; sand and then repaint or stain the entire deck, to ensure a seamless appearance.

What is the Life Expectancy of a Wood Deck?

A wood deck might last some 10 to 15 years at most. Wood is typically the least durable of all decking materials, while composite wood is often preferred by homeowners today because of the material’s longevity.

Composite wood is manufactured with wood pulp or reclaimed wood pieces mixed with bits of plastic. The plastic gives the material more durability while the wood pieces provide a natural aesthetic.

Composite decks might also have a vinyl shield, a thin layer over the top that provides even more durability and weather resistance. Composite decking is typically impervious to mold, rot, insect infestation, and other such damage, so those composite materials might last some 25 to 30 years or longer.

wood decking design

How Do You Keep a Deck From Rotting?

To avoid wood rot along your deck’s flooring, ensure you keep grass and weeds from reaching those boards. If the deck sits high enough for you to reach its underside, use a weed trimmer or other equipment to trim grass as often as needed. You might also fill the area with gravel or river rocks, to stunt grass and weed growth and keep that vegetation from reaching the deck itself.

Proper air circulation also helps dry out moisture, helping to prevent rot. If you have outdoor rugs or other large items covering decking boards, remove these on a regular basis so those boards can air out. Use an outdoor wet-dry vacuum on rugs as well, to extract moisture and ensure they’re not holding dampness against decking boards.

To protect posts and boards that come into contact with moisture regularly, protect them with flashing or joist flashing tape! Flashing is a thin metal used on roofs, to cover gaps between shingles and obstructions such as chimneys or vents. Roof flashing helps direct water away from the roof, while flashing can also provide a barrier for wood posts against growing vegetation, outside humidity, and the like.

To use flashing tape, first, clean the wood thoroughly. Use shears or a utility knife to cut the tape to size and work slowly as you apply it, as many brands of tape have such strong adhesion that they cannot be repositioned once applied. Push vegetation away from the posts and apply the tape as needed, and avoid overlaying it as added layers won’t provide additional protection against water damage and rot.

Should You Repair or Replace a Deck?

Rotted boards must be replaced, as said. In many cases, replacing just those damaged boards is sufficient for restoring a deck’s structural stability and strength. Repainting the deck also restores its color and appearance, and this process is oftentimes cheaper than replacing the deck itself.

However, if damage has spread to a number of floorboards or railings, and especially if it affects joists and rafters that give the deck structural strength, it’s probably time to replace the deck altogether! Removing old boards and decking not only allows you to replace them with new, strong boards in good condition, but you can also inspect your yard for causes of wood rot.

deck replacement and repair

For instance, pulling up the deck allows you easy access to put down gravel, cutting off vegetation under the deck, as said. You might also notice puddles or standing water, and can then inspect the home’s plumbing pipes or buried sprinkler system for damage and leaks.

Replacing decking with an updated composite, metal, PVC, or other such material also means little to no risk of future wood rot. You might also be surprised at how little maintenance is involved with these materials, as they often need nothing more than regular power washing to keep them clean, whereas wood decks need regular sanding, staining or painting, sealing, and other such repairs. These materials are also very affordable and deck kits make assembly easy.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Wood Deck?

The cost to replace a wood deck will depend on the material chosen, size, and if you want added features such as built-in seating. The cost of basic pressure-treated wood is typically about $15 per square foot on average, installed, or about $14,000-$15,000 total. Upscale wood species, some specialty composites, and added details can increase the cost to some $35 per square foot on average.

Taking down an existing wood deck can add to that cost, often another $5 to $10 per square foot. You might save on that cost by dismantling the existing deck yourself, although you want to exercise caution and ensure you wear protective gear and can discard the wood in your everyday trash without facing fines from your city. Note, too, that decking is typically treated with chemicals to keep it watertight, so don’t burn that wood as this releases those chemicals in the air and creates noxious, dangerous fumes!

You can also save on a new wood deck by choosing a basic, square design without many cuts and turns. The more a contractor needs to fabricate boards, such as for a hexagon shape, the more labor involved and the higher your costs! Built-in seating, wiring, and other such features also add to your cost, so keep the design basic if you’re on a limited budget.

How Often Should You Treat a Wood Deck?

Many stains meant for wood decks have built-in sealants, so you can stain and seal your deck all in one! Most decks need new stain every two to three years, or a new coat of sealant every year. However, if your deck is exposed to harsh sunlight or inclement weather, you might notice the color fading very quickly so that annual staining or painting is needed.

If the answer to the question, “Is my deck rotting,” is a firm yes, then you might also need to stain and seal your new deck more often than the current decking. Regular sealing will protect your replacement boards while keeping that new deck looking its best throughout the years.

treating and restoring a deck

 

A Word from Our Deck Builders in Kansas City

It's important for homeowners to understand the early signs of deck rot in order to take precautionary and representative measures necessary to preserve their deck. At Kansas City Deck Builders, we find that it's too often the case that we're replacing a wooden deck versus repairing because the warning signs of deck rot were not noticed. If you noticed signs of your wooden deck rotting, get in touch with your local deck builders today for deck restoration services!

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