Removing and replacing deck boards that are rotted, split, warped, or otherwise damaged is a safety precaution as well as an aesthetic fix. A deck board should be replaced if one end is lifting or it is cupping, both of which cause tripping hazards. A rotted deck board should also be replaced because the cause may affect nearby boards not to mention it could injure someone who could fall through the board. If the deck board is extremely splintered and cracked, it should also be removed and replaced to avoid injuries. There are three ways to remove and replace deck boards:
- If the board is not damaged but has a purely cosmetic issue, such as a stain, you might just need to remove, flip, and refasten the unsightly piece of board.
- If there is damage, you can remove and replace deck boards, although this isn't always possible or practical to remove the whole board, for example, if it's under a post.
- When necessary, you can also replace just the damaged section of the board, a process that is as simple as cutting out the section of the old board and replacing it with new material.
The preparation of the joists and the new board is the key to success with this easy project.
Equipment / Tools
- Eye protection
- Speed square
- Carpenter's pencil
- Screwdriver (optional)
- Pry bar
- Circular saw
- Miter saw (optional)
- Drill with driver bit and 1/8-inch twist bit
- Tape measure
- Brush for wood sealer application
- Paintbrush for wood finish
- Deck wood sealer (clear)
- 16d galvanized nails
- 2 1/2-inch galvanized deck screws
- 1 24-inch pressure-treated 2x4 lumber
- 3 1/2-inch galvanized deck screws
- Deck board lumber to match existing decking boards
- Deck wood finish (as needed)
- 3-inch galvanized deck screws
How to Replace a Section of Decking Boards
Plan the Cut
The goal is to cut out the damaged section cleanly and make the repair look as natural as possible.
Examine the damaged section of the deck board and select locations to make the cuts. Ideally, the replacement board will be sized so the end joints do not align with the joints in adjoining rows of decking. It's better to stagger the joints in decking boards from row to row to create a natural look.
Even if the damaged area is quite small, it's best for the new replacement section to span at least two joist spaces, so that it is supported in at least three locations—at the ends and at least one interim joist. Identify the two joists on either side of the damaged area. Using a speed square to mark square and straight cutting lines, draw cutting lines across the board so they are flush with the inside edges of the joists.
Remove the Damaged Board
Put on eye protection before cutting. Use a jigsaw and coarse wood-cutting blade to cut along the marked lines. Sever the damaged board exactly flush with the edges of the joists. You can use the speed square to guide the saw if you're comfortable with this technique. Otherwise, simply follow the line carefully for a straight cut.
Remove the screws and nails securing the damaged section of the decking board using a drill driver, screwdriver, or a pry bar. Remove the board section.
Seal Any Joist Rot
Inspect and remove any rot on the joists below the damaged board you just removed. Treat and protect exposed portions of joists where rot was removed by using two coats of clear sealer.
Add the Joist Reinforcement
Add a reinforcing joist from pressure-treated lumber treated with a clear sealer. Position the new joist tightly against the damaged joist. Attach the new joist with 16d nails or 3 1/2-inch deck screws driven every two feet.
Install the Support Cleats
Cleats provide support for the replacement piece of decking.
Cut two 12-inch-long sections of a piece of 2x4 lumber for the support cleats, using a circular saw, miter saw, or jigsaw. Drill two pilot holes at each end of both cleats, about 2 inches from the ends, using a drill and 1/8-inch twist bit.
Position a support cleat against the inside face of one of the exposed joists, centering it under the opening where the board was removed. The top of the cleat should be flush with the top of the joist.
Fasten the cleat to the joist with four 2 1/2-inch deck screws driven through the pilot holes. Repeat with the second cleat and the other joist.
Cut a New Decking Board
Cut the new piece of decking board to fit snugly in the cut-out area.
If the new board is already cupped in any way, position it so the crowned (convex) side faces up. This alignment will help prevent cupping as the board weathers.
If the board has no obvious cupping, examine the end grain of the board; if there is an obvious curve to the grain pattern, position the board so the curve faces up, as in the illustration below.
Finish the Board
Stain or finish the new board before installing it into place.
Use the same type of lumber in the patch as is found in the rest of the decking. Unless you are painting the entire deck, using a different lumber species will cause the patch area to stand out from the rest of the deck.
Install the New Board
Position the finished replacement board so the gap between the adjacent boards is uniform.
Drill two pilot holes through the board at each end, about 3/4 inch from the end, so the holes are centered over the support cleats. Drill a pair of pilot holes at any other joists that the replacement board spans. Fasten the board to each cleat (and any spanned joists) with a pair of 3-inch deck screws driven through the pilot holes.
How much does it cost to replace deck boards?
Is it cheaper to repair or replace a deck?
It's always cheaper to repair a deck than to replace it, which can cost thousands of dollars even if it's a basic DIY deck project. Replacing a few boards is pennies compared to replacing a deck. You can also redo a deck for cheap, if the boards and structure are all sound, by using a restorative coating that has the appearance of composite decking once it's cured.
Can you put new deck boards over old ones?
You should not put new deck boards over old ones. The old ones may be rotting and dangerous to keep in place. You can, however, put other types of materials over deck boards that are in good shape but may be faded or not as aesthetically pleasing as you'd like. There are deck-specific floor coverings, outdoor rugs, and interlocking tiles of wood or rubber that are designed to be placed over existing decking.
Why do my deck boards keep rotting?
Your deck could have dry rot, which is a fungus caused by insects and/or water damage from a leak. The fungus causes the wood cellulose to rot away. Dry rot affects wood that is unprotected or poorly sealed. Test for rot by poking the board with a screwdriver and if the tip goes in very easily (even 1/8 inch), you may have rot, but if the tip does not sink in, the board is fine.
You can repair or replace a rotten deck board with a new board, but the damage could be more extensive than meets the eye. A rotting deck that is damaged in multiple places might not be able to be saved because the problem has likely spread, and often to areas that are hidden.