Check Your Deck: 7 Repair Issues to Look For

An Annual Safety Checklist for Wood Deck Maintenance

man and boy painting deck
Father and son painting outdoor deck. michellegibson/Getty Images

Regular inspection, maintenance, and repair of a wood deck are necessary to keep it safe, functional, and looking good. If you're lucky enough to have one, a deck should be a source of pride and pleasure. Make it an annual event—either spring or fall—to check the deck for things like wood damage, rot, loose nails, and other types of wear and tear. Address issues before they become bigger problems. Small repairs can save you money and time—before they become major reconstruction projects.

Follow this handy checklist to inspect your deck annually.

  • 01 of 07

    Inspect Wood

    main repairing deck
    Man replacing boards of wood deck. Jessica Gwozdz/Getty Images

    Wood needs to be maintained often, which includes cleaning, sanding, polishing, or painting. Here's how to inspect:

    • Look for evidence of rot. Using a knife or other sharp object, lightly poke or dig into areas that look soft and spongy, repair or replace the wood asap.
    • Check the wood for splinters or cupping (sinking).
    • Look at the ends of the wood boards. Have they started to warp?
    • Check several different sections of the deck to make sure wood is still sturdy and solid. These include ledger boards, support posts, joists under the deck, deck boards, railings, and stairs. These areas will be addressed in more detail later.
    • Inspect for small holes in the wood, which may indicate insect damage, particularly termites.
  • 02 of 07

    Nail Pop

    nail popping out of wood
    Rusty nail popping out of wood deck. amriphoto/Getty Images

    One of the most common problems with aging decks is something called nail "pop." Wood boards or planks on older decks are often secured with nails, which are prone to popping up throughout the year. This is caused by wood expanding and contracting during temperature changes. The contraction and expansion force the nail to squeeze or push up and out of the wood. Of course, these should be nailed down or better yet—replaced with screws, which will make things tighter.

  • 03 of 07

    Check Stairs and Steps

    redwood deck steps
    Redwood deck steps show risers and treads. Patricia McCarthy/Flickr

    Before inspecting stairs or steps, contact your city or county website for information on current residential building codes. The big question: do your stairs or steps comply? If not, what are you going to do it about it?

    Mold and mildew are more likely to form during colder months. Are the stair treads slippery and potentially dangerous?

    Does the wood on the steps have rot or splitting? Look closely at the stringers, risers and treads of the stairs.

  • 04 of 07

    Inspect Posts

    weathered deck
    Weathered wood deck. douglascraig/Getty Images

    Decking posts are the vertical framing "members" that support the beams. Like other parts of the deck, the posts need to be checked out for rot and splitting. Pay special attention to the ends of the posts, where rotting and splits are more likely to develop.

    Is it time to tighten fasteners like nuts, bolts, screws and nails? If the fastener seems loose after attempted tightening, look for rot in the wood. Sitting moisture is the main cause of wet or dry rot.

    Wet Rot: Telltale signs of wet rot are if it is black and spongy or has dark brown strands.

    Dry Rot: Dry rot is lighter in color but also soft (like wet rot). Don't let its name deceive you—it thrives in moist conditions.

    After rot issues are addressed, step back and survey the posts. Are they level or perfectly vertical (plumb)?

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Railing Inspection

    enclosed deck
    Screened-in deck with railing. Eric Vega/Getty Images

    Like the stairs, you might want to check your city or community website for information on current residential building codes to see if your railings are compliant. Unlike horizontal deck boards—the surface you walk on and upon which furniture sits—vertical railings don't get "roughed up" nearly as much. However, they can warp, twist or break.

    Here's how to check the railings:

    • If made of wood, inspect for signs of rot or splitting.
    • Are railing posts fastened tightly to the deck?
    • Lean against the railing or grab it and try to shake it. Does it shake easily or seem wobbly or unsteady?
    • Inspect other railing connections and fasteners, like the balusters or balustrade. Secure and tighten or loosen wobbly rails.
  • 06 of 07

    Weathered or Discolored Boards

    deck cleaning
    Pressure washing a deck. Banks/Getty Images

    If the boards of your wood deck are discolored—usually gray—it is probably time for a good cleaning. Experts recommend washing a wood deck at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall. If it is more weathered, then boards may need to be replaced. 

  • 07 of 07

    Reseal or Paint

    man and boy painting deck
    Father and son paint outdoor deck. michellegibson/Getty Images

    In addition to giving the deck a thorough cleaning, it may be time to paint or reseal it.