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Repairing vs Rebuilding an Old Deck: Everything You Need to Know (Updated 2020)

Repairing vs Rebuilding an Old Deck: Everything You Need to Know (Updated 2020)

If you already have an existing wooden deck, you might be thinking that simply repairing it and sprucing it up will do the trick. However, building an entirely new deck might be the better and safer choice. Wooden decks, like most other structures, will eventually retain damage and require a certain amount of repairs. After a couple of decades, decks will tend to be beyond repair and may need to be replaced.

Before you decide whether to repair a deck or build a new one, have your existing deck inspected first. There may already be some rot setting in, or other kinds of structural damage that can ultimately render the deck unsafe. If the damage is too far gone, or if it is too unsafe, building a new deck is probably the better choice. After all, simply putting in a new deck on top of an already damaged structure can be dangerous.

Homeowners would often rather repair their existing decks instead of replacing them, since repairs are likely to be cheaper. Even so, it might be a good idea to prepare for the possibility that your deck will need to be rebuilt entirely.

This article aims to help you figure out whether your deck can simply be repaired, or if it would be safer for you and your family if you just replace and rebuild the whole thing. There are certainly more things to consider other than the cost.

Deck Safety

Deck Safety

According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), over 40 million homes in the United States alone have decks. There are also another 10 million commercial decks. About 25 million of those 50 million decks are already in need of repairs, or even replacement. 

There are thousands of accidents that occur on decks annually. These accidents are typically caused by poorly maintained decks, some of which end up collapsing and injuring a person. This can be dangerous to you and your family, but it can also put you in legal trouble. If someone is injured on your property due to a deck collapsing or other related incidents, you as a homeowner will more than likely be held liable.

Thus, for your own safety and that of your family and friends, it’s best to make sure that you pay close attention to deck safety. NADRA has a deck safety checklist that you can refer to so you’ll get a better idea of what you need to pay attention to. Additionally, NADRA has a list of certified home and deck inspectors that you can hire to evaluate the state of your deck.

Repairing a Deck

Decks typically take a lot of abuse. They have to withstand rain, sun, snow, sleet, hail, and ice. They also have to bear the weight of multiple people walking across them, as well as the weight of patio furniture.

Still, decks can last at least a decade, and some deck frames can remain perfectly sturdy and safe even at 50 years old or older. Sooner or later, however, decks will begin to show signs of wear and tear. The damage can be cosmetic at first, which is easy enough to fix. However, some kinds of damage might eventually affect the structure and safety of the deck itself if left unaddressed.

1. Signs of Damage

Much of the time, it’s easy to spot if your deck has any damage or issues. However, it’s better to know exactly what you should be looking for, because some signs of damage might escape a less discerning eye. NADRA also offers a deck evaluation checklist that can help guide you in looking for trouble spots.

A. Rot

Because decks are predominantly made of wood, they’re prone to rot. There are also certain parts of a deck that are in the ground or close to it, so those are the parts that you would need to keep an eye on. You should also check for parts where the wood is soft, because that might be an indicator of rot as well. It’s also important to check out the posts in railings as well as the surface of the deck.

If you find some small rotted spots that are about the size of your thumb, you can remove these spots with a chisel. However, after doing that, you should make sure to apply a preservative over the same spots to prevent the rot from spreading. This will save you a lot of trouble down the line.

However, if you find much bigger rotted spots, you might have to take out and replace the entire wooden part in question. This will also make sure that the rot doesn’t affect any other parts of the structure.

B. Rust or Holes

If you have an attached deck, it’s important to check on the ledger. This is the part that basically attaches your deck to your house, and it’s important to maintain because many decks collapse due to an improperly installed ledger. Check out how the ledger was attached -- the fasteners used there should be screws, not nails. Make sure that the ledger has no rust or holes as well. Most of the time, hiring a repair professional to fix a damaged ledger is the best choice.

The joists and beams of the deck should also be free from both rot and rusted connecting hardware. 

If you find that the ledger, joists, or beams of your deck have any of these issues, there are a few things you can do. If replacements are not possible, you can reinforce the damaged parts, but make sure to get rid of rotted spots first. Meanwhile, if you want to replace rusted hardware, make sure that you put in temporary support for the deck while you remove the old hardware and replace it with new hardware.

C. Cracks

Your decking boards can come in a variety of woods and other materials. You can have hardwood, pressure-treated softwood, composite boards made of wood-flour and plastic, and PVC plastic boards. Regardless of what your decking boards are made of, however, you might find some cracks on them upon inspection.

Cracks are definitely unsightly, but they’re not just a cosmetic issue. They don’t pose structural problems per se, but they can definitely become a bigger problem as time goes on. The best thing to do here is to take out the cracked board and replace it with a new one. 

The biggest issue you’ll probably have after replacing a cracked board is that the new board won’t match the others. If this is going to be a problem for you, you can just stain the new board to look like the older ones. 

D. Loose Parts

If your parent has ever told you off for leaning against a deck railing, it’s because there’s a good reason for it. Deck railing can get loose, which can pose some safety problems. The act itself of leaning against the railing can loosen it and put too much pressure on the hardware securing the railing to the deck. 

You can remedy this problem by tightening any screws or bolts securing the railing posts. You can also replace old screws with stainless steel screws that can provide more security and stability.

Other than the above, make sure to check other parts of the deck as well. Don’t forget to check out the supports, posts, and footings to see if there are any signs of damage or rot. If your deck has stairs, don’t forget to check them out as well for cracks. If the stairs have railings, those railings should be secure as well.

2. The Costs of Repairing a Deck

HomeAdvisor has broken down the costs of repairing a deck, from labor costs to the deck demolition costs. Of course, the prices here are just estimates, since the cost of repairs can depend on where you live. According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners spend between $731 to $2,585 for deck repairs, with an average cost of $1,653. This is under the assumption that your deck is structurally sound, and isn’t in need of rebuilding.

Below is a quick rundown of expected deck repair expenditures:

A. Services

  • Labor: $100-$500
  • Deck Railing Repairs: $500-$4,000
  • Anchoring Deck Stairs: $100-$300
  • Pest Inspection: $65-$100
  • Carpentry Repairs: $1,000 minimum
  • Rotten Wood Replacement: $500-$1,000

B. Supplies and Tools

  • Deck Cleaner: $10-$30
  • Screws (per pound): ~$5
  • Power Washer (rental per day): $40-$75
  • Cleaning Supplies: $10-$30
  • Epoxy Compounds (per gallon): $100-$200
  • Wood Hardener (per half-quart): $8-$12

C. Decking Board Material (per square foot)

  • Cedar: $5-$15
  • Treated Lumber: $8-$20
  • Redwood: $15-$25
  • Hardwood: $40-$80
  • Composite Wood: $20-$50

D. Deck Maintenance (per square foot)

  • Staining: $1-$5
  • Sealing: $.5-$7

3. When Repairs aren’t Enough

Realistically, the lifespan of a deck isn’t that long. If a deck is 20 years old or older, professionals would often advise homeowners to rebuild the framing of the deck itself. Typically, if the decking is worn but the framing is still solid and sound, you’ll only have to replace the decking. However, if the framing is in its last legs, simply laying down new decking is likely to be nothing more than a band aid solution.

At this point, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. While deck repairs are cheaper than rebuilding and replacing the framing, it might not be worth it in the long run. Some years down the line, you might end up having to rebuild your deck anyway, and you’ll have spent money on repairs when you could have gone straight to rebuilding the deck. The deck can still also fail even after repairs if its framing is already too far gone. 

Check out your deck’s framing and see if it was painted and if its material was pressure-treated. If the answer is no to both, and your deck is getting up there in years, then repairs might not be enough. The best option, therefore, might be to rebuild your deck in order to make sure that it remains safe to use.

Rebuilding a Deck

Rebuilding a Deck

While having to rebuild a deck isn’t the most ideal situation, it does have a few silver linings. For example, this might be the best time for you to expand your deck or downsize. This might also be the time for you to add some new features, make improvements, and more. If the wood of your deck’s framing is untreated, this might be your chance to get pressure-treated wood, which is sturdier and can last longer.

Rebuilding a deck opens up a whole host of new possibilities, and they can certainly be exciting. However, the process itself is not without its challenges. This part of the article will give you a better idea of what you can expect if you decide to replace your old, decrepit deck with a new one.

1. The Costs of Rebuilding a Deck

When people say it’s cheaper to just repair and spruce up a deck, they mean it. A new coat of paint, some new hardware, a new decking board or two, a planter or a barbecue -- these can give new life to an old deck. However, when a deck is at the end of its life and needs to be replaced, it can and will cost you more.

Costs are an important thing that you have to consider when planning for building a deck. A bigger deck would be more expensive, and decks of any size would incur maintenance and seasonal cleaning costs. Furthermore, you also have to pick out the materials you’ll use, and also consider how much they’ll cost and how they’ll work.

Tearing down an old deck will likely be one of your earliest expenses. The cost of deck demolition can range from $5 to $15 per square foot. If you’ll be paying to have the debris removed from your property, it’s going to cost you as well.

Calculated Industries Wheel Master 4D

HomeAdvisor also has the estimates for the costs of building a deck. As with deck repairs, the prices can vary depending on where you live, how big the deck is, and the materials you use. However, it can cost a total of $4,072 to $10,421. You can measure for your new deck’s estimated area with the help of a measuring tool like the Calculated Industries Wheel Master 4D

Below is a quick rundown of the costs of deck building:

A. Services

  • Labor (per square foot): $35

B. Deck Materials (per square foot)

  • Plastic and Composite: $30-$40
  • Pressure-Treated Wood: $15-$20
  • Elevated Concrete: $30-$75

C. Deck Designs

  • Deck with a Roof: $5,000-$35,000
  • Deck with Enclosures: $8,000-$25,000
  • Deck with Stairs: additional $15-$25 per square foot
  • Floating Deck (per square foot): $20-$60
  • Second-Story Deck: additional $40-$50 per square foot
  • Roof Deck: $25,000-$50,000
  • Balcony Deck (per square foot): $15-$35
  • Patio Deck: $1,800 to $5,000

D. Decking Board Materials (per square foot)

  • Redwood: $5-$30
  • Mahogany: $8-$11
  • Ipe: $10-$20
  • Tigerwood: $7-$15
  • Bamboo: $3-$10
  • Cedar: $3-$7
  • Aluminum & Metal: $15-$20
  • Fiberglass & Composite: $12-$22

E. Deck Maintenance

  • Pressure Washing: $150-$400
  • Staining: $500-$1,000
  • Sealing: $550-$1,200
  • Refinishing: $300-$7,000

If you choose to build the deck yourself with minimal help from hired professionals, you can possibly cut costs by about 65%. However, this isn’t a decision you should make lightly; if you don’t have experience with building decks, it might be best to hire people to do the work for you. While it can cost more, it will also likely save you a lot of trouble in the future.

2. Planning a Deck

One of the first things you have to decide on is how you’ll be using your deck in the near and far-off future. Do you often have family and friends over for barbecues or parties? Do you tend to have more intimate gatherings with smaller groups of people? Depending on your lifestyle, as well as the size of your available space, you have to choose between building a bigger deck or building a smaller deck.

You also need to take note of any obstacles in the space, like trees or large rocks. You can build around these obstacles, which can make for an interesting or unique deck design, but you can also have these obstacles removed. If you want to have them removed, however, first consider the costs you might incur.

Another vital decision you’ll have to make is whether you should hire a contractor or build the deck yourself. To get more guidance in building a deck, check out your local building codes. This will have guidelines that will help you make decisions that will work best for you and won’t lead to problems or issues down the line.

3. Designing a Deck

There are certainly a lot of factors to consider when you tear down an old and decaying deck in order to build a newer one. However, doing so can also open up a lot of new and exciting possibilities. If you choose to tear down and rebuild, you have a chance to improve your deck’s design or add more features.

Alumicolor T-square

You can make a model of your new deck on a computer, but your preliminary sketches will likely be done by hand. To help you make accurate measurements and precise lines, you can use an Alumicolor T-square.

A new deck can have a wide variety of additional features that you may have been eyeing for quite some time. However, it might be best not to skimp on your deck framing. Build it with pressure-treated wood, and make sure to paint it to make it more durable.

Of course, not all decks are made the same. There are several different types of decks, and you can choose the one that fits your preferences and budget the best.

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