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Tip of the Day: Clean under your deck

Consumer Reports News: April 30, 2008 12:09 AM

Everyone marks the first warm days of spring differently. Some folks go for a long walk, many fire up the grill for the first of many meals they’ll prepare outdoors in the coming months, and some toss the ball around with their kids.

Many of you have also recently undertaken some spring cleaning, but I imagine that I’m in the minority of homeowners who spent the first mild spring evening this year crawling and toiling under a deck to clean out the mess there.

In years past, raking out leaves from beneath my 400-square-foot wood deck was invariably an hours-long ordeal. This time, however, it took only about 20 minutes, in part because the leaves were dry and easier to gather and also because I needed to complete the work before it got too dark.

When I was finished, my booty comprised a full bag of leaves, two stinging eyes, nine tennis balls and two Wiffle Balls—kids!—plus a balled-up woolly bear caterpillar. Oh, and enough dirt on my clothes and myself to merit instant banishment to the shower. (That’s me in the photo above.)

Why bother cleaning out under the deck? Leaves that collect there can harbor moisture and serve an inviting habitat for insects and fungi. They’re also a fire hazard. The chief reason I tackle this chore in spring is that the patio tiles and soil under the deck have lost most of winter’s chill. Even better, the ants, spiders, and assorted other cooties that might want at me have yet to emerge at my house.

At any time of the year, though, this underdeck cleanup would merit a spot on Dirty Jobs—presuming you could find someone to pay to do this work. And once I’ve tidied up, other deck-upkeep chores seem easy by comparison. These include an annual safety inspection; the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) offers a handy checklist (PDF download) for the part of the deck you walk on. The NADRA also promotes Deck Safety Month in May.

While you’re working on your deck, check your deck stain or treatment for wear. Look for our upcoming report on deck stains and treatments in the June 2008 issue of Consumer Reports (on sale and online in early May). We’re covering volatile organic compounds among a number of other topics and will have testing information on a range of decking materials, including some of the newest composites.

Once someone manufactures a 20-foot telescopic rake, I suppose we’ll have to test that out, too. I have just the place to put it through its paces.Ed Perratore

Essential information: Here’s how to prepare your deck for a new stain and tips on finding the best deck stain or treatment.

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