Before the cookout, make these critical deck checks

Consumer Reports News: July 03, 2012 12:38 PM

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Cracks, dirt, and mildew are obvious tip-offs that it's time to refinish your deck. But signs of an unsafe deck are often less obvious. If yours was built before 2004, it's probably made of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) lumber. Regular refinishing helps seal in the toxic arsenic that CCA decking contains. If the finish is flaking, we suggest calling a pro equipped to safely refinish it, removing the old finish, dust and debris. Here are the other critical safety checks to make on any deck.

  • Be sure the railings and banisters aren't loose. Push on them; they shouldn't wiggle as you push.
  • Check that all of the steps are securely anchored to the risers by resting your weight all along their width.
  • Check the structure. Look for rot and insect damage beneath the deck platform; if you find any, have the deck checked and repaired by a professional.
  • Help prevent mildew and the slip hazard it causes by regularly clearing away leaves and other yard waste from beneath and around the deck.
  • Inspect all nails, screws, and bolts. Hammer down nails and tighten screws and bolts as needed.
  • Safeguard children and pets by keeping the spaces between the railing balustrades to four inches or less.
  • Prevent fires by putting a nonflammable pad between a grill and the decking, and keeping heaters and fire pits from contacting the deck. Also inspect outdoor lighting and replace any frayed cords or other damaged components.

If you decide to refinish your deck, wood stain finishes vary according to how much of the wood's natural grain they show. The best opaque treatments tend to last the longest. But you may prefer a semitransparent or clear finish for aesthetic reasons. Semitransparent products let some of the wood grain show through, making them a good choice for cedar, redwood and other costly woods. Clear finishes may contain only a little pigment, along with water repellants. They're ideal for showing off the natural grain of premium wood but may need to be reapplied every year.

The top opaque and semitransparent stains in Consumer Reports wood stain tests are both from Behr and sold at Home Depot. The best clear finish is from Thompson's. If you have to replace your deck, we've tested wood, plastic, composite and metal decking. While most people prefer wood, the LockDry aluminum decking scored excellent on all of our tests and you'll never have to refinish it.

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