Dear readers: The weather this winter probably was a little rough on your deck, so now's a good time for a "tune-up" for the outdoor season ahead.
- Structure. The end of each joist supporting the deck's floorboards should be resting in a metal joist hanger. If not, they're easy to install and quite inexpensive. The main ledger board attaching the deck to the house frame should be secured with at least 3/8-inch lag screws, not nails. Also, any connection between the 4-by-4-inch support posts and the structure above should consist of metal straps or anchors - again, not just nails or screws. The lumberyard has many, with various geometric shapes and twists to accommodate almost any configuration.
If soil impinges on the wood support posts, scrape it back down to the footers and install a permanent barrier - such as landscape edging - to protect the wood from moisture and rot. Also, any post that is out-of-plumb or settled out of position can't support its designed load. A small hydraulic jack - available at the rental center - can be used to temporarily shore the load above while you make adjustments.
If your deck is older, it might have been built with nails, not screws. Not to worry. Loose railings, stairs or deck boards can be secured with coated 3-inch deck screws and a good cordless driver.
Sometimes a long stairway leading up to the deck will sway sideways. Although it might be safe, the effect can be disconcerting for guests. The cure? Simply install a "Z"-shaped brace - such as you'd find on a gate face - under the stringers to restore stability. Use a flat board such as a 1-by-4-inch..
- Cosmetic. If your deck boards are severely worn or cracked, they can be turned over and screwed down from the other side. If the surface is simply faded and dull, a good treatment with a power washer followed by a wood-brightening chemical from the paint store will prepare the surface for a fresh new protective coat.
I've always recommended the linseed oil-based, name-brand products. They are resilient and reliable. But there are now acrylic-oil formulations you should check out. They contain mildew and UV light blockers and, like all acrylics, clean up with soap and water. Plus they are incredibly forgiving when you roll them on. Unlike their oil-based cousins, overlaps or uneven application areas quickly blend together. So there's no need to go back and touch up light and dark spots. They're not cheap - expect to pay $40 or so for the good ones - but they are worth considering because of their ease of application and no-hassle cleanup.
Finally, outdoor soft surfaces - such as artificial "turf" or indoor/outdoor carpet - don't do well on a wooden deck. They tend to attract and hold moisture, which can shorten the life of the underlying structure.
Dear Ken: I'd like a new kitchen floor, but I am worried about possible hazardous materials in the old floor. - Kate
Answer: Older hard-surface floors may contain minor amounts of asbestos, especially if your house was built in the '70s or earlier. But here's the good news. You can simply leave it alone. We get into trouble by removing or fiddling with the old surface, such as grinding, scraping or sanding. So screw down places that squeak or pop, and then lay down a good 1/4-inch underlayment - such as cement board or AC-grade plywood - over the old linoleum. That will create a stable and flat, no-blemish base for your new flooring.
Dear Ken: Which is better for attic insulation, the blow-in type or fiberglass batts? - Jay
Answer: Even though batt installation is easy to install, it has two downsides. First, a vapor barrier (paper facing) on each piece can trap moisture transpiring upward from the living area. This can be (sort of) overcome by slashing the paper with a linoleum knife, but who needs the extra hassle? The big downside, though. is coverage. Blown-in insulation gets into all the nooks and crannies, whereas the batt material leaves gaps between sections. So choose the loose material. How much do you need? About 14 to 16 inches is the latest recommendation for our climate.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visitaroundthehouse.com