Design & DIY

Spring maintenance deck and dock checklist

Top down aerial drone image of people sitting on a wooden dock at a cottage lake. Photo by Alexander Gold/Shutterstock

Aside from the building itself, the deck and dock are usually two of the biggest structures at a cottage—and among the priciest to replace. In order to avoid costly repairs, here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your deck and dock in top shape.

Inspection visit

Start off with a visual inspection. You want to look for any loose or missing hardware, spongy deck boards and other signs of rot, and make sure the stairs and railings are secure and stable.

Give the railings a good shake. If they seem wobbly, tighten or reinforce the supporting hardware.

Check each of the deck boards to make sure none of the screws or nails holding them down have popped up. Tighten or hammer down any that are until they’re below the surface.

If you can, get under the deck to inspect the hardware from the underside, paying close attention to the joist hangers and other support hardware, the saddles holding the posts in place, and the ledger board—the support beam that connects the deck to the building. If you detect rot in the ledger or any of the support posts, you should call in a professional to assess the damage.

If you have a floating dock, ideally you’ll conduct your inspection—and take care of any necessary repairs—before you put it in the water. Key areas to focus on are the corner brackets and the hinges that hold the various pieces together.

It’s helpful if you take photos of the deck and dock from a few different angles every year so you can compare and contrast next year.

Spring cleaning

Pine needles, maple keys, and other debris that gets caught between the deck boards can get saturated with water and hold it against the wood, eventually leading to rot. At least a couple times a year you should scan the entire surface and clear out this material.

There are long-handled tools built specifically for doing this from a standing position, or you can get down on your hands and knees and clear the gaps out with painter’s spatula or even an old butter knife. (Better yet, get the kids or grandkids to do it!)

For a thorough cleaning, pick up some non-toxic deck cleaner specifically formulated for the type of deck you have (pressure treated, cedar, composite). Follow the instructions on the package but note that if you’re using a pressure washer, use it on a low setting. If the pressure is too high you’ll damage the wood fibres. Note that it’s best to wash your deck on an overcast day so that the sun doesn’t dry the cleaning solution off too quickly.

Cedar naturally weathers to a silvery grey. If you’d like to keep the original hue, you’ll need to seal it every couple of years. Place tarps or some other barrier over any plants you have close to the deck. Before applying.

If you have a removable dock, pull the dock as far away from shore as possible to clean it.

Replacing rotten boards

Certain parts of the deck will be in the shade most of the time, and the deck boards and railings in those areas often stay damp. In some cases, you’ll need to replace rotted boards. (You may want to trim back any shrubs or branches that keep parts of the deck in perpetual shade.)

Once you’ve removed any rotted boards, and cut replacements to size, look down the length of each board. You’ll notice a slight arch in each. Install the replacement board(s) with the high side up so that it sheds water, rather than allowing it to pool.

If you only need to replace a section of a board, use a jigsaw to cut it back to the closest joists on either end. Then attached some blocking to the joists to support the replacement board.

If you’re working with pressure-treated wood, make sure you’re using ACQ-approved hardware, or stainless steel, but never a combination of the two – the dissimilar metals will have a corrosive reaction.

Dock hardware

The biggest difference between a deck and dock for maintenance is the addition of dock hardware. In addition to inspecting and tightening all the nuts, bolts, and other hardware holding the frame together, make sure the anchor cleats, bumpers, and swim ladder are firmly in place.

Finally, if you have a wooden or fibreglass diving board, inspect for cracking or signs of fatigue and replace it if necessary to avoid any dockside disasters.

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