Winter-Proofing Outdoor Surfaces and Spaces

November 20, 2023

All summer, backyard decks, front porches and outdoor kitchens are the place to spend time outdoors gathered around a fire pit with friends and family or relaxing with a tea and a book. But as temperatures cool and winter approaches, winter-proofing outdoor surfaces is critical.

Aging decks can pose various hazards. They can be the cause of minor injuries like wood splinters in feet or hands, or much more serious injuries if a deck collapses, resulting in cuts, scrapes, and even broken bones. Ensuring the safety and security of decks is essential, especially after they’ve been around for many seasons. Before the first freeze or snowfall, homeowners should inspect their decks for any rotting wood, broken steps, and loose railings.

Rooting Out Rot

To check for rotting wood, poke the wood with a screwdriver in areas that are prone to moisture. If the wood feels spongy or crumbles easily, it may be rotten. Warped wood can be identified by looking for unevenness in the boards or gaps between them. Rotting and warping is also commonly found in outdoor kitchens on decks as these areas are more prone to heat from cooking, liquid spills, and are typically high traffic areas.

Checking for signs of pest infestation is also key to maintaining the structural integrity of a deck. Termites can cause severe damage to the wooden components of a deck, which could ultimately lead to its collapse. Look for small holes, sawdust and mud tubes that could indicate the presence of termites or other pests. Regularly inspect decks for signs of pest infestation at least once a year. Homeowners with a wood-burning pizza oven or smoker should keep firewood away from the deck to prevent attracting pests.

wood deck

If homeowners notice any signs of rotting, warping or insect damage, they should replace the affected boards immediately to prevent further damage. Wood rot can spread quickly and cause structural damage to a home. Preventing rotting and warping requires proper maintenance, such as sealing and painting wood to protect it from moisture and sun damage. Homeowners should also ensure that gutters and downspouts are working properly to prevent water from pooling around the home.

In addition to a surface inspection, homeowners should also check ledger and decking boards to confirm they are still securely attaching the deck to the house. By choosing the right attachment method, such as lag screws or through-bolts, homeowners can ensure the safety and longevity of decks. The entire deck should be checked for loose nails and screws. Loose or missing nails and screws can compromise the structural integrity of the deck and create safety concerns. Loose screws should be tightened with a screwdriver, popped nails hammered back into the deck, and any missing screws should be replaced with galvanized or stainless-steel screws. These types of screws are more resistant to rust and corrosion.

Railings are another essential safety feature for any deck, particularly in homes that have young children or pets. Checking railings regularly can prevent any potential accidents and ensure that a deck remains a welcoming and inviting place to relax and entertain. Look for any wobbly or unstable railings and check that the railings are securely fastened to the deck. Inspect for rust, cracking, or splitting in the railings. Replace damaged or corroded railings with new ones or reinforce existing ones with additional fasteners or support structures.

Having proper lighting on a deck is crucial for both aesthetics and safety. Without sufficient lighting especially on or near stairs and steps, a deck can become dangerous in the evenings or at night. Proper lighting can help prevent slips, trips, and falls. Additionally, well-placed lighting can create a warm and inviting ambiance, making a deck a more enjoyable space to relax and entertain. Proper overhead lighting and tabletop lighting in outdoor kitchen areas can make it easier to prepare meals, check if food is fully cooked and clean up after an evening meal. Use lighting fixtures with dimmers or adjustable brightness to create a versatile and customizable atmosphere. Consider installing motion sensor lights for added security and convenience.

Proactive Winter-Proofing Outdoor Surfaces

Before the winter weather hits, cleaning and preparing the deck or patio for the upcoming season can make things much easier in the spring. Remove any debris, leaves, and dirt accumulated on the deck. Organic matter like berries, animal droppings, or leaves left on the decking can start to rot or stain which can make for a more extensive clean-up come springtime.

Homeowners looking to enhance their outdoor living space without having to worry about all the above safety and maintenance concerns, should check out wood decking alternatives. Resistant to moisture, scratches, stains, fading, rot and termites, Millboard decking and siding is a durable product for a variety of outdoor applications. In addition to being used on a deck or patio, it can also be used for privacy accent walls, pergolas, outdoor kitchen backsplashes, outdoor showers, planters and more.

—By John Fowler,  CEO of Outlive

Photo credit: Millboard