Tips for Rebuilding an Existing Deck

This article will not get you from A to Z with rebuilding an existing deck. But reading it ought to save you some time, sweat, aggravation, material, and money. Your old deck - which has given you many happy moments on the chaise lounge sipping mint juleps - has seen its best days. So, on a Saturday morning you wake up, step out on the deck with a cup of coffee, and have a great idea - Today’s the day to give this deck its much-needed facelift! In seventeen seconds, you have your measuring tape and you’re ready to attack your 16x20-foot deck. Replace a couple of rotted floor joists and by dinnertime you will have a beer in one hand and grille tongs in the other enjoying the new deck!

If this is you, here is my Number 1 Deck Rebuild suggestion…

Go back into the house. Forget that you have a deck. Make other plans for the day. Then, the following day, in a quieter moment, read the rest of this article with a calendar, a calculator, a pad and pen, and the weather report at your fingertips.

Here is a list of lessons I have learned doing deck repairs and rebuilds:

Location, Location, Location

If the deck is the main thoroughfare in and out of the house, figure out plan B for getting in and out of your house while the deck is unusable. Make sure you can sanely use this plan B – with groceries, the dog, bikes, etc. – for at least two weeks. If this DIY project will be performed only on weekends, then make sure plan B will work for at least a month.

Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

When is the best four-week window to take the sawzall and crowbar to the deck? (Poll everyone in the house). If there’s an important party or get-together planned within the following month, plan the rebuild for a later date.

Check the Weather

The accuracy of weather reports being what they are, at least research them to give yourself the best opportunity for clear, moderate weather. You don't want it to be too hot - deck lumber is heavy and nothing saps strength quicker than the sun. Just as importantly, working with rain-soaked lumber is obviously tougher than working with dry.

Consider Budget

Make sure you have the money to complete your plan and design. With a rebuild, the difficulty is not knowing just how much of the original deck needs to be replaced (ledgers, beam, posts, joists, etc.). This is because there may be rot or other damage that cannot be seen until removing existing treads, face plates, and stairs. You will already be into the project before you really know how much the rebuild will cost.

Get a Partner

Whether you’re replacing floor joists, stair stringers, deck posts, ledgers, or floor treads, you will probably be wielding 12, 16, or even 20-foot lengths of lumber. Most deck rebuilds are not one-person DIY projects. Line up the necessary help ahead of time. (Have plenty of water on hand for hydration, and don’t forget the pizza for lunch).

Plan and Prepare

Deck rebuilds are always more extensive than initially expected, but it doesn't mean you should avoid the project. Plan the structural design to accommodate the desired tread materials (composite or wood, pine, pressure-treated, or cedar). Different materials may require different on-center support spans, which may change the size and quantity of lumber for joists or beams. In addition, some amount of material optimization is recommended because one free delivery from the lumber yard saves time, money, and aggravation - as compared to an unplanned lumber yard run at 3pm on Sunday for 16-foot lumber with a mini-van.

Keep the Look Coherent

Mixing different finished materials (wood and composite) is not recommended. If the treads are composite, make all the horizontal surfaces (railing tops, stair treads) composite for a better look.

The great benefits of a rebuild project in lieu of starting new is that your existing deck becomes the blueprint for the rebuild. Each old member is the exact template for the new member - dimensions, length, drilled holes, notches, etc. In a shorter time with less money and greater ease, you will have a solid deck you can enjoy for years to come. (Remember the mint juleps!)

For more information on deck construction and maintenance, visit our Decks Page.