Decks are about the only type of remodel work that has framing that is exposed to the elements. Your homes framing is protected by layers of paint, caulk, siding, and (on newer homes) a water barrier. This protects your home’s framing from insects, moisture, the sun, and everything else mother nature may throw at it. Your deck’s framing, on the other hand, is exposed year-round to rain, snow, UV rays from the sun, and bugs. This causes deck framing to fail well before your home ever would.
“Can I reuse my old deck framing” is probably one of the most commonly asked questions I receive when speaking with customers. Sometimes the decking or railing is failing before the framework is showing major signs of rot. This could be due to many different factors. The joists are installed vertically for strength, but this also allows water to run down the sides of the boards, instead of pooling on top. The framing is also usually made out of pressure treated lumber, which can out last a cedar deck. A lot of times however, the deck’s framing just simply looks to be in better condition, when it’s really not.
Many factors come in to play as to why the frame may look in better condition than it really is. There are a couple key things to look for when inspecting a deck. Here are the top 5 things I look for when examining a deck’s framing.
- Are there cracks anywhere in the framework? This can be signs of stress cracks in old wood (checking, or cracks, in posts can be normal, but there should never be any soft spots.)
- Does the top of the joist (where the decking is sitting) look wider than the rest of the joist? This can be an easy way to tell if the top of the joist has cracks and splits from water soaking into the board from the screw/nail holes holding down the decking.
- Is anything soft to the touch? There should never be soft spots anywhere on your deck’s framing.
- Have the ends started to decay at all? Rot usually starts at the end grain. This could be at ends of the joists, ends of the rim, or either ends of the support posts.
- Were the support posts buried in the ground or in concrete? This is the most common mistake we see in older decks (and sometimes new ones). This is now against building codes, but was common many years ago. This will trap moisture in the post, and never allows the post to dry out, causing rot and decay.
If anything as begun to rot or decay, it’s definitely time to replace.
We also see those decks that don’t have any obvious framing problems. You know, the ones that just look a little weathered, but don’t show signs of rot or decay. This is where things get a little harder to determine the real issues. A lot of times the problems start on the inside of the board. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut into an old deck frame as we disassemble it, and the outside looks fine, but the inside is completely rotted away. This is usually caused by the small screw or nail holes in the top of the joists or beams allowing water to get inside the board. The water just sits there, decaying the wood. Sometimes it’s due to insects, such as ants, creating homes or nests inside the wood. This is very alarming when the joist looked good from the outside.
My suggestion, 99.9% of the time, is start fresh. Not only is that the best way to know if your framing is completely safe, but you know it’s being built and installed correctly. When trying to save an old deck’s framework, we have to take more time when removing old decking and railings, as to not damage any of the framing, which increases labor costs. We also have to square up the old deck again and fix any damaged areas we see, which also adds to the cost. By the time you consider the extra work we have to add to get your old deck looking new, it’s almost the same price to just start fresh with all new framing. Your new decking will also look much nicer and straighter with new “bones” to hold it up.
The last thing to consider is the type of decking you will be installing. If you want any of the low maintenance composite or PVC boards, we highly recommend new framing. We recommend this for a variety of reasons. First, and probably the most important is the joist spacing, composite decking manufactures recommend spacing joists every 12” on center, and it’s a must with PVC decking. Your current framework more than likely has joists spaced 16” or even 24”. This prevents your decking from sagging, while also allowing the framing to support the extra weight of the composite deck boards. This leads me into another issue we see quite often. To support the weight of the deck, the footings need to be certain sizes (depending on the load they carry). Most existing deck piers are way undersized, and usually are not dug down below the frost line. Footing sizing is critical for both safety and support. New framing will also give us a better surface to install your new decking to. Due to the straighter lumber, your deck will have a much nicer end result with new framing underneath it. One last thing to consider is our low maintenance decks usually come with at least a 25-year manufacture warranty. The last thing most of our customers want is to have us install a 25 year product, only to have to rip everything up, because the old framing only lasted another five or six years.
Hopefully the above information will help you with your deck purchase in the future. In my experience, replacing the framing of the deck now will save a lot of money and headaches down the road. Deck frame failures cause injuries every year, and we never recommend trying to reuse old worn out deck framing.