With regular maintenance, wooden decks across the United States have been made to endure the extremes of heat, rain, snow and ice. But could a wooden deck survive in Anchorage, Alaska?
Anchorage is known for its subarctic climate with long winters and pleasant summers where a wide range of wildlife can be observed. Could a man-made structure withstand the harsher side of the Alaskan elements?
The answer is yes…
…but it takes a solid foundation, good materials, basic deck knowledge and a meticulous maintenance schedule.
A Solid Foundation
An outdoor deck built in any climate would see decay if it were not built with the right materials. At Rock Landscaping, we are willing to build your deck out of any material of your choosing, but we normally recommend Trex deck material.
Unlike other deck builders, Rock normally recommends pile driving construction over Sonotubes.
And we hire the best contractors with the most experience. This ensures our customers receive the highest quality finished product.
Basic Deck Knowledge
Before you can properly protect your deck from the elements, you need to know which elements can damage your deck the most.
Water is the enemy of a long deck life.
When water sits on your deck for too long, the moisture buildup causes the wood of your deck to expand and then contract when it finally dries out. This continual shift can cause warped, cracked or split boards. In the worst case scenario, your deck will begin to rot and eventually turn to mush.
If there is one element you must absolutely protect your deck from, it’s water!
The sun’s ultra violet rays can cause deterioration by breaking down the bonding between wood cells. This type of damage can result in faded, dried out wood that is vulnerable to soaking up moisture.
Fortunately, sun exposure only damages the surface of the wood, which makes it infinitely easier to protect!
In Anchorage, the vibrant wildlife on display is both beautiful and a nuisance. Let’s take a closer look at the damage that insects and rodents can do to your wooden deck:
- Carpenter Ants: Although termites aren’t a problem in Alaska, carpenter ants can cause just as much structural damage to your wooden decks. They build their nests in several types of wood, but they do not use wood as a food source.
- Carpenter Bees: Similar to carpenter ants, carpenter bees merely bore into wood structures, but do not rely on wood as a food source. Nevertheless, they can cause substantial structural weakening to your wooden deck.
- Powder Post Beetles: These wood-damaging insects are known for infesting wooden structures with their larvae which then eat away until they become adults, finally reducing wood to dust.
Larger pests that may cause damage to your wooden deck include mice, rats, shrews, voles, chipmunks, and squirrels. While these pests do not burrow through wood, they are known for gnawing through whatever they must in order to find shelter for the winter.
The good news is you can prevent this both insect and rodent damage through simple deck maintenance!
A Meticulous Maintenance Schedule
By following this seven step maintenance schedule, you can protect your deck from the long-term damage caused by the Alaskan elements and keep your deck looking effortlessly pristine year round.
When the season for using your deck arrives, the first thing you should do is take a walk around your deck to examine every joint, frame, beam, stair, post and ledger for all types of damage, including:
- Warped, cracked or split boards
- Broken nails
- Loose boards, nails or railing
- Rotting wood
- Bored holes or sawdust
- Mildew growth
Make sure to listen for squeaking and feel for soft spots as you walk. These are both signs of deterioration!
As you walk, make a list of the items that need replaced or repaired.
Once you’ve made your list, start your repairs as soon as possible. Perform plenty of research before beginning to ensure you are executing safe, precise repairs that will last.
If your deck is severely damaged and you cannot fix the problem on your own, call the real experts at Rock Landscaping.
During deck season, follow these simple steps to keep everyday wear and tear from triggering permanent damage.
- Use a broom or leaf blower to remove debris on a weekly basis
- Mop up or sweep away standing water and dirt
- Keep shrubbery trimmed back from your deck by 12 inches to prevent it from laying on the deck surface or rubbing up against the railing
- Use cinder blocks or another equivalent to keep potted plants from sitting directly on the deck surface
- Clean up food stains or bird droppings as soon as you find them to prevent lasting stains from developing
- When grilling outdoors, use a grease catcher to prevent grease stains
- Rotate deck furniture occasionally to avoid deck discoloration
Not only do these tips keep your deck looking spotlessly clean, they make your deck a less welcoming environment for rodents who may be seeking shelter nearby.
The most important step in protecting your deck from the elements is to wash and seal it once a year. You should complete this project when temperatures are mild.
Before sealing or staining your deck, you need to follow these directions to wash your deck:
- Remove all deck furniture and potted plants.
- Protect nearby shrubbery by covering them with plastic sheeting.
- Remove debris from the deck surface and between deck boards.
- Choose an appropriate deck cleaner for wooden decks and follow application directions closely. Deck cleaners may include one of these active ingredients:
- Chlorine Bleach (called sodium or calcium hypochlorite): While this product does a great job of removing mildew, it fails to eliminate other stains. The most effective way to use this product is to mix it with an ammonia-free detergent that can properly eradicate other stains.
- Oxygen Bleach (called sodium percarbonate): When this chemical is mixed with water, it is suitable for removing dirt and mildew.
- Oxalic Acid: This chemical, found most often in deck brightening solutions, is effective in removing tannin and iron stains that commonly occur on cedar and redwood decks.
- Tri-Sodium Phosphate (TSP): This simple detergent is very effective in removing deck stains, but needs to be used in conjunction with a bleach mixture to properly eliminate mold and mildew.
- After using a standard deck cleaner, thoroughly rinse your deck with a standard garden hose. Make sure to read the cleaner’s directions for rinsing. Some cleaners need to be immediately rinsed off as they can erode wood when left on for too long. If you choose to use a power washer, only use the lowest pressure setting to ensure you do not accidentally damage your deck!
- Wait at least two days after washing your deck to begin the sealing or staining process.
Annually sealing or staining your deck is the most trusted method for keeping your wooden deck safe from water, sun, and pest damage.
Before learning about the sealing and staining process, you have to understand what options are available to you. There are four basic types of sealants and stains:
- Clear Sealer: This is a non-pigmented finish that provides basic protection from splitting, cracking and warping while allowing the wood’s natural color and grain to shine through. Expect to reapply this product annually.
- Wood Toners: This is a slightly pigmented finish that provides similar levels of protection as a clear sealant, but it adds a hint of color to refresh the natural beauty of the wood. Expect to reapply this product annually.
- Semi-Transparent Stain: This is a moderate pigmented finish that adds an understated tint to the wood while allowing some of the wood’s grain to stand out. Additionally, this stain provides added protection from sun exposure. This product can be reapplied as needed, but it is safe to reapply every other year.
- Solid / Opaque Stain: This full-pigmented stain adds a vibrant color to the wood while still allowing a small amount of the wood’s grain to show. This stain provides the most protection from weather damage. This product can be reapplied as needed, but it is safe to reapply every other year.
Additionally, you can choose whether you want your sealant or stain to have a water or oil base.
A water-based sealer or stain is usable in damp conditions and is generally easier to clean up if spilled, but it has a shorter lifespan.
An oil-based sealer or stain is not usable in damp conditions and harder to clean up if spilled, but it provides superior, longer lasting protection from the elements.
Now that you know what types of sealers and stains you can pick from, here are the steps you must follow in order to apply the stain you’ve selected:
- Choose a two-day period when you’ll have clear skies and moderate temperatures to work in.
- Lightly sand the entire deck with a pole sander to remove any roughness or fuzziness that may have resulted from washing.
- Cover up nearby plants and shrubbery with plastic sheeting.
- Apply your sealer or stain using a variety of tools, including a pump-action sprayer, paint rollers and paint brushes. Usually the best method is to initially coat your deck using a pump-action sprayer and then using a paint roller or brush to spread out any puddles remaining. Depending on the stain you use, you may need to apply one to three coats. If more than one coat is required, make sure to apply subsequent coats while the first coat is still wet.
Make sure to wear a safety mask, eye protection and gloves when applying sealers and stains!
When it is time to bundle up for the winter months, follow these simple tips and tricks to keep your deck just as protected as you are from the Alaskan elements:
- Place deck furniture, potted plants and outdoor grills into storage
- Do not attempt to remove ice with an ice scraper, salt or other ice melting products. This will only result in a damaged or discolored deck!
- Only shovel snow off your deck if you are making an exit pathway or there is more than 3 feet of snow on your deck. You deck is built to handle the weight of snow to a large degree, but if it gets higher than 3 feet you should shovel it as a precaution. Contrary to common belief, snow will not cause much damage to your deck’s surface…it is standing water that wreaks havoc on your deck’s foundation!
- When removing snow from your deck, use a corn broom, leaf blower or plastic snow shovel and shovel parallel to the deck boards to prevent scratching and gouging.
By following this meticulous annual maintenance schedule, you can keep your deck properly protected from the Alaskan elements and looking beautiful year round!
At Rock Landscaping, we strive to build our customers decks that will survive even the harshest environments. Contact us today if you are interested in a wooden desk built to last!