Whether a contractor built your deck at the same time as your home or you created a custom deck during the last year, you must protect the space come winter. Without proper maintenance, the harsh Minnesotan winter could leave your deck faded, cracked, or even broken.
Luckily, you can take a few simple steps to ensure your deck stays beautiful and structurally sound in spite of any wind, snow, or sun the winter brings. Below, we outline some simple dos and don'ts to get you started.
DO Bring Your Plants Indoors
If you keep decorative planters or homegrown herbs on your deck, bring them inside your home or garage before the temperatures drop below freezing. This usually means you should move your plants in mid- to late-October.
Keeping your plants inside not only protects them from the cold, but it also decreases the amount of cleaning you must perform to prepare your deck for winter.
Even if you don't expect your plants to live through the cold weather, move the planters. Heavy, bulky objects can limit your cleaning and give moisture a place to collect on your deck surface.
DO Clean Your Deck Before It Snows
Once you clear away your seasonal deck trappings, do some serious cleaning. Ideally, you should have your deck thoroughly cleaned and resealed (if you plan to refinish it this year) before any winter precipitation comes.
Start with the following tasks:
Sweep away any debris, like leaves or dust.
Wash the deck surface with water and mild soap or a specialized cleaning solvent. Look for any weaknesses in your railings and make repairs.
Before you apply a water-repellant finish, sand the surface gently. Sanding removes discoloration and allows the sealant to better penetrate the wood. Then, seal the deck according to the finish's instructions.
DO Cover or Store Deck Furniture
When it comes to your deck furniture, you have two choices. Either cover each piece for the winter or store the furnishings elsewhere. Not only do these steps protect your furniture from the cold, but they also protect your deck from the furniture.
Metal furniture can become rusty in winter weather conditions and leave unattractive, difficult-to-remove stains on your deck. Wood furniture, on the other hand, may contract rot or harbor mold and mildew that can spread to your deck's materials. And all deck furniture can help moisture accumulate in a single position, increasing the possibility of serious wear and tear.
If you choose to leave your furniture out, check that it has no existing issues. Then, place each piece of furniture on a tarp and cover its surface. Otherwise, remove the furniture before you expect the year's first snowfall.
DO Maintain an Exit Path on the Deck
Even if you don't plan to clear your deck's entire surface once it begins to snow, you must create a pathway from your back door to the stairs. If you can, make sure the path appears near the railing for the majority of its length.
This path provides access to your backyard throughout the winter, but it also gives you and your family an alternative route out of the house in the case of an emergency.
DON'T Clear Snow with a Metal Shovel
While the wood of your deck can withstand a lot of weight and wear, it doesn't have much of a defense against sharp metal surfaces. If you use a metal snow shovel, you run the risk of scratching your deck or even removing the finish you painstakingly applied before the snow fell.
Instead, invest in a heavy-duty plastic snow shovel that can get the job done without damaging your deck.
DON'T Let Moisture Stand on the Deck
As you've probably guessed based on the previous tips, moisture represents your biggest winter concern. Snow that stays on top of your deck's finish won't cause much damage. But standing water, ice, or snowmelt that seeps into the wood can result in warped and discolored wood.
Watch for any excess moisture and remove it immediately.
DON'T Use Salt to Prevent Ice
If you've lived in Minnesota long, you know how important de-icing smooth surfaces is during the winter. You may even have a bag of rock salt waiting the garage for this purpose. But don't put any of that salt on your deck.
Salt's properties create pitting and drying on wood that can weaken your deck. Opt for a salt-free de-icing agent instead.
If you have questions about your yard or deck specifically, reach out to a decking expert. Talk to a materials supplier, decking contractor, or home improvement specialist about what other steps you can take this winter to keep your deck strong.
Begin performing the preliminary maintenance steps on this list now so that by the time the first snow falls, you and your deck will be prepared to outlast the long winter.
For more information on caring for your home's deck, roof, and exterior year round, read our other blog posts.