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When it comes to HOA building maintenance, decks are often the weakest link. It seems many builders have not grasped the concept of positive drainage (water running away from the building). Installing proper and adequate flashing seems to be an elusive concept as well. These two glitches are a major sources of dryrot and expensive repairs.

Some Boards seek to minimize the HOA's exposure to problems by making owners responsible for these limited common areas. But this is illegal unless approved by an appropriate vote of the members and ill-advised from the perspective that decks are attached to buildings that the HOA is responsible to maintain. Allowing an owner to futz with the weakest link is only asking for trouble. Odds are that the owners won't do it properly, on time or at all. All this will lead to costly repairs.

Annual deck inspection and correction by knowledgeable contractors can eliminate most of these problems. However, arranging unit access or climbing ladders to inspect is difficult so the tendency is to "let it ride" for years. Meanwhile, water and dryrot spores do their dirty work. This is important enough that visual inspection should be done every year, hassle or not.

While most decks are constructed of cedar or redwood, many are now taking advantage of recycled materials for the decking (like Trex Deck). Many wood decks have a finish or coating. Coatings include elastomeric paint (flexible and water repelling), latex or oil enamel paint, heavy body stain, waterseal and urethane. Some decks sport a lightweight concrete topping, tile or outdoor carpet. Knowing what kind of finish you have is critical to proper maintenance.

When performing inspections, signs that the coating has failed include:

  • Cracks in the deck coating
  • Nails popping through the coating
  • Delaminating paint
  • Bubbles in the coating

Also check metal flashing for rust, loose areas or breaks. Check deck condition for softness by pressing down with your foot. Soft decking is indicative of dryrot or termites.

Observe what's on the deck like plants, tables, umbrellas, grills, carpet, etc. Table legs, grills, sharp objects and high heels can damage soft deck coatings. Plants should be raised off the deck surface with casters to allow proper air circulation. Outdoor carpet is bad news for wood decks as it captures moisture and retards drying.

Preventive maintenance extends a deck to its maximum useful life of 15-20 years. Decks should be cleaned annually to remove dirt, algae and moss. Heavy coating applications should be reapplied every 3-5 years. Lighter weight deck paints, stains and watersealers need to be reapplied every 1-2 years. As a rule, it is best to leave wood decks unpainted since there is a high likelihood that the paint will not adhere well. Painted wood decks tend to absorb and retain moisture which leads to premature failure.

When selecting a deck coating, get details about brands from the Internet by searching "deck coating products." Virtually all manufacturers have websites with specifications and warranty information.

Proper flashing is extremely important to route water away from the buildings. "L" flashing is used at the building wall-to-deck junction to seal this critical point of water intrusion. "Drip edge" flashing is used at the outer edge of the deck and has a small bend on the bottom lip that will kick water away from the deck as it runs off. Check your coating manufacturer's specifications for flashings to ensure yours are compatible. You may need to remove and replace what you have.

Door thresholds, entry door and screen door clearances are another item to think about. You may need to budget for shaving doors down or raising threshold heights when applying a new coating over an old coating.

Before applying any new coating, the decking must be in good repair and prepared properly to accept the coating. NEVER install a coating over bad wood since it will only mask a problem that will get bigger and cause the coating to fail as well.

Thanks to Bill Leys of Deck Master for selected excerpts.

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