Here in the Philadelphia area, we got belted with an unexpected 8" of snow this past Sunday (which made for a real fun Eagles game to watch!), another 4" on Tuesday, followed by a blast of bitter Arctic air. And more snow and "wintry mix" is in the forecast for this coming weekend.
I've posted on this site in the past about how to care for your hardscaping during the winter months, but many of our decking customers may be wondering what the best ways are to deal with ice and snow on your new deck. Here's a few helpful hints.
First of all, don't worry about the weight of the snow on the deck. It's not going to fall down. Remember those building permits we had to file in advance of building the deck? That was to ensure the structural specifications can handle the weight -- regardless of whether it's a cocktail party in the summer with 40 people, or 2' of snow falling on it in the winter. In fact, snow is what's called a "dead load", meaning it's stationary and not adding extra force by jumping or moving around. I know our decks will be just fine. In fact any deck that went through the proper permitting procedure, regardless of whether we built it or somebody else built it, will be just fine.
Another concern I hear voiced often is whether or not the ice and snow will damage the deck. Simple answer here: no. Your deck was built with materials that are meant to hold up to the elements, regardless of whether it's heavy rain, freezing temperatures, or snowdrifts. Composite materials, pressure-treated lumber, red cedar -- they're all meant to be exposed to the elements. If they weren't, then we wouldn't be building decks with them.
That being said, various materials will behave differently in reaction to ice and snow. Vinyls or composites may shrink slightly in sub-freezing temperatures. But no worries, as they will just as quickly expand back once the temperatures rebound. Pressure-treated lumber is about as maintenance free as it gets. Cedar or other non-treated lumbers should be sealed or treated regularly to help keep out the moisture. But assuming you're keeping up with the routine maintenance, then a few big blizzards should be nothing to worry about.
As a deck owner, your biggest winter-time concern should be keeping any high traffic areas clear of ice and snow, and maintaining a safe, slip-free traffic path. And there are a few things to keep in mind when doing this.
First of all, the best thing you can do with your deck is just leave it alone while the snow sits there, slowly melting and clearing itself. The deck will still be there come March, no need to mess with it in the mean time.
But that's not always realistic. Oftentimes the rear entrance leads right out to the deck, with a set of steps leading down to the driveway. It's how you get in to the house when you park in the driveway, it's where you take out the trash, it's how the kids get in the house after a day of sledding in the backyard. So shutting it down just isn't practical.
In these instances, shoveling the traffic areas is the best thing you can do. When shoveling, it's best to use a softer, plastic or rubber-bladed shovel that won't scuff up the deck surface. Metal shovels are great on asphalt driveways, but can really tear up a wood or composite deck in no time. If it means spending an extra $15 on a designated "deck" shovel, so be it. It'll eliminate big-time repair costs down the road. Even a push-broom will work fine in these situations too.
It's also important to shovel "with the grain". Run your shovel right down the length of the boards, not across the boards. Running the shovel across the boards is just asking to catch or scuff up a board unnecessarily. A gentle, long shovel stroke will clear the boards easily without risking getting the shovel caught or stuck on a board.
And even a well-shoveled area can still get slippery, especially when it comes to composites. I will repeat my wintertime mantra here: "Rock Salt Bad". Just like in hardscaping, rock salt will eat away at the deck, drying out wood, staining composites, or even scraping up the surface.
If slipperyness is a major concern, what you may want to consider, especially in high traffic paths on your deck or steps, is to install some rubber "grip strips" to help with your footing. Even a single strip on each step tread will add considerable safety to any potentially slippery surface. And while the strips aren't the most aesthetic add-on in the world, they do come in a few assorted colors to help conceal them, and just a few strips in key strategic locations can add loads of safety to icy surfaces. It's something at least considering if slip-and-fall is a concern.
And if you don't have a deck, but are considering having one built down the road? Give us a call for a free consultation. We'll be happy to take a look -- once all this snow melts that is ... Happy Winter!