Rebuild an Old Deck With New Decking and Railings

Give that old deck a new lease on life. Expert deck-builders show you how to make your old dilapidated deck look brand new with low-maintenance decking and railing materials.Next Project
An old deck with a sound structure doesn't have to be torn down. You can remove the worn out decking and railing, and then replace it with new, low-maintenance decking and railing – a brand-new deck for a lot less money.
Step 1: Wood Deck Overview

The deck before it was remodeled

The existing decking and wood deck railing was in bad condition, but the pressure-treated structure was still sound.

If your existing deck is old, shabby and a maintenance nightmare, you don’t have to tear it all down and start over. Chances are that the structural parts are still in good shape. If so, you can simply remodel it with new decking, rails and stairs, and save tons of money over the cost of a complete rebuild.

In this story, we’ll show you how to replace worn decking, railings, stairs and several other features. We won’t tear out the basic deck framing—instead we’ll describe how to tell if your deck is in good structural shape. We’ll show you how to build a deck railing, replace old decking with low-maintenance composite materials and build a new “floating” landing at yard level that expands the deck in an attractive, practical way.

We’ll show you how to make a new set of safer and stronger enclosed stairs and build handsome handrails from cedar and prefinished aluminum spindles. We added a simple privacy screen to shield activities from nosy neighbors and a below-deck skirting system to mask the unsightly posts and ugly area below. We used rough-sawn cedar for all of the exposed wood parts because its rough-hewn surface will hold stain for years.

If you’ve built a deck before, you know that even without the structural work, it’s still a big project that can take several weekends to accomplish. The nice thing about deck work is that you can pick away at it over time without disrupting the house. Just make sure you keep the door that opens onto the deck locked or barred until you’re finished! You’ll need all of the standard carpentry tools, including a 4-ft. level, circular saw, screw gun and carpenter’s square, and tools for the demo work, including a sledgehammer and pry bars. And a power miter saw is almost mandatory for clean, accurate cuts on railing parts.

Step 2: Is your deck a remodeling candidate?

The No. 1 thing to check before deciding to reuse the deck framework is whether the deck footings, posts and joists are structurally sound. Here are the main things you should examine when making the decision.

1. Sound footings. Start from the ground up by examining the footings. You’ve probably noticed if your deck footings have “heaved” above grade because the deck will appear warped (sometimes only during the winter). That’s a sign of too-shallow footings. If so, replace them with deeper ones. Usually you can dig and pour new ones directly next to the old ones rather than ripping out the old footings, which is a brutal job.

2. Wood condition. Examine your posts and other framing members to see if they’re made of treated lumber or not. Treated wood, the material used to frame most decks, will last for decades. Treated lumber should have a familiar green hue. Look for markings that say “.40 treated” or a CCA label that indicates that the wood has been preserved. If the wood is badly stained and you can’t find any stamps, it may come to cutting a thin sliver off the end of some framing with a circular saw and looking at the fresh end, which should have the green tint of preservative around the edges of the cut. If your deck is framed with cedar or redwood, it’s best to start over and reframe it with treated wood. Neither wood will last nearly as long as your low-maintenance deck improvements. Whether your deck framing is treated or not, if a screwdriver penetrates into punky, soft wood anywhere, indicating rot, it’s best to start your deck from scratch.

Pay particular attention to the posts. Posts usually start to rot where they come in direct contact with the footing or ground. The posts on this deck were in good shape because they had been installed with a bracket that held them above grade.

If your posts are buried underground, dig down and inspect their condition. If the top of the footing is only a few inches below grade and the post is in good shape, clear away any grass, rock and wood chips around them. If your footings seem solid but your posts are in bad shape, you can raise the outside of the deck with a car jack or bottle jack and replace the posts. If you don’t have footings, talk to your local inspector about the best way to proceed. Complete this seven-point inspection to identify and fix the most common deck problems.

3. Structural integrity. Make a drawing of your deck and list the spans and sizes of the joists and beams. Bring it to the building department at your city hall. An inspector will let you know if the framing sizes and spans are adequate. Don’t rely on your own structural analysis. Apply for a deck building permit, and before starting your project, ask the inspector for an on-site opinion to confirm the structural integrity of your deck.

4. Details. There should be at least one 3/8-in. lag screw or bolt into the ledger between each pair of joists for a solid connection, but your building inspector may call for even more depending on the size of the deck they support.

Look for joist hangers on each joist with all of the nail holes filled with galvanized joist hanger nails—not roofing nails. Add joist hangers if they’re missing. They’re not necessary on the ends of joists that rest on a beam, even if they project over the edge.

Look for flashing over the ledger that attaches to the house. It should extend behind the siding and across the top of the deck ledger. There should also be flashing behind the deck ledger at the bottom and over the siding; add it if it’s missing.