Can I reuse my old deck framing to save money

This is the most common question deck builders receive when speaking with potential customers.

We are also seeing a trend where homeowners are paying companies or local handyman to come out and simply replace the decking and railing so everything looks nicer. Since the Covid days many landscapers, home remodelers, and handyman are now offering deck remodel services. This is very concerning and many times we go out to a project to look at major issues it's due to lack of experience and the lack of knowledge. Hiring a company that focuses on deck and outdoor living spaces would be the best choice! You would not want to hire us for a bathroom remodel. 

With keeping your existing framing, everything looks great right after install. But how will it look 5, 10 or 20 years down the road? This new trend of keeping the old deck framing concerns me and many times the homeowners will pay so much more in the long run than if they would have made the decision to re-build it all together.

We feel it’s our responsibility to educate homeowners in our community so that they do not make a very bad decision. Even some of the major decking manufactures like Trex (Read it Here) will encourage re-decks and even try to market this to the typical homeowner. 

They are just trying to sell more and more products each year and they would never guarantee the frame so they don’t care how the deck framing is to start with.

Deck Code Issues

Even with brand new decks I see many code issues and standard grade lumber being used. Many local companies are building new decks with above ground contact or standard treated lumber. Now days, the lumber should be treated for ground contact and its actually code required to use #1 grade lumber for composite decking.

Ground contact lumber even when used above grade has more treatment in the wood and helps with the longevity of your deck. Once you pull the deck boards up from your existing deck framing you could have thousands of holes from where the existing fasteners were secured.

When you put the new decking down water will find its way into those holes eventually and actually accelerate the rot of your framing.

Stairs are usually the first to rot when the end cuts have not been sealed or taped properly. Did you know that the manufactures recommend 9" or 12" o.c stair stringer framing. Many steps we see are not built properly and not installed per the manufactures install instructions. 

When a composite deck is installed, there is a lot of work that goes into getting the framing right first. Old Deck framing joists have crowns and natural bows.

If you have wood decking now you may not see as many imperfections with the framing but if you put composite on the existing frame and the composite decking gets hot, it will form to the shape of the framing, and you’ll most likely see a lot more imperfections. Not something most homeowners want to see when investing in in new composite decking.

Most decks we see in this market have way undersized footers, and usually are not dug down below the frost line. Footing sizing is critical for both safety and support. Composite decking is also heavier than wood. Putting more stress and weight on your deck. We do not see many decks where footers are properly sized to carry the load of the original deck let alone adding more weight to it.

To install composite, the best way to install it is with a border. Borders require a lot of blocking. Blocking is also needed for proper aluminum railing installation. All the blocking added to your original framing and on the existing footers may not be the best choice due to the added weight.

Fascia Issues

Below is an example of a deck with no border and a deck frame that was only three years old. When Fascia is installed flush with the decking, water and debris get trapped behind the Fascia and will cause rot pretty quickly. If you see a contractor build this way, they either cut corners to save on time and cost or they are simply not educated on the proper ways to install deck fascia. RUN!!

Old Deck Framing

Preferred Border Method

We recommend that the Fascia goes under the decking overhang of the border to keep water out and running off your deck. This will prolong the life of your rim joist on the deck.

But wait, can’t I just replace the rotted or bad joists?

You can, but the issue is that when the deck framing was installed it was wet from the mill. Overtime the old deck framing has dried out and the lumber has shrunk.

Now, if you go to replace the joists or add blocking your new lumber will not be the same size. Yes, you could plane it down but when it dries out they will not be the same size. So, there is so much work that goes into a properly built deck and when the framing is the least expensive part of the build are you willing to take that risk? A lot of times however, the deck’s framing just simply looks to be in better condition then it really is.

We also see those decks that don’t have any obvious framing problems. A lot of times the problems start on the inside of the board.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut into an old deck frame as we disassemble it, and the outside looks fine, but the inside is completely rotted away.

This is usually caused by the small screw or nail holes in the top of the joists or beams allowing water to get inside the board. The water just sits there, decaying the wood. Sometimes it’s due to insects, such as ants or carpenter bees creating homes or nests inside the wood. This is very alarming when the joist looked good from the outside.

My suggestion, 99.9% of the time, is start fresh. Not only is that the best way to know if your framing is completely safe, but you know it’s being built and installed correctly. Believe it or not many decks are built fully to current code requirements.

Labor costs of using old deck joist

When trying to save an old deck’s framework, we have to take more time when removing old decking and railings, as to not damage any of the framing, which increases labor costs. We also have to square up the old deck again and fix any damaged areas we see, which also adds to the cost.

By the time you consider the extra work we have to add to get your old deck looking new, it’s not that much of a savings to risk all of the potential issues. Your new decking will also look much nicer and straighter with new structure to hold it up. 

Even with all the work we put into a new deck frame, it can still dry and create a crown or a slight bow, but we do everything we can to try and reduce this risk but your still better off starting fresh. There are alternative framing solutions such as steel or composite framing that will address these issues but its slowly coming to market due to their price points. 

Best reason to replace your framing

Low maintenance decks usually come with at least a 25-year manufacture warranty. The last thing most of our customers want is to have us install a 25 year product, only to have to rip everything up, because the old framing only lasted another five or ten years.

Looking to use a framing system that will definitely last as long as your new decking, try steel deck framing.

Choose wisely

Hopefully the above information will help you with your deck purchase in the future. In my experience, replacing the framing of the deck now will save a lot of money and headaches down the road.

I know it may seem like a large investment but to do things right it simply cost money and you would be better off waiting until your budget allows to have it done right. There are plenty of companies locally that will not even explain this and just replace it because they are just there for a payday. 

We are in business to build you the best deck around and educate our clients on the pros and cons. Deck frame failures cause injuries and deaths every year so hiring the right contractor will be the most important decision you’ll have to make.

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