As the saying goes in Calgary, “there are two seasons, construction and winter.” Raising the importance of deck winter care. Winter deck care is the same both for composite and wood decking. Primarily snow and ice removal.
Caring for your deck in winter is going to include removing snow and ice. Remove snow if it’s more than your decks railing height with a plastic shovel, corn broom or leaf blower. Don’t use salt or chemicals to remove ice, either melt with a heat blanket or cover with an outdoor hall runner.
Snow does not have to be removed from your deck surface. Decks in Alberta are built to support 40-60 pounds per square feet. Three and a half feet of snow weighs between 42 to 63 pounds. That’s the height of your deck rails, so if you can see your deck rails, you don’t need to shovel the snow off. But if you want a cleared deck for winter, here are some recommendations.
- A plastic shovel. Both composite and wood decking will be scratched by a metal shovel. A lighter plastic shovel will not damage the decking while clearing it. Better for you and your deck, shovel parallel to the decking. A little harder with picture frame decking, but as much as possible, shovel with the decking. Preventing the shovel from catching on the gaps between boards, both annoying and damaging to your deck.
- A corn Broom. For a thinner layer of snow, less than four inches, a simple sweep will suffice. A corn broom is great, with its stiffer bristles able to move greater volumes of snow. The stiff bristles will not harm the decking but still effectively move the snow off your deck.
- Leaf Blower. Noisy but fun creating your own blizzard. A leaf blower will quickly blow unpacked snow off your deck, at times cleaning your deck more thoroughly than a broom in less time. Splurge a little with a battery-powered blower, avoiding the hassle offset up and cords dragging over the deck.
Now for the nasty stuff. Snow can be fun to remove and poses little of a safety risk, is does. Slipping on ice can risk muscle sprains and ligament strain as you try to regain your footing. Falls from slipping on ice can result in fractures and broken bones often of hips or wrists. Something we all want to avoid. If your going to use your deck in winter, even as a path to the backyard or garage, ice must be managed. Care must be taken to remove the ice without damaging your decking. First, a few don’ts.
- Don’t Shatter Ice. Works on your sidewalk, but never do it on your deck. A few quick stabs with the ice scraper shattering the ice. But the same damage is happening to your deck. With every hit of the ice scraper, you are damaging your deck. Never shatter ice on your deck, I repeat never shatter ice on your deck. The few minutes saved here will cost you in hours of repairs in the spring. Both composite and wood decking mar easily with brute force.
- Don’t Use Salt. In winter, this may seem like a good idea. Salt will quickly melt away slippery ice providing you with a safe pathway over your deck.
- But, over time, this will damage your Wood deck as much as an ice scraper, if not more. Salt or Calcium chloride naturally dries out wood, causing cracking from increase shrinkage and expansion of the decking. Salt also has a high PH level, similar to floor strippers. The salts’ chemical reaction is stripping your decking of its stain and sealer protection, requiring resealing your deck every spring.
- Composite Decking like TimberTech and Trex, you can safely use salt on, with a caution. Do not use any ice removal product with a colourant added as this may stain the decking. And unlike wood decking composite cannot be re-stained. If you damage the surface colouring of composite decking it will need to be replaced. If you chose to use salt on your deck, make sure to wash off your deck the next warm spell as salt increase corrosion of fasteners.
- Safe Paw. After much reading, I am left unsure about this product. Claiming to be safe for both pets and wood. But many reviews from the actual use of the product claim otherwise. That it damages fresh concrete and is corrosive, potentially damaging fasteners the same as salt, if you really want a chemical de-icer, I would recommend testing on a scrap piece of decking. The danger is that the corrosion of fasteners occurs over time and will not be noticeable with a simple single test. Use with caution and care.
- Don’t Use Sand or Traction grit should not be used on either wood or composite decking. The very traction provided by the sand will scratch and grind into the decking, damaging its surface. Sanding your deck before staining with a fine-grit paper is good, but traction sand is course and inconsistent, causing damage. Sand grinding on composite decking is even harder to repair, becoming a costly mistake.
Both mechanical (smashing) and chemical (Salts) run risks of damaging the deck. Leaving two possible options for ice on a deck, heat or covering. These are not ideal solutions but are least likely to damage your deck.
- Sun. A deck cleared of snow with full sun exposure, ideally south facing midday, will warm up enough to melt the edges of the ice. The key is to remove the ice and water while it is still warm. A plastic putty or drywall knife will do the trick; rounded edges are essential as not to scratch your deck. Yes, even plastic can damage the wood. Wood decking absorbs heating slightly faster than ice and will melt a thin layer of ice on its surface. Use the plastic knife to pry the ice from the decking. Being careful to use the flat edge of the knife against the decking as the edge can score the decking. Patients and timing are essential.
- Water. Fighting fire with fire, ice with water. Pouring hot water over the ice will quickly melt the ice. Make sure to dry the deck after with a dry rag preventing ice from forming again.
- Heat Mat. The name says it all. Layout the mat over both ice and snow, plug them in, they heat up and melt about two inches of snow an hour. Pretty slick. Can be left outside on your deck, only plugging them in as required. Heat track sells both 20”x60” mats for walkways and 10”x30” for steps. Some concern of longevity, with heat wires you have the potential of failure after a few seasons. A pricier solution but are effective in melting ice, freeing you to use your deck and pathways all winter long.
Create a safe pathway over your deck. Rapidly changing weather, along with a deep freeze, often makes it better to provide traction then trying to melt ice from your deck. Two things to keep in mind, grip and water drainage. Whatever you put on your deck needs to grip the deck. A mat slipping on the deck only increases fall hazards. Secondly, drainage to prevent water pooling. Trapped water will freeze, increasing ice and slipping on the deck. Here are two possible options from Amazon for traction on your deck.
- Spartan Weather Warrior Duty Outdoor hallway runner. Coming in a variety of width, 3’, 4’ and 6’ working well for any path over the deck. Easily can be cut to length to match your deck. A NON-SKID NATURAL RUBBER BACKING preventing mat movement on the deck. Unfortunately, this is also a drawback in trapping water on the mat. Freezing water, now you have ice again.
- Ice Mats. The Ice Carpet uses a unique combination of non-skid material and tough layered fibres to help provide surefootedness on your walks after it snows. If snow or ice accumulates on the Ice Carpet, simply sweep it off with a broom. Coming in both 18” and 30” wide strips, 10’ long. It can be cut to length but increases fraying on the cut edge.
Deck Winter Preparation
Before the snow flies and the mercury drops, here are a few items to make deck winter care easier.
- Clean up all your deck cushions and ornaments. It is much easier to shovel and sweep a tidy deck.
- Walk your deck and sink all protruding nails and screws. So annoying, hitting a nail while shovelling.
- Check and repair any broken or rotten deck boards. That would be a nasty surprise, falling through your snow-covered deck.
In summary, please don’t use anything sharp like metal on your deck, no harsh chemicals like salt, and it will be ready for you in spring. If you need to remove snow use something without sharp edges like a plastic shovel, broom or leaf blower. Matts will make slippery paths safe again. It may be freezing but springs a coming!