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Deck Demolition: Lessons We Learned

Decks are an integral part of modern outdoor living. But, before we could create the outdoor living space of our dreams, we had to demolish the dated and ill-conceived deck lurking about since the days of disco. This is the first in a series of slideshows that chronicle our deck replacement adventure in Des Moines. Step one: Out with the old.

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Luke Miller

Dated and Confused

An outdated deck design is one thing, but one that’s badly configured and poorly constructed to boot? It really had to go! The original deck was a small, square-shaped appendage off the back of our 4-season room. It never looked like it belonged with the house. Originally, it didn’t even offer access to the backyard—in later years someone cut an opening in the side and built a small landing and steps. The whole thing looked contrived.

Want to avoid an ill-conceived deck? Read up on how to build the deck of your dreams.

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The Night Before

Another view of the deck shows how the high seat railing interfered with the view of the backyard from the house. Good for privacy, not so good for visibility. See how to build a quality deck stair railing. In addition to being dated looking, the deck had ugly latticework in a state of disrepair. Although the deck had to go, what we could see of the frame led us to believe it could be salvaged. That would save labor and materials.

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Luke Miller

Easy Pickings

The demo itself took less than a day—not surprising, considering its small size and simple construction. If the heads of the deck screws weren’t filled with multiple coats of stain, unscrewing boards individually would have been an option. Instead, they were pried off with a crowbar and the rusty old screws dislodged with a hammer. That was important, because you definitely didn’t want to hit a screw with a chainsaw or reciprocating saw. In any case, heavy gloves and goggles are a good idea for safety’s sake.

Here are some other tools that may come in handy for demolition.

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Luke Miller

Level With Me

With the outer portion of the deck removed, we could take a closer look at the condition of the frame. We had to decide whether to build onto the original frame or take it off completely and start anew. As you can see, the deck was not level. Although this could be rectified by installing new footers, it was the first of several red flags.

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Luke Miller

Penalty for Checking

The wood was solid for the most part. However, there was some checking (cracks) on top of the baseboard, as seen here. Those cracks could collect water and lead to deterioration over time—not good, especially on a portion of the structure that attaches to the house and is needed for stability.

Check out these 31 tips for repairing, updating and maximizing your deck.

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Luke Miller

Nailed It

Of even more concern was the fact that the ledger was attached to the house with nails rather than bolts as it should have been. Now we’d not only have to level the frame, we’d have to replace the ledger and secure it correctly. Here’s how a deck should be attached to a house.

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On Bad Footings

A closer look revealed that the footings were slanted, causing the deck frame to attach at an awkward angle.

Learn how to build a solid, frost-proof deck footing.

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Space Issues

The deck frame had inconsistent spacing between boards—another indication it was a do-it-yourself project gone awry. It was apparent there was no sense keeping the old frame.

Too bad the builders of the old deck didn’t read our article on how to build a deck that’ll last as long as your house.

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Luke Miller

Cut It Out

Removing the deck frame was simple—just cut the footings and pry the backboard from the house. Fortunately, the wooden siding beneath the backboard was in good shape and needed only a coat of paint. Although a completely new frame would add to the cost, it was a small price to pay to make sure the beautiful new Trex deck to come had solid underpinnings with quality construction.

Check out our Trex decking installation guide.

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Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.