What is deck post checking and when should I be concerned about post cracks?

Table of Contents

In the world of deck maintenance and safety, one topic comes up quite often: deck post checking. This phenomenon is a natural process that affects many types of lumber, especially those used in outdoor structures. Understanding what it is, why it happens, and when it’s a cause for concern, is crucial for any homeowner or deck enthusiast.

What is Deck Post Checking?

Deck post checking refers to the occurrence of small cracks or ‘checks’ that form in the wood of deck posts over time. Checking is a natural process, and it’s largely the wood’s response to changes in moisture and temperature. As wood absorbs and releases moisture, it expands and contracts. This process creates internal stresses which, when released, result in the formation of checks. It’s important to note that these checks are different from deep cracks that can compromise the structural integrity of a deck post.

Understanding the Material: Southern Yellow Pine

When building a deck, the choice of material is critical, and Southern Yellow Pine is a popular pick. Understanding this wood’s characteristics can help clarify why it’s often subject to deck post checking.

Why Southern Yellow Pine is Commonly Used for Decks

Southern Yellow Pine is a go-to choice for many decks due to its strength, durability, and cost-effectiveness. This type of wood is highly resistant to wear and tear and stands up well to outdoor conditions, making it a reliable choice for deck construction.

Treated Southern Yellow Pine: Prone to Post Checking

Despite its many advantages, treated Southern Yellow Pine is known to be susceptible to deck post checking. This is due to the natural moisture content in the wood that fluctuates with weather changes, leading to the expansion and contraction of the wood fibers and, subsequently, checking.

The Science Behind Deck Post Checking

Deck post checking isn’t just a random occurrence; there’s a science behind it. By understanding its effects on the structural integrity of your deck and its role in releasing internal stresses, you can better manage this common issue.

The Effects of Post Checking on Structural Integrity

In most cases, post checking does not compromise the structural integrity of your deck. Research has shown that unless a check runs entirely through the post, forming an air gap, the deck remains structurally sound. So, while they might be unsightly, most checks are not a cause for alarm.

How Checking Releases Internal Stresses in Deck Posts

Deck post checking is essentially the wood’s way of managing internal stresses caused by changes in moisture levels. When the wood expands and contracts, it builds up stress. The formation of checks helps to release this stress, thereby preventing more significant damage.

When to Worry About Deck Post Checking

While deck post checking is often harmless, there are instances when it can signal a potential problem. Knowing when to worry about checking can save you from serious deck issues down the line.

The Danger of Full-Through Checks

A full-through check, one that runs entirely through a post, can be a cause for concern. These checks create an air gap inside the wood, which can weaken the post’s overall strength. If you notice a full-through check, it’s advisable to seek a professional assessment.

The Screwdriver Test

A simple and effective way to assess the severity of a check is the screwdriver test. If you can insert a screwdriver into a check and it goes all the way through, you may have a serious issue on your hands. Otherwise, the check is likely superficial and not a structural concern.

Common Misconceptions About Deck Post Checking

Misunderstandings about deck post checking often lead homeowners to unnecessary action. By debunking these misconceptions, you can save time, money, and stress.

Why Most Homeowners Want to Replace Checked Posts

Many homeowners rush to replace checked posts because they believe these checks compromise their deck’s stability. This isn’t typically the case, as most checks don’t affect the deck’s structural integrity. The desire for replacement usually stems from aesthetic concerns rather than functional ones.

Dispelling Fears: Checked Doesn’t Mean Compromised

It’s crucial to understand that a checked deck post isn’t necessarily a compromised one. Unless the check has created an air gap by going all the way through the post, your deck remains sturdy and safe.

Evaluating the Severity of Deck Post Checking

Being able to differentiate between harmless checks and problematic cracks can prevent unnecessary worry and action.

Checks and Cracks: Understanding the Difference

Despite their similar appearances, checks and cracks are distinct phenomena when it comes to deck post checking. Checks are superficial splits that form on the surface of the wood, typically along the grain. They are a normal response to environmental conditions and rarely compromise the structural integrity of your deck. Cracks, on the other hand, are deeper and often more severe. They penetrate the wood and can stretch from one side to the other, potentially threatening the strength of your deck posts.

When is a Deck Post Check Considered Serious?

Typically, a deck post check becomes a serious concern when it evolves into a full-through crack, extending all the way through the post and creating an air gap. Another red flag is the width of the check; if it’s wide enough to insert a screwdriver, it might indicate a more significant problem. In such cases, professional assessment is recommended to ensure the deck’s safety and structural soundness.

Final Thoughts

Understanding deck post checking is crucial for any deck owner. It’s part of normal wear and tear and not necessarily an indicator of a problem. However, knowing when checks turn into a more serious issue is equally important.

Normal Versus Excessive Deck Post Checking

While deck post checking is a typical phenomenon, there are instances where it can become excessive. Normal checking often involves shallow, superficial cracks that don’t affect the overall integrity of the wood. Excessive checking, on the other hand, can involve deep cracks that penetrate the entire post, potentially leading to structural issues. Recognizing the difference between these two can save you from unnecessary repairs or potential safety hazards.

  • Normal Checking: Surface level, does not affect structural integrity.
  • Excessive Checking: Deep cracks that go through the entire post, could potentially affect the structure.

How to Respond to Deck Post Checking Concerns

When dealing with deck post checking, here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Assess: Use the screwdriver test to determine if a check is superficial or a full-through one.
  2. Research: Understand the type of wood your deck is made from and its susceptibility to checking.
  3. Consult: If a check seems to be deep or wide enough to cause worry, seek professional advice. Don’t rush into replacing checked posts as they are often still structurally sound.

In conclusion, deck post checking is a common occurrence in wooden decks and not usually a cause for alarm. It’s a natural process that can even benefit the wood by releasing internal stresses. However, excessive checking that leads to full-through cracks might need professional intervention.

If you ever have concerns about the state of your deck posts, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team is here to assist you with any deck-related questions or issues you might have.