Wood Deck Rot
By my experience rotting wood accounts for about 90% of the deck failures that are not installation errors. I put rotting into two categories, Surface Rot and Material Loss.
Surface Rot is when the wood begins to shake off the surface and the surface is more weathered that it was when it was new. It is normally not hazardous because the structural integrity of the lumber has not been compromised and a wash and seal coat will usually extend the life of the lumber.
Material Loss is when moisture and or organic material has broken down the lumber and there is significant loss of material. The lumber will be soft, fasteners will not take well to them because the density of the lumber is less and the points that support the deck will most likely begin to wear to a point where you can fall through or, even worse, a railing can come apart when you apply force to it.
Stains and sealers are masters and covering rot, it might look good but under all the cover up is a gaping hole of material loss. I like to use a probe to check the density of the lumber and I also look for areas in between boards or rails where water is trapped. If it stays wet, it will most likely rot quickly.
Proper deck maintenance can prevent rotting but once the material is deteriorated the best recourse is to replace it completely.
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