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Painting a deck? Not so fast

Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

If you’re planning a deck project – building, repairing, or cleaning and staining – here are three places to visit online before you start. They offer helpful, timely advice.

Also, at the bottom of this article you’ll find important reminders about deck code and construction that you might not discover until it’s too late, even if you visit the three sites.

1. Start by downloading a copy of the deck brochure, prepared by Mecklenburg County’s code enforcement staff. It explains deck construction from bottom to top. You’ll find it here:

2. To better understand the products you’ll be working with, visit and download the deck and porches brochure offered by the Southern Pine Forest Products Association.

Even if you use some other materials for decking and railing – say, composite or vinyl – the underpinning is likely to be treated pine.

3. For quick, clear advice on repairing, cleaning and staining a deck, visit You’ll find a handful of pieces on the topic. Here’s a very good one:

Lots of experts are leery of coating the surface of a deck with paint or a solid stain. It will show wear and be prone to peeling. Instead, choose a semitransparent stain.

Whatever stain you choose, don’t let it pool on the surface. It’ll remain sticky for weeks – and then be slippery when wet.

Finally, here are three crucial things you might not discover, even from these terrific sources.

• A while back, wood treatment companies changed chemicals to eliminate arsenic from residential decking. The new lumber is WAY more corrosive, especially heavier lumber treated with more chemicals for ground contact. Use galvanized flashing – not aluminum – and hot-dip galvanized nails and screws or other quality fasteners.

• A change in the deck code mandates that you can’t notch 4-by-4-inch lumber to accommodate joists and beams below the deck, and you can’t notch them to support handrails above the deck.

For support posts, according to the helpful fellow at Mecklenburg’s RTAC building code help desk, you’ll have to go to 4-by-6s or 6-by-6s. For railings, you’ll have to bolt a full 4-by-4 to the deck’s perimeter.

• Finally, here’s another reminder that those precast concrete deck “feet,” the little pyramids with fingers at the top to hold the bottom of a 4-by-4, don’t meet code for a deck attached to a house. The base of the pyramid doesn’t cover enough area to offer proper support.

After all these years, why do stores still sell a deck product that doesn’t meet deck code? “Because people still build decks without permits,” he said.

Special to the Observer:

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