6 Reasons Your Deck Boards Are Cracking—And What to Do About It

Bry'Ana Arvie
Written by Bry'Ana Arvie
Updated May 13, 2022
A family eats on a wooden deck
Photo: Maskot / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Problems such as rapid drying, poor installation, and everyday wear and tear can cause cracking. 

  • One of the best remedies is prevention.

  • But when it’s too late, you’ll likely need to replace the board.

  • Homeowners typically pay $1,900 to repair their deck.

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Your deck is one of the places you go to spend time with your family outdoors or unwind under the sun. But your peaceful place can quickly become an extra item on your “to-worry” list when you see your deck boards cracking. A cracked deck can cause splinters, tripping, and plain old unsightliness. In this guide, find out what’s causing your cracked deck, and learn what to do about it.

1. Rapid Drying

Pressure-treated wood is usually saturated in chemicals such as chromated arsenicals, causing it to expand before installation. And as they dry, they contract, and the chemicals evaporate from the wood, shrinking its surface. If they’re in direct sunlight, they’ll dry too fast, resulting in the wood shrinking around its unshrunk core or fasteners. 

If you’re facing this issue after installation, it can be caused by the rain or snow seeping into your boards, which can cause the same problems as shrinking after installation. 

To prevent rapid drying, allow your boards to dry out of the sunlight slower to prevent rapid drying. To limit it after installation or prevent further cracking, apply stain or sealant every three to five years.

2. Wear and Tear

While you enjoy your BBQ cookout gatherings on your deck or a calming sunset, it’ll potentially show the signs of usage over time. Foot traffic and pressure from tables, chairs, and grills can result in your deck boards cracking and discoloring. The best solution for board splitting caused by everyday usage is to replace older, more worn-out ones.

3. Insects

You and your family aren’t the only ones that love a good relaxing deck—carpenter ants and bees, termites, and wood-boring beetles do too. If you see cracked boards and feel like your board is hollow when you step on them, you probably have an insect infestation on your hands. If you notice hollow-sounding wood or wood-colored debris (termite droppings known as frass), contact your local pest control service to help you get rid of your little problem before you replace those boards. The average pest control service costs $200 to $600.

4. Water Damage

Closeup of rain falling on a deck
Photo: maykal / Adobe Stock

Another culprit of deck board cracking is water damage caused by stagnant water. In instances where it rained on your deck, but the board couldn't dry off properly, its constant contact with water eventually caused it to start rotting and cracking. Once ruined by water damage, your only solution is to replace it. 

A solid prevention method is to keep your board protected by removing anything that’ll cause it to be oversaturated, like a rug, or by replacing cupped boards. You can use a broom or a leaf blower to remove as much water as you can from your board’s surface and help maintain your deck

Pro tip: Water damage is also an issue underneath your deck. If the underside of your deck doesn’t have a proper drainage system in place, it can also cause your wood to rot from the bottom.

5. Improper Installation

In some cases, damage to your beloved deck can be a direct result of improper installation. If you notice excessive wear on your deck after only a few years (or months), look for common problems such as poor quality wood by examining its thickness and knotting. 

Also, keep an eye out for installation mistakes: screws placed too close to the edge of deck boards or no staggering. If the edges of every deck board line up in the center of your deck, it has a natural weak point. Another sign of faulty installation is if your boards don’t have enough space. Without the gap, they won’t be able to naturally expand and contract comfortably, resulting in buckling, cracking, and even shifting fasteners.

6. Deck Material

The most common deck-building material is pressure-treated wood (typically pine). While it can withstand everyday wear and tear, it isn’t as stable as other materials and is likely to crack. Here are some wood materials that are more resistant to cracks than pine:

  • Redwood

  • Cedar

  • Ipe hardwood

Other options that aren’t wood but can mimic its appearance are PVC and composite decking. If you were interested in giving your deck an entirely new facelift, one of these materials is less likely to crack and plus has a long lifespan with minimal maintenance. However, a more durable material comes at a pretty penny and with its own set of pros and cons for you to consider.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Deck?

The average cost to repair a deck is about $1,900, but typically ranges between $800 and $3,100. The final price to repair a deck depends on how many boards you need to repair, the decking material, and the problem. 

You can repair your deck boards yourself, but if you prefer to leave this task to the pros, contact a deck repair contractor near you.

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