How to Remove a Wooden Deck From a Backyard
Your tired, old deck is beginning to sag, splinter -- or worse. Removal might seem intimidating, because the deck was built onto your home with what appears to be large beams and concrete feet. But at some point, you know it has to go. If your deck has seen better days, put it out of its misery. Tackle this problem methodically and cut it down to size without doing too much damage, using only a few tools.
Don't Destroy It
Don't destroy your deck trying to remove it. This type of lumber is valuable and if removed properly, it can be used for gardens, borders, trim or just about anything you can dream up. You can keep the surface of the deck intact and remove it in one piece for use somewhere else. Don't cut off any feet, cross-supports, stretchers or braces if you can help it; most of them likely will come off. Save the stairs, railings, miscellaneous pieces and reuse or sell them. Weathered wood makes great trim or can be used for boutique projects such as antique frames and furniture. Typical concrete deck feet are removable. Use them anywhere you use a cinder block.
Jack and Feet
Use a high-lift jack to get the pressure off the deck. This type of jack looks like a beam with holes in it. It has an old-fashioned handle that resembles a pump handle. Place several of them anywhere under the horizontal beams in front, and pump the handle to raise the deck a few inches. Place a few props under the deck for safety, and then, if the deck has feet -- which is likely -- remove them as well. This type of foot has a triangular base with a single hole in the middle where the vertical four-by-four posts fits. This type of foot is used to prevent the supports from rotting in the ground. Dig around the foot to remove it, allowing the braces to support the deck. If the deck feet are planted in concrete, it's sometimes best to dig around them, cut them off and leave the concrete and what's left of the post in the ground. If not, you can hire a backhoe to dig them out or do it by hand with a shovel.
Most modern decks employ a type of steel hanger to support the horizontal braces that hold up the decking where you walk. They look like bent metal plates with screws through them. There's one at both ends where the horizontal studs attach to the perimeter frame or anywhere on the deck where studs are butted horizontally into each other at 90 degrees. Use a drill/driver to remove every hanger you can find. Unscrew each hanger one by one, supporting the beam or stud as you go, if needed. Make sure that everything is braced before getting under the deck. Use props diagonally to support the horizontal beam attached to the house. Kick the bottom of the diagonal support to drive it up tightly against the bottom where needed. The support beams will remain on the bottom of the deck, keeping the decking intact. The stairs might also employ hangers. If they don't, they probably have L-shaped braces that do the same thing. Unscrew them and remove the stairs in one big piece. If the decking is small enough, three or four helpers can aid you lifting it for use somewhere else. If not, hook a chain onto it and drag it off, using a pickup truck.
If it's tight, if it's too big, if you can't get under it or if you have nowhere to put large pieces, disassemble the deck one piece at a time. Most contemporary decks are built with screws. These are simple enough to remove, but problems occur when the head of the screws bury too deep, resulting in stripping when you try to remove them. If this happens, chisel a small hole into the wood to access the screw and break the head off, using a chisel or hammer. Nails can have the same problem, but most often they pull out. Other removal tools include pry bars for stubborn pieces or reciprocating saws and circular saws for cutting loose pieces that you can't get off. Some parts are bolted on, so use a socket and ratchet to take those off. Start by removing the railings and stairs and move on to each individual plank on top, unscrewing or pulling the nails out. Check for broken screws or nails, pull them out and start stacking the pieces. Move to the horizontal frame, unscrewing each piece, and then move on to the legs and feet until everything is gone.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.
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- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images