Worn out decks
One low-tech way to test the firmness of a wooden backyard deck -- assuming it's safe to stand on -- is to hit it hard with your foot and listen to the sound it makes, says Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction in Castle Rock, Colo.
"If you hear the board beneath your foot vibrate, the deck is still probably solid," Bennett says.
Marston says if the deck is fairly new, it's probably structurally sound.
"When the wood is under 5 years old, then even if the lumber is discolored and there's a little cracking, it's generally not a cause for concern," he says. "The solution could be as simple as cleaning it, re-securing the nails and adding a sealant."
COST: Marston says the cost of a cosmetic repair could range from $200 up to about $1,000, depending on whether the owner makes it a do-it-yourself project or hires a contractor.
If the deck is older than about 15 years, however, it is probably past its life expectancy and should be inspected by an experienced, licensed landscape contractor, Marston says. Replacement cost ranges from $5,000 to about $20,000, he says.