Snow and Ice Removal on Wood Decks

The winter season is certainly a beautiful time of the year, synonymous with snowy landscapes and the holiday season. However, it can also be a stressful time for homeowners struggling to stay on top of snow removal and ice prevention. While shoveling walkways and the driveway are obviously important, seeing snow on your deck might make you wonder whether it needs to be removed or not. When it comes to wood deck snow removal, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Amount of snow your deck can support

The natural concern over seeing snow on your deck is whether or not the weight is going to damage your favorite outdoor entertainment space. You might be surprised to learn that a properly constructed wood deck can support the weight of approximately 3' of snow before it becomes a concern. This means that if your railings are the typical 36" height you won't need to become concerned if you can still see the top of your rail.

This 3' of snow marker is only for wood decks that have been built to code, i.e. professionally constructed decks. DIY decks that haven't been built to code or older decks that already have damaged or weakened boards may not be able to handle the weight meaning you will need to be proactive in snow removal. It is also recommend to visually inspect your deck during winter, just to catch a potential collapse or broken board before it breaks.

Also, keep in mind that wet snow is heavier than that lovely white fluffy snow. If you're getting slush or mixed rain and snow you might want to remove some of it if you're getting over the 2' mark.

Roof snow removal affects your deck

removing snow from wood deck (By Vidvei & William, photo by Jonas Haarr Friestad)

Ironically it isn't always the snow on the deck you have to worry about, but rather the snow (and ice) on your roof that can cause a catastrophe. Removal of snow from your roof is important. While best practices of roof snow removal are a separate subject, it is important to keep in mind that piled up snow and ice sliding off your roof can badly damage your deck.

In fact, in winter a very common reason for deck damage is fallen snow and ice chunks from the roof. Not only is snow and ice build up on a roof dangerous for people and animals, but it also is a surefire way of breaking boards, collapsing a deck and even breaking the eaves of the roof itself.

When you're out on your deck assessing the snow, always look up to the roof as well.

Maintain walkways for safety

Knowing you may not need to completely shovel your deck is a weight off many homeowners shoulders, but don't forget that you should still have pathways cleared. In the event of an emergency in the home, such as a fire, the outdoor entrance leading to your deck is a method of escape. Therefore you should always at least have a one person wide path from the door out to the yard or otherwise to a safe location.

You may also want a pathway out to your yard for your pets or have a path to your barbeque for a little winter grilling. Stay on top of pathway snow removal, but chances are you probably shouldn't try to get it down to actual wood.

Safe ways of removing snow without damage

(Architect & Photo by: Alliance Arkitekter)

First things first - never use a shovel to try and remove snow directly from the wood. This is true of all metal shovels. This is a surefire way of ruining a beautiful deck and even causing further damage. For example, gouging into the wood creates unprotected pockets of unsealed spaced for moisture to enter. Even if you have a modified wood deck that doesn't have a sealant, gouges are unsightly and completely avoidable.

Only ever use a shovel for snow removal when there is no chance of hitting wood. Stick with using plastic shovels whenever possible. It also goes without saying that using a snow blower is a very bad idea, unless you are on deep snow and using a deck snow blower. Again, if you get anything close to touching the wood you need to change tactics.

Light snow can easily be removed with a leaf blower without fear of damaging anything. This can be useful for quickly clearing steps as well. A heavy bristle broom can also be used for quickly brushing away lighter layers of snow. If you haven't stayed on top of snow removal there is no need to try and suddenly remove all of it in one go. There is nothing wrong with leaving a little snow underfoot on pathways in order to preserve your wood deck from potential shovel or tool damage.

Using ice melt on wood

Snow may be tiring to remove but it's often ice that is the biggest headache and the most significant safety concern. Ice on pathways can lead to a serious injury and should be addressed quickly. Trying to dig under ice, especially layers close to the wood, is not a good idea as you can damage your deck. The same goes for trying to shatter ice patches by hitting it with a shovel. A better idea is to use ice melt safe for wood.

Selecting ice melt for wood decks is trickier than other materials. Avoid products with calcium chloride. Salt also isn't ideal, but will work as long as you rinse it off as soon as the snow is gone to prevent hardware erosion. Also you will want to steer clear of any ice melts with colorant ingredients. Local hardware stores should have wood-safe ice melts, but always double-check for any potential damaging ingredients to be safe. Sand and cat litter seem like good non-chemical options, but be warned that they can leave small gouges and scratches in the wood.

Also, choose an ice melt safe for pets and children as well as formulas that won't harm your lawn when it all melts off come spring.

The good news is if you have fairly mild winters and don't plan on using your deck much, chances are high you really won't need to completely shovel this area. A well-constructed and maintained wood deck is incredibly durable and trying to aggressively remove all snow and/or ice may actually do more harm than good. If you do plan on using some areas of your deck during the winter it is highly advisable you stay on top of snow removal from the very first snowfall to prevent the need for potentially damaging removal.