If you live in a climate where you get snow in the winter, you are likely wondering about your deck. Should you be clearing your deck from the large amounts of snowfall? How much snow can my deck hold?
If your deck is built to code it can hold up to 50 lbs per square foot, snow weight can vary depending on how wet or fluffy the snow is. Typically, snow will weigh 10-20 lbs per cubic foot. This means your deck can handle approximately 1.5 to 5 feet of snow; the type of snow is crucial in this equation.
It is important to understand how snow can cause damage to a deck, especially older decks that may not be able to support as much weight as they had before. Sometimes a quick shovel on a regular basis can safe your deck from collapsing. Let me get into more details below.
How Much Snow Can a Deck Hold?
If your deck is built properly to code and is in good condition, it is built to withstand a great deal of snow. Precisely, in addition to its own weight, it should be able to hold between 40 to 50 pounds per square foot ofg live load.
A decks live load is simply the weight of everything on top of the deck, such as furniture, humans, plants, and in our case snow. The live load excludes the actual materials of the deck, meaning the deck boards, joists, and all the other building/structural parts, these are called dead loads.
So what this means is that if your deck is 5×10, or 50 square feet, it should withstand between 2000 and 2500 pounds of live load, or snow if you rdeck is empty of other items. And while that is a lot of snow – probably more than you considered your deck would withstand – avoiding reaching these weight limits is a good recommendation.
To put that into perspective, snow would have to pile up to anywhere from 1.5 to 5 feet over the entire deck to reach that weight. Of course, this varies with how compacted the snow becomes, how much moisture collects within the snow (skiers refer to wet snow versus powder or fluffy snow), and other factors. Piles of snow in one area can also cause damage as more weight per square foot can cause that area to bend, break, or fully collapse.
Note: All decks are different, some can hold more weight while others may only hold 30lbs per square foot. Please evaluate based on age, size, and the structural integrity of the specific deck.
A heavier, denser wet snow will pack down, which could reach the weight limit far before reaching a height of even three feet. By contrast, light, fluffy powder may be able to grow a little beyond that before it hits the weight limit.
However, I know that fluffy snow will become compact overtime as it can melt down then freeze again. This creates ice and compact snow that will become heavy. Removing snow when fluffy is your easiest option!
You know your climate better than anyone and can gauge this on a case by case basis. As a general rule, your deck shouldn’t have any issues with 1-2 feet of snow, as long as it’s in good condition. However, if you aren’t sure its better to be safe than sorry.
How to Protect and Keep Snow off Your Deck?
Of course, there are plenty of places where this sort of accumulation happens. Northern states in the United States and several Canadian territories and provinces reach over three feet of snow early in the winter and continue to see the precipitation come down for months. So how do you protect your deck and keep snow off it to maintain its integrity? Here are some tips for you.
1. Shovel it Away
Manual labor often comes into play when taking care of outdoor spaces, and one of the most common ways to remove snow from your deck is to simply shovel the snow away. First, you need to plan how you’re going about it.
You want to start from your door and make a clear path to one edge of the deck. This allows you more options for directional shoveling, based on where you want the snow to land outside of your deck.
Also, using a flat shovel as opposed to a pointed one is safer for your deck, since it won’t compromise any sealer you’ve used. In addition, it’s good if the shovel edge happens to be lined with rubber rather than just metal. Be cautious of your deck fencing when you push the snow from the deck. You don’t want to hit the slats and cause any damage to those, either.
Another option, especially if you have a very large deck space that would take hours to clear with a shovel, is to remove snow from your deck with a snow thrower. Snow throwers are different than snow blowers. You are simply blowing the snow out of your way with snow blowers. These are good for smaller amounts of snow or smaller areas, like a sidewalk.
A snow thrower is different in that it collects the snow and has a directional chute that blows the snow off the deck per your settings, so you don’t get covered in moisture. They can be very powerful and work fast, with ratings of 800 pounds of snow moved per minute. Ensure you follow instructions when using any power tool for safety purposes.
Ice melts are a great solution for preventative measures and assist in melting snow away once it falls. However, a wood deck has special circumstances that can make it difficult to find commercially produced ice melts that won’t damage your deck.
Keep away from ice melts with any chloride salt ingredient, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, or sodium chloride, as these chemicals can lead to harmful expansion and contraction of the wood with freezing and thawing. This will weaken your deck quickly. Also, using sand might work fast, but the sand can scratch your deck and may compromise your sealant.
The best ice melts for wood decks can actually be made at home with simple ingredients. Hot water with dish soap and rubbing alcohol, in the right quantities, make a great do-it-yourself ice melt that you can pour directly over the snow on your deck without causing any harm to the wood or other materials with which your deck is constructed.
4. Build a Patio Cover
You should consider building a patio cover or deck cover for true protection against the elements – including damaging sunlight and rain. Materials used to build these covers are less susceptible to the elements, and you’ll have a deck space that is mostly clear throughout all seasons to use.
This option may cost a little extra, but it will save you time and money in the long run and allow you greater use of your outdoor space.
5. Use a Heavy Duty Broom
Heavy-duty brooms, like the large janitorial brush brooms that are often used to move water out of a car wash, can work well in removing snow from your deck. Make sure the bristles aren’t so hard; if too hard they can scrape up your lovely wood, a medium bristle will be strong enough to move large amounts of snow without damaging the decking.
As with shoveling, you’ll want to assure you aren’t harming either the wood planks of the deck or the slats of your deck fencing. However, these clear a wider berth at once, so you spend less time and energy clearing the snow. They are also less likely to cause harm to your deck than a metal shovel.
Do You Need to Remove Snow off Your Deck?
When to remove snow from your deck is a personal choice. If you like to keep your deck clear so that you can enjoy the flames in your fire pit during the winter, you’ll want to take measures to either keep it clear (like a deck cover) or frequently remove the snow.
However, if your deck is in good shape and hasn’t been damaged in the past, you shouldn’t have to remove the snow most of the time.
Again, if your deck is up to code, it should be able to hold up to 3 ½ feet of snow. Therefore, it’s recommended that you don’t let it collect to over three feet, making sure you account for aging, wear and tear, and other damage already done to your deck.
What Kind of Damages Can Snow Do to A Deck?
If snow is allowed to pile too high, or if your deck is older or the sealer has lost its integrity, serious damage can occur. Excess weight from the snow could cause the boards of your deck to bow or break, or in some cases, even fall through.
Suppose the sealant is broken and moisture gets to the wood. In that case, you’ll likely find that the wood will warp and droop significantly, decreasing aesthetic value and weakening your deck significantly.
Snow that pushes against the railing can cause the railing to wobble if it’s metal, or weaken regardless of the material. Much like the deck, any prior damage to the railing could cause it to weaken further, bowing, breaking, warping, and more.
Before Winter Ensure Your Deck is Sturdy!
Before winter comes, you should ensure your deck is basically winterized, much like how you prepare your car for the cold season. Check the boards for any sign of damage, including inconsistencies in the flatness of your deck. If there is creaking when you step on a board that wasn’t there before, you should make sure all of the boards in and around the area are secure.
Test the sealer to be sure it hasn’t worn down or been compromised in some way. Sealant on outdoor wood decks is essential to protecting your investment so that water doesn’t damage your beautiful structure. If you’re uncertain about any of this, contact a professional to consult on the state of your deck.
Will Snow Damage the Deck Boards?
While the snow itself may not cause any harm to your deck boards, barring the instances discussed above, the melting of the snow can lead to problems if your deck isn’t up to code. Just remember that the sealer you use on your wood deck doesn’t have an infinite lifespan.
You should consider a fresh coat if you haven’t recoated the sealer on your deck in four or five years. Sand off the existing sealant and reapply, removing any cracks in the sealer that may have allowed the water from melting snow to seep into the wood and damage it.
Is Composite Decking Durable Against Snow?
Composite decking is becoming far more popular with the technology today because it holds up better in winter weather. Composite decking uses a mix of wood and plastic, keeping the strength of the wood while adding the integrity of plastic to withstand the elements.
The material requires far less maintenance than a standard wood deck, so homeowners don’t have to spend as much time, money, and effort keeping them in good shape. They can withstand extreme cold temperatures, far colder than simple wood, without damage from the freezing temperatures.
They are also more resistant and resilient when it comes to snow melting and won’t bow, crack, or warp as easily if the water remains in place.
Can Composite Decks Hold More Snow Weight?
Don’t fool yourself, though. While there are many great things about composite decks, it doesn’t mean they will hold more snow than typical wood decks. In terms of weight, code requirements don’t change, so a deck made of composite will still only be required to hold an additional 40 to 60 pounds of weight per square foot.
It simply means that, to do so, it doesn’t have to be as thick or as shored up as plain wood. Installers will adjust the difference to ensure they aren’t using more material than necessary. Therefore, you should still use the 3-foot rule when it comes to removing snow from your composite deck.
Everyone loves to have an outdoor space for relaxing, entertaining, or even having a nice meal outside. A deck makes all of this possible, and with the available composite decking, you have multiple options and much lower prices for constructing a deck in your backyard. At the same time, you need to concern yourself with the elements and take steps to maintain your deck’s safety, integrity, and appearance.
If you live in a climate where winter brings lots of heavy snow, you should plan ahead with a means to assure your deck can hold up against the weight of the snow. Always assure that your deck is up to code, and inspect it for possible damages that could lead to costly repair and replacement before winter arrives.
Know what you’ll use if you have to clear the snow from your deck, and take the proper precautions and preventative measures. Your deck will likely survive even the harshest winter with heavy snows with general care and maintenance.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.