Your wood deck is an important backyard asset that adds value to your home, so winterizing it for the cold weather is a must-do project to protect your investment. By nature, wood takes a beating when it’s exposed to cold temperatures and persistent moisture. When you take the time to properly winterize your deck, you increase its lifespan and keep it looking beautiful.

If you’ve never winterized your deck before, the following tips will help get you started:

1. Clean your deck well.

Dirt, fungus, mold, mildew and other debris can quickly age your deck, causing it to decompose faster than normal or acquire dry rot. Plus, the excess grime can make your deck slippery and unsafe when it’s wet. Clean your deck with a specially formulated deck cleaner and scrub broom, and rinse it well with your garden hose. You can make your own homemade cleaning solution by combining 1 quart of oxygen bleach (like the kind you use for laundry), 1 cup of ammonia-free dishwashing detergent (the kind you use in a dishwasher; not bubbly dishwashing soap) and 3 quarts of water. Let the cleaner sit for 10 minutes, scrub the deck and rinse with water. By cleaning your wood deck, you also improve the ventilation between the boards so they dry faster.

2. Move your garden pots and planters.

During the summer, the heat helps the moisture under your planters and pots evaporate quickly. In the wintertime, moisture remains trapped, which can lead to damage and stains. Move your planters to another area of your property, like a greenhouse or an unused portion of a garden pathway. If the plants don’t require a lot of sunlight, they may even thrive under the deck.

3. Refinish, if needed.

If the finish on the deck has faded or deteriorated, now is the time to strip and replace it. Refinishing a deck will give it an extra layer of protection against the winter’s rain and snow. But keep in mind you’ll need about a week-long stretch of dry weather to allow your deck to dry thoroughly both before and after refinishing.

4. Seal the deck.

If the winters in your area promise wet winter weather, a high-quality sealant that repels water can do wonders for protecting your deck. Talk to decking expert about the best type of waterproof sealant to use and the best way to apply it.

5. Consider a cover.

When the winters in your area are notorious for non-stop rains or extreme weather conditions, consider covering your deck with a strong tarp or an insulating material to prevent prolonged water pooling. This technique is only effective if the tarp covers the entire deck. A decking expert can give you recommendations about the best ways to cover the structure, as well as which materials to use.

Winterizing a wood deck can seem like an overwhelming project to tackle, but doing so will save you time and money. You will spend less time doing repairs and won’t have to worry about replacing your deck for several years. Plus, when spring and summer arrive, your winterized deck will be in top shape for your outdoor parties and backyard barbeques.