How often do you think about deck care and maintenance? If you’re like most Americans, over the past few weeks you threw away the moldy deck chair cushions from last year, put out some fresh blooms and are eagerly anticipating a summer filled with barbeques, birthday parties and lazy Sunday afternoons in the hammock.

But have you given thought to the more fundamental deck care and maintenance issues? Most  homeowners know they ought to strip, stain and seal their wood deck every few years to keep it looking good and safe. Even lower-maintenance alternatives to wood—composite or PVC decking—requires an annual safety check-up.

There are many deck care and maintenance issues to keep top-of-mind, especially with regard to safety. The North American Deck and Rail Association (NADRA) puts out a checklist every year. Here are a few tips offered by NADRA:

Deck Maintenance and Deck Care Tips Look for loose or corroded fasteners. This can be especially important — nails and screws can come loose or break as a deck settles, and it’s easy to trip and fall over a loose board.

Give close inspection to railings, banisters and stairs. Push on your railings and banisters — there should be no movement. Take the time to make sure no balusters (railing pickets) are loose or missing.

Do some quick cleaning. Use a broom or hose to remove any leaves or other debris from your deck. If you have a wood deck and you discover mold, take the time to properly remove it and then apply a waterproof sealant, carefully considering what harsh chemicals may do to your nearby landscaping. Composite and PVC decking may require a quick pressure-wash or scrub with a mild detergent.

While it’s quick and easy to fix a loose screw, you might want to seek a professional opinion if you’re noticing significant rot or are uncertain about how well your deck is attached to your house.

You can check out other deck care and maintenance tips and deck safety at NADRA’s website.

If you’ve come to realize you’ve let the routine stripping, staining and sealing go too long, or you’re fed up with all the work involved year after year, it may be a good time to consider a low-maintenance alternative to wood, such as a composite or PVC decking material.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about alternative decking:

Extremely durable: Composite decking is a combination of wood flour and plastic, allowing  it to retain the features of a wood decking board but be much longer lasting with much less maintenance. PVC decking contains no wood fibers and is thus not susceptible to rot and decay like wood.

Low-maintenance:  Deck care and maintenance is much easier with composite or PVC decking.  There is no sanding, staining and sealing. While it’s good to give a composite or PVC deck a good pressure wash and maybe a scrub with a mild detergent, no other routine maintenance is needed.

Deck Maintenance and Deck Care Tips

Beauty of materials: Composite and PVC decking manufacturers have been able combine the durability and low-maintenance with natural wood looks. Most decking is available with coordinating railing systems, and complementary composite fencing is available from some manufacturers. A key word of caution for some composite and PVC materials: they can be susceptible to permanent, unwanted stains and fading from sun exposure. Check a manufacturer’s warranty regarding staining and fading.

Follow these deck care and maintenance tips, and you’ll be ready to enjoy your deck all summer long.