How to Keep Your Deck SafeBy Dave Kile
Barbecue season is finally here, and friends and family are gathering outdoors to enjoy the lovely spring weather. Before the season gets in full swing, you want to inspect your deck and identify any safety issues that need to be repaired now.
The average deck is built to last about 20 years but this varies based on the quality of construction materials, weather conditions, craftsmanship, and maintenance. To make sure your deck is ready for this summer, conduct an annual inspection and identify any safety hazards.
The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) aims to raise awareness about making sure your deck is safe. They have declared May as Deck Safety Month® to emphasize the importance of keeping your deck safe.
Safety Issues to Look For and Correct
If you have a newer deck and you know what to look for, you can inspect it yourself. Depending on your level of comfort with maintenance, you can either fix issues yourself or for more significant problems call a contractor to help. For older decks, NADRA recommends you hire an ASHI-certified home inspector or a knowledgeable deck builder to inspect your deck for safety.
Here are some safety items you should be sure to inspect.
- Split or decaying wood – Moisture can cause wood to split and rot. Pay attention to areas that stay damp when looking for split or decaying wood. Inspect the ledger board, support posts and joists, railings, stairs, and deck boards. If the wood is spongy or soft or if you can penetrate the wood ¼” to ½” and break off a piece with no splinters, there may be decay present. Look for insect holes as well.
- Railings and banisters – Check all railings and banisters to ensure they don’t wiggle when shaken.
- Lighting/electrical – Adequate lighting on stairs is an essential part of deck safety. Keep all lighting clean, working and visible. If there are electrical cords, make sure they are in good condition and not a trip hazard.
- Cleaning/maintenance – Clear off any leaves and debris. If there is mildew on your deck, wash it off and apply a new waterproof coating to prevent rot.
- Flashing – The metal or plastic guard that directs water away from certain areas of your deck is called flashing. Make sure water is not pooling anywhere. Check the flashing to ensure that it’s firmly attached. Flush with water to clear through any debris in the flashing.
- Loose or corroded fasteners – Tighten any loose fasteners. Hammer in any nails that have popped up. If a fastener is rusted, replace it to avoid it causing deterioration in the surrounding wood.
- Stairs – Stairs should be even and should not sag or sway when you walk on them. Check to make sure handrails are firmly attached. Keep stairs clear of all objects that could be trip hazards.
- Trees – If trees overhang your deck, check the limbs to make sure there is no rot or limbs that look like they could fall onto the deck.
- Outdoor furniture – Test your furniture to ensure that it is sturdy. Inspect the cushions and seats to make sure they are not worn out and are free from mold and debris. Place the furniture a safe distance from the stairs. If you have a swing or hammock, check the chains and ropes.
- A little bit of time maintaining your deck each year will pay off in the long run and keep your family safe for years to come.