4 Important Deck Safety Checks

Make safety and security your number one by following these important deck safety checks.

Decks are regularly abused. Your favorite outdoor entertaining area is subjected to sunlight, rain, snow, and other elements that can lead to accidents. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of 33,000 people are injured each year as a result of a deck, porch, railing or staircase structural failure or collapse. 6,000 of them sustain traumatic injuries. So, before you invite the entire block over for a barbecue, look for these 4 deck safety checks and have an official inspector inspect them.

Check off these four tips.

1. Make Sure Your Deck is Attached to Your Home

Most decks have a problem where the ledger board is attached to the house wall. You don’t want any water to enter your home through the ledger board. You must ensure that each bolt is caulked and sealed. To avoid water damage, the ledger board must be properly flashed. Failure of nail-only connections between the deck and the primary structure is a common cause of deck collapse. The deck ledger is the attached deck floor rim board, and it should be positively connected to the main building’s floor structure with bolts or lag screws, not nails.

Crawl under your deck and look at the ledger board if you can. If there is no metal or plastic lip over the top of the ledger board, you must add flashing. If the ledger is not properly fastened, your deck may fall off. This is a common problem with do-it-yourself decks. To avoid future issues, inspect your deck yearly or call a professional team to build your deck.

2. Check for Rust and Damage

Examine the underside of your deck to ensure that all fasteners, connectors, and joists are in good working order. This includes inspecting the nails, bolts, screws, and other metal connector pieces to ensure they are not rusted or otherwise compromised. Bring in an inspector if you notice rust. If the inspector recommends replacing specific areas or the entire deck, do so right away.

Examine the wood for rot and insect infestations that appear as wood damage. This could be caused by termites, carpenter ants or carpenter bees. The presence of termites in your home portends serious damage. Termites feed on wood. Modern decks, built in the 1980s or later, are made of lumber treated with chemicals that bugs dislike. Carpenter ants and termites can get into areas where a new deck made of treated wood attaches to the house because house construction materials aren’t typically treated with insect-resistant chemicals. When this occurs, even a deck that is otherwise structurally sound can pull away from the house and cause an accident.

It’s no surprise that wood cracks after prolonged use. Wood splits a little with wear, but certain types of cracks indicate a problem. Don’t be concerned about small, non-growing cracks. However, if you notice any cracks around the fasteners or between the joists, this is cause for concern. It has the potential to weaken the structure of your deck. Water can enter smaller cracks and freeze, causing the cracks to expand and weaken the board. Valor Home Services recommends paying close attention to a crack in the center of a deck-joist span. Decks are typically built on joists that are 16 or 24 inches apart, depending on local codes. A deck board with a crack in that location should be replaced so that a guest does not step on the weak spot and fall through the deck. Small cracks are nothing to be concerned about as long as they do not spread.

The most common locations for hidden rot are where wood meets wood (butted boards) or wood meets concrete. If you haven’t protected your deck in a long time, or at all, poke around with something hard and pointy, such as a flathead screwdriver. Water intrusion and wood rot should be detected before they weaken the deck and cause it to collapse. It is a good idea to seal and stain your deck every 2-3 years. It can help to reduce cracking caused by exposure to water, cold and heat.

3. Inspect the Security (Nothing Wobbles)

If you notice a lot of movement when you step onto your deck, this is not a good sign. Deck movement puts additional strain on fasteners and connectors. The joists may pull away from the rim joist or ledger board and twist out of their vertical position over time. This makes them vulnerable.

It makes no difference whether your deck has a wood railing, metal railing, or cable and glass railing systems; a safe railing is essential. If your railing is loose, have it repaired as soon as possible. This is extremely dangerous. Allow no one on your deck until you has repaired the shaky railing. When you push or pull against your wood deck railing, it’s most likely due to a loosened railing post-to-deck frame connection. Deck posts should be securely blocked and fastened to the deck joists and beams with solid lag screws or bolts. To ensure that each bolt and lag is fully driven, use a power drill or ratchet to tighten each one. Do this to every post on your deck that feels a little shaky. This will keep you from having to make a second round later in the season if you have an accident.

4. Clean Debris

We recommend cleaning your deck once a year. Remove all planters and furniture, sweep away any leaves or other debris, and clean any mold with mild soap and water. You should also consider applying a fresh coat of water repellent, stain, or paint as needed. You can use any deck cleaning product you want or just soap and water. We do not advise using a pressure washer. It can be very rough on your deck and even cause damage. It is not always a good idea to pressure wash your deck. If you must use a pressure washer, use one with a large fan. First, experiment on an unnoticeable area to determine how close the wand should be to the surface. We recommend using a garden hose and a soft bristle brush. If you notice the wood fibers rising (bur), back off slightly.

Your deck, like many other parts of your house, can blend into the background, causing you to overlook dangerous flaws that an outsider would notice. A wobbly railing corner or a cracked deck board may be something you’ve grown accustomed to, but a neighbor over for a party may be unaware of the issue and may be injured. Every few years, you should have your deck inspected. Your deck is exposed to the elements all year, with no protection. A deck has no ‘check engine light.’ We advise hiring an official inspector whose primary concern is safety. Then you can contact your local stress-free deck expert, Valor Home Services, to complete any repairs recommended by the inspector.