As warmer weather comes in, people are spending more and more time enjoying their decks for relaxation and personal time, barbecues with friends, and all sorts of parties and get-togethers. It’s May and it’s Deck Safety Month. Have you done a deck check lately?
The number of deck failures and resulting injuries has been increasing at an alarming rate. Between 2000 and 2008, there were at least 30 deaths reported as a direct result of deck collapses and more than 75% of people on a deck are injured or killed when it collapses.
An estimated 2.5 million new or replacement decks in 2006 alone. Almost every new home being built today includes an elevated deck or porch. The number of personal injuries and deaths related to decks each year is likely to continue to rise because more decks are being constructed each year and existing decks are deteriorating. However, with proper design, construction, and maintenance, most deck failures are completely avoidable.
One key element to a safe deck is to ensure that it is code compliant. You can refer to a past article, US Building Codes for Wood Decks for deck building codes. Another key element is consistent check-ups and maintenance procedures. Always remember: safety first, fun second.
Here is the North American Deck and Railing Association’s (NADRA) 10-Point Deck Safety Consumer Checklist. NADRA is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the necessity for regular inspection and maintenance of existing decks and proper installation of new decks. Check for each item consistently to see possible problems early on before a tragic accident happens.
- Split or decaying wood
Check several different areas of the deck to be sure the wood is still sound. This includes the ledger board (where the deck attaches to the house and a common source of deck failure), support posts and joists under the deck (if you can reach them), deck boards, railings and stairs.
Pay special attention to any areas that tend to remain damp, are regularly exposed to water, or are in contact with fasteners. Use a tool like an ice pick or a screwdriver to penetrate the wood surface. If you can easily penetrate ¼ – ½ inch, break off a sliver of wood without splinters, or the wood is soft and spongy, decay may be present.
This is also a good time to look for small holes in the wood, which may indicate insects.
Flashing is a metal or plastic guard that directs water out and away from sensitive areas. It’s often installed where the deck and house come together, keeping moisture and debris from collecting between the house and the deck’s ledger board. Be certain the flashing is sound and firmly in place. Consider adding or replacing flashing if you notice areas that are obviously allowing water to collect.
- Loose or corroded fasteners
Fasteners include nails, screws or anchors in the ledger board. Tighten any loose fasteners, and pound in any nails that have popped up. (Note: The ledger board should not be fastened with only nails.)
If a fastener appears rusted or corroded, consider replacing it. A corroded fastener can cause deterioration in surrounding wood.
The deck or stairs should appear even without sagging and should not sway or move when tested.
- Railings and banisters
These should be secure. This is especially important the higher your deck is off the ground.
Check any railings or handrails to be sure they are firmly held in place; check also the risers and stringers to be certain they are securely attached and not decayed.
If the area behind the stair treads is open, this opening should be no more than 4” high.
Also, always keep stair pathways clear of planters, décor, toys and other items that can present a tripping hazard.
- Cleaning and maintenance
Clean away any leaves and debris, since these can be slippery and promote mildew.
If mildew is present or the deck coating has worn away, make time to clean and apply a new waterproofing coating. It can help prevent the split, decayed wood and loosened fasteners mentioned earlier.
- Grills, fire pits, chimneys, heaters and candles
These features can create a warm and cozy deck atmosphere, but make sure any source of fire or heat is safely placed away from flammable surfaces or that the deck surface is protected by a non-flammable pad.
Always use caution and follow manufacturers’ directions.
- Lighting and electrical
Be sure all lighting is working; clean any light covers to allow maximum light to shine through, and trim any plants or tree limbs that may be blocking light.
If you don’t have adequate lighting, there are a lot of great new deck lighting products you could consider to illuminate your steps and pathways.
Be sure all electrical outlets, appliances and features are up to code, in good condition, and childproof if children are present.
Watch that any electrical cords do not present a tripping hazard.
- Outdoor furniture & storage
Test all outdoor furniture to be sure it is sturdy. Avoid placing seating right at the edge of the deck. If you have a swing or hammock installed, test the chains and ropes to be sure they are secure. Consider installing childproof latches on any storage boxes and benches.
Be sure to keep all deck related chemical products stored safely away from children, including BBQ lighter fluids, matches, cleaners, etc.
- Surrounding trees
If you have trees overhanging your deck, make certain there is no danger of decaying limbs breaking free and falling from trees surrounding the deck.
This checklist is intended to assist homeowners and checking a deck using this does not constitute a code compliant deck. Seek a professional such as Westside Company for a free deck inspection. Westside Company serves the greater Los Angeles and has over two decades of experience in deck maintenance including stairs and railings. Call us at 310 994 4626 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and set up an appointment today. After the inspection, we will provide you with an assessment and solutions for any deck problems you may have as well as a quote.