Decks that are not properely built or maintained can be unsafe and now is a good time get outside and inspect your deck for signs of failure that could lead to a collapse. According to experts at the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and Simpson Strong Tie, nearly 85 percent of homes in the U.S. have a deck, balcony or patio. It is estimated that 20 million of these decks nationwide are in need of repair or rebuilding.
Checking your deck can help prevent injuries or worse. In the past ten years, there have been more than 800 reported injuries and 20 deaths as a result of deck collapses. In many cases the failing decks were built incorrectly, had not been properly maintained or were beyond their lifespan of approximately 10-15 years.
To evaluate the safety of decks, experts say homeowners should look for five warning signs that a deck is unsafe: loose connections (for example, a wobbly railing), missing connections (for example, the deck is just nailed, rather than bolted or screwed, to the side of the house), corrosion, rot and cracks. The two critical areas that typically contribute to a deck collapse are the railings and the deck's connection to the house.
To assist homeowners in evaluating the safety of their deck, Simpson Strong-Tie has developed a deck edition of its "5 Steps to a Safer and Stronger Home" and a "Deck Framing Connection Guide." The five steps include checking for the warning signs of an unsafe deck, knowing how weight and other forces affect the safety of a deck, ensuring the deck is built with a continuous load path, combating corrosion and knowing how to maintain a deck. The guide is designed to help those who are building a deck understand the critical areas of deck construction. For more information, or to download the Deck Guide and "5 Steps to a Safer and Stronger Home," visit the Simpson Strong-Tie Web site .
Reaching Tom: For more tips, sign up for Tom's free e-newsletter here . If you have a home improvement question or comment on this topic, please post it below. For answers to other home improvement questions, please email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org  so your question can beused in future blog entries, or search Tom's home improvement articles at moneypit.com