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- This is what happens when a deck is not properly connected to a house.
Decks that are not properly 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.
With more than 50 million decks in the U.S., it is estimated that 25 million decks are past their useful life and need to be replaced or repaired to avoid a deck collapse. “It’s crucial for homeowners to verify the integrity of their deck to ensure user safety as well as help extend the deck’s life-span, improve appearance, and increase livability,” says Michael Beaudry, executive vice president of NADRA.
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.
This is what happens when a deck is not properly connected to a house.
To evaluate the safety of decks, experts say homeowners should look for 10 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.
10-point deck safety checklist to avoid a deck collapse
Wondering if your deck is safe for the outdoor season ahead? NADRA offers this 10-Point Deck Safety Checklist to help you evaluate your own deck. This step-by-step guide walks you through visually inspecting the deck for safety concerns such as corroding fasteners, decaying materials, loose railings, inadequate lighting, and more. Though not a replacement for a professional deck inspection, the checklist is a helpful tool for a DIY assessment.
Check for Split or Decaying Wood
Check several different areas of the deck to be sure the wood is still sound and securely connected to the house. 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.
Tip: You can use a tool like an ice pick or a screwdriver to prod the wood surface. If you can easily penetrate ¼ 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.
Look for 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.
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.
Railings and Banisters
These should be secure. This is especially important the higher your deck is off the ground. Railings should have spindles with less that 6” space in-between and railings should support 300 pounds in any direction.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Clean away any leaves and debris, since these can be slippery and pro- mote 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.
Check 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.
Survey 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.
When to get a professional deck inspection
While this checklist not a replacement for a professional deck inspection, it’s a helpful tool to assist homeowners through an initial assessment. If you’ve spotted an area of concern or want a professional to take over the evaluation, consider:
Find an Inspector
NADRA and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) offer building professionals the NADRA Deck Inspection Certification Course, which certifies the recipient has undergone training specific to conducting proper, thorough deck inspections. Consumers can search for a certified inspector in their area by browsing the Inspectors Directory.
Find a Builder
NADRA deck builders adhere to a strict code of ethics and are required to submit proof of licensing and insurance as required by their state. Homeowners can search for qualified deck builders at www.NADRA.org.