Whether you are buying a home or want to ensure safety at your house, here are some tips for inspecting a deck…
I guess it should go without saying that home owners love their decks. It’s estimated that 2.5 million new or replacement decks were built last year. InterNACHI estimates that only 40% of existing decks are completely safe!
You probably love relaxing on your back deck. So it stands to reason you want to keep your deck in great shape to ensure many years of use. For safety reasons, you MUST perform a thorough inspection of your deck every year. A well-built deck that is properly maintained will last for many years.
Every year, people are injured or killed when decks fail. Shoddy construction, improper materials and/or lack of maintenance are all reasons why decks fail. If constructed and maintained properly, decks rarely collapse due to overloading. Remember, decks are composed of natural materials exposed to weather, and, as a result, will not last forever.
The International Code Council (ICC) suggests looking for the following when inspecting decks, balconies, or porches: split or rotting wood; loose or missing nails, screws, or anchors where the structure is attached to the building; missing, damaged, or loose support beams and planking; and, wobbly handrails or guardrails. I would say you need to really focus on areas close to the ground or near water sources AND the ledger board.
What to Inspect on Your The Deck
Here are tips on some issues to look for and how to fix them:
Check Your Deck For Rotten Wood
The weather does take a toll on wood, even pressure treated wood. Even if the wood is treated to resist the effects of the weather, it will NOT last forever. This means you should look for wood that appears to be rotting.
Inspect cracks with a flathead screwdriver. If you can stick the screwdriver more than 0.25 inch into any of the cracks, or if the wood feels spongy or breaks off without splintering, this could indicate rot.
Look Under Your Deck
Go under the deck if possible.
First thing to check under the deck is the ledger board. The ledger board is the piece of wood that holds up the end of the deck that’s against the house. If the ledger isn’t secure, the deck could fall off the house. About 90% of deck collapses happen because the ledger board failed. Deck ledgers should be of at least 2’x 8′ pressure-treated wood but you MUST check the codes in your area to find out what is required in your area.
One of the most common problem with decks is the ledger boards are not properly fastened to the house. At a MINIMUM, a ledger should have 1/2-in. x 3-in. lag screws (or lag bolts if you have access from the inside to fasten the washers and nuts) every 16 inches. You need to check the local building codes to see what is required in your area.
Something else to check under your deck are the joist hangers. All of the nail holes in the joist hangers need to have nails. The hangers can pull loose IF they are not properly attached. Also joist hangers should never be altered, bent or cut.
You’ll need to check the supporting beams for any potential problems. One very important part of your deck to check out are the post that hold the deck up. Weak, damaged or rotted deck posts have lost their strength and can’t support the deck’s weight. Obviously this is an extremely dangerous situation.
To inspect the deck posts, clear any grass or stone away. Prod along the bottom of the post with a screwdriver. If the wood is soft or you can easily peel off pieces, you need to replace the post OR pay a professional to replace the post ASAP.
On the the Loose
One of the most common problems I have seen is loose railings. Your deck might not fall down because of loose railings but there is no doubt this is a dangerous situation. Shake the railings to make sure they are secure. Check for any cracked wood around the screw and nail holes.
If you find any loose railings, you can toenail loose pieces back into place ( add some exterior adhesive for extra security ) OR I would suggest replacing them entirely.
Check for Corrosion of Connectors and Fasteners on Your Deck
Far too often, people try to cut corners or save money and it just winds up biting them in the butt. This is why you need to check all the connectors and fasteners on your deck.
All screws, bolts and nails should be hot-dipped galvanized, stainless steel, silicon bronze, copper, zinc-coated or corrosion-resistant.
If a fastener or connector becomes corroded, both the fastener and the wood become weakened. As the fastener corrodes, it causes the wood around it to deteriorate. As the fastener becomes smaller, the void around it becomes larger.
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