Best Tips for Better Deck Safety
In the last year, we’ve all spend a lot of time taking in fresh air and sunshine, especially on our decks. Our beautiful outdoor living spaces have been a lifesaver for our mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why the 2021 observation of National Deck Safety Month in May is more important than ever.
The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) promotes a deck safety campaign each year. While decks can be a lifesaver, they can also be a danger if not properly maintained. In the United States, we enjoy about 60 million decks, 30 million past their usefulness. Many of these decks require replacement or repair.
Both homeowners — there are 50 million residential decks in the U.S. — and commercial owners should take time for an annual inspection. The NADRA offers many tools to help check decks for safety and remedy potential issues. In 2021, NADRA wants to Educate. Inspect. Correct.
Why Inspect Each Year?
Your deck stands against all kinds of weather. Unlike other areas of your house, the boards, joists, beams, and support posts that comprise your deck have little or no protection from the elements. If you had extra snow this winter, your deck had to bear that weight. If you had a particularly rainy season, your deck faced the hazards of extra moisture, which can damage the wood.
Deck Safety Tips
So, where do you begin your inspection? Download this NADRA 10-point safety checklist to get a rundown of what to check. Here are a few important watch-outs:
Start with the Foundation
Post holes should be dug deeply below the frost line to avoid movement due to frost heave. Because wood can quickly break down when exposed to moisture, most experts today recommend anchoring wood posts to concrete footings with piers.
Railings and Banisters
One of the most critical parts of a deck inspection involves the handrail and balustrades. Having someone lean on a rotten deck railing could lead to a terrible fall.
The International Residential Code (IRC) provides other guidance for deck rails:
- Guardrails must be in place for any deck higher than 30 inches above the ground.
- Railings should measure at least 36 inches in height.
- The space between individual balusters (the vertical posts in a railing) should be less than 4 inches to prevent toddlers from slipping through the rails.
- The space between the bottom of the railing and the top of the deck surface also should be no more than 4 inches.
- Make sure the railing can withstand at least 200 pounds of weight.
When it comes to stairs, you’ll want to check the railings, the stringers (the sides of the stairs), and the tops of the stair boards to make sure there are no loose or rotted boards or spindles. Keep stairways clear (move out any plants or other decorations) to avoid tripping hazards. If you have an open area behind the stair treads, it should be no more than 4 inches high. Railings should be no more than 4 inches apart.
Check connectors between the house and deck to be sure flashing is in place. Flashing is essential in guarding against moisture build-up and wood rot. Replace or add flashing (the metal or plastic covering gaps) as needed.
Grills, Fire Pits, and Chimineas
Who doesn’t love grilling and cooking out? But any heating element can damage decking if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Keep grills, fire pits, and chimineas off the deck boards, or use a heat-resistant pad. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions.
Loose or Corroded Fasteners
In the past, builders preferred nails as the hardware of choice for decks. However, after loose nails led to deck collapses, builders began using screws to secure the boards, posts, beams, and joists. Use exterior screws that resist rusting when exposed to the weather and won’t react to the chemicals (ACQ) in treated wood. For composite decking, use hidden fasteners, which are not visible from the board tops.
How Can I Make my Deck Stronger?
Deckbuilding is a popular home improvement that adds value and enjoyment to your living spaces. If you want to make your new deck stronger, use rot-resistant wood or composite decking. As mentioned above, be sure to use flashing tape during construction. Regular deck maintenance and home inspections can be critical in making your deck stronger.
How Do You Inspect Safety on a Deck?
First, decide if you have the building know-how to properly inspect your deck, especially if the deck is old. If not, hire a professional deck builder or inspector.
If you’re a DIY inspector, here are a few ways to inspect:
Rotting wood is your deck’s greatest enemy. If you see any soft or discolored wood, push on it with a screwdriver or icepick. If you can easily push ¼ to ½ inch into the lumber, it may be decaying. Look, too, for any small holes in the wood, which might indicate decay.
What You Should Not Do When Building a Deck
Here are a few don’ts when it comes to new deck building:
- Don’t skip getting a building permit. A permit is meant to protect the homeowner, so be sure to call your local government authority to find out what is needed. Follow all building codes.
- Don’t forget to call 811. Before digging, always check for underground utilities.
- Don’t stain the deck right away if you use wood decking boards. Give the wood time to breathe, and its preservatives will provide protection. After about six months, it is okay to give the deck a coat of stain or seal.
- Don’t forget to use flashing tape over your joists, beams, and ledger board.
How Can I Make My Deck Last Longer?
To make your deck last longer, clean it regularly and stain or seal it every couple of years. Like wax on a car, a deck seal should cause water to bead up on your boards. If that isn’t happening, it’s time to reseal. Before you stain or seal, clean off mildew and debris from the boards and sand down any splinters.
Of course, if you have composite decking boards — which are virtually maintenance-free — you shouldn’t have to stain your boards!
This May, take time to care for your deck. NADRA advocates: Check your deck!