Deck Safety Inspections
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Deck Safety Inspections

There are about 40 million decks in the United States that are over 20 years old and at least 30 people died as a direct result of deck collapses between 2000 and 2008, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association. You can perform an annual inspection in less than an hour and the further they are above grade; the more important it is to inspect decks for safety hazards. Some key areas to look at are stair to deck connections, support posts, joist hangers, ledger boards, and railings.

There are about 40 million decks in the United States that are over 20 years old and at least 30 people died as a direct result of deck collapses between 2000 and 2008, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association (http://nadra.org/ ), and every year more are injured in deck-related accidents.  May is Deck Safety Month.

You can perform an annual inspection in less than an hour and the further they are above grade; the more important it is to inspect decks for safety hazards.

Stairs

Stairs are a critical component where damage or failure can lead to serious injuries.

  • Check that the railings are securely attached.
  • Inspect risers, treads, and stringers for decay.
  • Inspect the connections where the stairs attach to the deck framing. Many stairs are connected to the deck with nails through the back of the stringers which can pull out; toenailing and angle brackets are also not proper connections.
  • If you are concerned about the stair-deck connection, consider installing a stair stringer bracket which is similar to a joist hanger to securely fix the stairs to the deck.
  • Stair stringers should always land on a level and well-drained surface such as gravel, a concrete pad or paving blocks. You may want to install frost footings beneath the stair stringers to create a secure connection point.
  • Stair stringers which are over 10 feet long may need a support beam at mid-span to keep the stairs from bouncing which can cause the stringers to crack and eventually fail. You may also consider doubling your stair stringers by nailing two 2x12’s together to increase strength.

Railings

Deck railings are an important safety feature for any deck that is more than 3 feet above the ground. Railings, structural posts, and balusters that are nailed together loosen more quickly than those that are screwed or bolted together.  If your balusters are installed on the outside of the railing, consider removing them and placing them on the inside so that they are less likely to be pushed off.

Wood and Decking

Wood grain lifts and separates as it ages and is exposed to the elements, causing a safety hazard for tripping and splinters. Inspect deck boards, railing, handrails, and balusters for splinters. While you cannot stop splintering, you can repair small sections by sanding or cutting away the lifted grain and applying a deck sealant. Eventually the wood will need to be replaced unless you use synthetic decking and boards.

Pressure Treated Wood Rots

Since pressure-treated (PT) decking splinters, it is typically used for the structural part of the deck. Use a small screwdriver or an awl to test for soft, spongy spots on the framing. If the awl goes into the wood easily, you should replace the member. Look for insect damage or fungus growth.  Pressure-treated wood can also rot, especially on the ends where cutting exposes untreated surfaces or splitting and checking exposes the interior of the wood. Treat exposes surfaces with a copper-naphthenate solution to slow down the decaying process.

Bracing

If your deck is 2 feet or more above the ground the posts require lateral bracing. Without proper bracing the deck can sway as people walk on it and the deck may eventually fail. Diagonal bracing should be installed 2 feet down on the post and 2 feet out from the post. Lateral bracing may also be required but you should contact your local building offical or a structural engineer to determine what is required.

Support Posts

In many cases, footings or piers are too shallow or too small to support the deck. Footings must be a minimum of 12 inches deep and extend post the frost line in your area. Footings must be sized to transfer the load of the deck to the ground according to the bearing capacity of the soil and the posts should be secured to the footings or piers with metal post bases.

Ledger Boards

A common cause of deck failures is the connection point between the deck and the home. Also, newer decks may have been constructed as self-supporting units without a ledger board but the deck posts are supported on all four sides to resists movement.

  • The ledger board must be bolted or screwed securely to the house. Nailing is not a proper connection method.
  • Look for rot at this connection as water can leak behind the ledger due to improper flashing. Wood rot will reduce the capacity for the fasteners to hold onto the wood.
  • Improperly sized or failing footings can also cause the outer edge of the deck to drop down and pull the ledger away from the house.

Caution: Do not use aluminum flashings with pressure treated lumber unless a barrier material, such as a bituminous membrane, separates the aluminum from contact with the wood. Copper flashings should not contact galvanized hardware or fasteners.

Joist Hangers and Hardware

Joist hangers and other hardware are critcial to the structural integrity of the deck. Older decks may have been built without joist hangers. Decks may also have brackets between the posts and the beams or joists.

  • Tighten any loose hangers.
  • Replace any rusted or damaged hardware.
  • Joist hangers can be added to the joist when there is access from below or you can remove a few deck boards at each end to allow for access from above.

To help guide you through your deck inspection, the NADRA has a Deck Evaluation Checklist available here:  http://www.nadra.org/Deck_Evaluation_Form.pdf

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Comments (3)

Very important and helpful information. 

excellent thanks

Informative article. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!!!

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