Decks are exposed to the elements year-round, and they can degrade over time. Each year, before you begin using your home’s deck, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s still structurally sound and safe. Here’s a five-point safety inspection for decks.
- Check the wood/decking material
- Check the ledger board
- Check the support posts
- Check the railings and balusters
- Check the finish
Check the Wood
First, check the deck’s wood for any signs of decay or rot. Wood is the most common decking material. Composite materials also degrade over time and should be checked.
Try inserting a flathead screwdriver into any cracks you see. You probably have rot to deal with if:
- the screwdriver goes in over ¼ inch
- the wood feels spongy
- the wood crumbles
That area of the deck may be rotted. Its strength is likely compromised. There could be insects burrowed inside the wood. Any rotted wood should be replaced.
Also check the decking for nails or screws that may be sticking up or warped board edges that may be a trip hazard. Tightening up the nails or screws may fix that issue. Warped decking may require replacement of that board.
Check the Ledger Board
The ledger board is the weight-bearing board that secures the deck to your house. It runs alongside the house, parallel to the ground.
The ledger board should be secured with sizeable screws (rather than nails, which can pop out). If there’s a gap between the board and the house, these screws might have to be tightened.
While you’re checking the ledger board, look at the deck’s flashing. Flashing protects the ledger board from water. If any flashing is broken or has come un-caulked, it should be replaced or re-secured to ensure that the ledger board doesn’t get wet and rot.
If you find serious problems with the ledger board, it is time to call on home repair professionals to assess and repair the damage.
Check the Support Posts
The support posts under the deck should be firmly connected to the beams they support. Look under the deck and make sure none of the joints between posts and beams are loose. If they are, you’ll likely have to redo those joints. Also check the area of the posts near the ground to look for rot and for insect or animal damage. Even yard equipment (weeders, mowers) can damage the lower edges of the posts.
Check the Railings and Balusters
To make sure railings and balusters are still strong enough to support someone who falls, grab each one and firmly try to shake it. If any wobble or sway too much they should be replaced or reinforced. A little give is OK, but serious wobble is not.
Nails may have come loose. Angle fasteners may be pulling out. See where the problem is to figure out the best approach to fixing it. As with the ledger board, the railings are of key importance in safety. If you find serious problems, it may be time to call on home repair professionals.
Check the Finish
Look over the surface of the deck for any signs of mildew or pools of water. The deck’s finish may be worn in these areas and have to be redone. Why? Mildew and water can increase the risks of slips. They will also lead to more serious decay and rot if left untouched.
Mildew can be powerwashed away. But the moisture that caused it needs some investigation. Poor ventilation or low spots may be behind it.
Pooling water clearly shows a low spot. Perhaps a supporting board is rotting or sagging or pulling away from its support.
Checking your deck for safety issues takes just a few minutes to do. If you find problems, better to find them and fix them before an accident happens. If you found no issues, then you have peace of mind so you can enjoy — and not worry about — your home’s deck.
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