May is Deck Safety Month so we talked to a couple of local deck builders who know a thing or two about deck safety. Here’s what they had to say about preventing problems or safety issues on your deck.
1. Improper footings
If your deck isn’t level or feels like it’s sloping away from your house, check your footings. Improper footings add stress to the points where the deck connects to your house. This can cause the deck to pull away from your house, among other problems.
2. Ledger board problems
The ledger board is bolted to the frame of your house and is the point at which the deck attaches to your home. How the deck is attached to your house is a big deal! Inspect for signs of rotting wood, loose bolts, pulled away or disconnected floor joists, rust or corrosion.
3. Damaged handrails
Handrails can weaken over time and are impacted by rust or boards that are warped or twisted. Watch for splinters on handrails too! If you find splinters you should consider replacement or possibly sanding and refinishing.
4. Improperly built stairs
A common issue with deck stairs is under-sized stringers and look for oversized cuts. The cuts should be exact and not go deeper into the wood than necessary. The larger the cut beyond the cutout, the less strength which could lead to a failure over time.
Another problem with stairs can be improper rise. Stair risers should be 7 ¾ inches or less and uniform. Stairs not up to code could lead to injury.
PRO TIP: If your deck isn’t up to code and there’s an injury, your insurance may not cover injury-related claims because the deck isn’t at code.
5. Rotting wood
A lot of older decks were built with non-ground contact pressure treated wood. Here at Wilson Lumber we only sell ground contact pressure treated lumber, which means the product is approved to be placed directly in the ground. If you find signs of rotting wood, you should consider replacement.
6. Weathered finish
Wood finish that is weathered and worn off or applied improperly to begin with can accelerate rotting of a wood deck. Extend the life of your deck by using proper finish and reapplying often. Use a semi-transparent stain that actually soaks into the wood. Solid color stains and paints lead to failure quicker. The paint will peel and look bad, as well as let in moisture and cause wood to deteriorate.
PRO TIP: Apply finish not just on the top of your deck but on the bottom and ends too.
How often should you apply finish? If the wood looks thirsty it’s a good idea to apply a coat of finish. Harsh environments will need more applications. Decks in shaded areas may need it less often.
7. Cracks and splinters
Keep your eye out for cracks and splinters in the wood. If you see splinters, be especially careful if you walk barefoot on your deck.
PRO TIP: Deck safety isn’t just for old decks! Regardless of the age of your deck, you should inspect it regularly and look for signs of settling and rotting wood.
Special thanks to John Barton of Barton Construction and Mike Lipham of CDK Home Solutions for contributing to this post. Photo credit: Barton Construction