Inspector: More deck safety tips

By Bill Garwood

For the AJC

As I discussed last week, due to aging, the inventory of wood decks in the United States is becoming increasingly unsafe. In response to this reality, the North American Deck and Railing Association has declared May “deck safety month” and has outlined a 10-point checklist to assist homeowners in determining whether their deck is safe. As promised, here are the second five items on NADRA’s list:

  • 6. Cleaning and maintenance: Since we venture outside less in colder months, it is common for decks to be ignored over the winter. During this time leaves can build up on the deck allowing mildew to grow. Mildew will also grow naturally if a deck is in a shaded area. Once this mildew gets wet your deck can become a skating rink. In your inspection of your deck, make sure that walking surfaces have not become slippery. If they have, it is time to clean off the mildew and apply a new waterproof coating or sealer. The new coat of sealer will not only make your deck less slippery, it will help preserve the wood.
  • 7. Grills, fire pits, chimneys, heaters and candles: One way to continue to enjoy decks during colder months is to have a fireplace, chiminea or fire pit on the deck. The use of candles in the evening can also create a nice atmosphere. Keep in mind that all these devices employ heat and even fire and most decks are constructed of wood. Make sure that there is a good separation between the hot devices and the combustible portions of your deck. There should be hearth extensions in front of fireplaces, noncombustible areas around fire pits and chimineas should be installed on nonflammable pads. Also, make sure to extinguish all fires before retiring for the evening.
  • 8. Lighting and electrical: Just like the stairs inside your house, proper lighting of the stairs to your deck is critical for safety. Also, just like the electrical components in your house, all lighting outlets and receptacles should be installed in compliance with current codes. This is even more critical in exterior applications such as decks where electrical components are exposed to the weather.

  • 9. Outdoor furniture and storage: After sitting around unused all winter deck furniture can dry-rot and become unsafe. Before getting in chairs and hammocks, make sure to test them for safety. If they are unsafe, repair or replace them. Use of barbecue grills is common on decks. All chemicals and tools used for outdoor cooking should be stored in a safe location. If you have small children, consider storing them in locked boxes.
  • 10. Surrounding trees: An important part of your spring checkup on your house should be an examination of the condition of the trees surrounding your house. Make sure not to ignore your deck in your examination. Decayed limbs or even whole trees can pose a real danger to people exposed on a deck surface. Make sure to have any dead limbs or diseased trees removed by a qualified tree surgeon.

In addition to the 10 recommendations from NADRA, Simpson Strong Tie has published its “5 warning signs of an unsafe deck” These warning signs are: missing connections, loose connections, corroded connectors and fasteners, rot, and cracks. For additional information on deck safety from Simpson Strong Tie, visit its website at