Spring project: Make sure your deck is safe

According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), deck failures have increased at an alarming rate.

Between 2000 and 2008 there were at least 30 reported deaths resulting from deck failures. In addition, 75 percent of people on a deck when it collapses are killed. According to NADRA there are 40,000 decks in the United States that are more than 20 years old, making our deck inventory increasingly unsafe.

NADRA declared May 2006 deck safety month in the attempt to raise awareness of the importance of deck safety. NADRA provides a 10 point “consumer checklist” to assist homeowners in evaluating their own decks. The following is a summation of the first five of NADRA’s safety check list. We will complete this list in next week’s edition.

1. “Split or decaying Wood”: Using a pointed tool like an ice pick or screwdriver, probe several areas of your deck. These should include the ledger board (where the deck attaches to the house), support posts, decking boards, and railings. NADRA’s rule of thumb is that if your probe easily penetrates the wood ¼ to ½ inch without splintering the wood, decay may be present.

2. Flashing: Deck flashing is most critical at the point where the deck attaches to the house. At this location you should see a continuous piece of metal between the deck and house. This connection of the deck to the house is the most common area of deck failure. The purpose of the flashing is to divert moisture and debris away from this connection. If your deck is not flashed at its attachment to the house, consider having flashing installed by a qualified general contractor.

3. Loose or corroded fasteners: Fasteners on decks include nails, screws, bolts, or anchors. In your inspection insure that all screws and bolts are tight and any nail heads that have popped up should be nailed back into place. Once again, the most important area is the connection of the deck’s ledger board to the house. You should see this connection being secured with bolts, not just nails or screws.

4. Railings and banisters: Three components ensure a safe railing: stability, spaces between the rail components, and rail height. To check your railings keep these code parameters in mind. The rail should be able to withstand a 200 pound force at any point along its top; the spaces in the deck railings should not allow the passage of a 4 inch ball (less than 4 inches); and the deck rail should be a minimum of 36 inches high.

5. Stairs: As with the deck rail, make sure the deck stair rail is stable. Check the connection of the deck stair to the deck. Look for loose wood on the steps or risers that may create a trip hazard. If the step riser (vertical part of step) is open, the opening should be less than 4 inches. As you climb the steps, move your weight from side to side to ensure that the stairs are stable. Finally, make sure the stairs are clear of planters, toys or any other objects that could be a trip hazard.

If after your inspection you have any reason to believe your deck is unsafe, I recommend calling a qualified general contractor to make repairs or a certified home inspector for further evaluation.

A more complete “Deck Evaluation Checklist” is available on the NADRA website at www.nadra.org or you can call NADRA at (888) 623-7248.