Angie’s List: Check Your Deck to Prevent Collapses

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Every year we hear about decks collapsing and injuring – or even killing – several people. These aren’t isolated incidents. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says thousands of people are hurt on decks each year. The problem, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association, is that there are 40 million decks that are at least 20 years old and don’t comply with current building codes. How do you know if your deck is safe?

Tom Booker builds decks. He’s seen about every kind of deck construction there is. He tells people the way to avoid a disaster is to make sure the deck is properly secured with nuts and bolts – not nails – at the ledger, which is the board that sits against the house and connects to the deck.

“Most deck collapses, the deck collapses because it detaches from the house at the ledger, so it is the most critical connection of the entire deck,” said Booker.

A deck doesn’t have to collapse for it to cause injury. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors says that only 40 percent of existing decks are completely safe. Railing failures are a more common problem and one of many that is easily avoidable with a little regular maintenance.

“If it moves, if it shakes, if it feels soft, you really need to get a professional in to take a look at it because that’s signs of larger issues,” said Booker.

“You should inspect your deck at least once a year, and be sure to check the flashing where the deck meets the house. Make sure there’s not water getting in there because if it does, the wood might rot and cause damage,” said Angie Hicks.

You can do a quick check for signs of decay on a wood deck by exposing the post where it goes into the ground and then pushing a screwdriver into it. If you can push into the wood, you’ve got a problem that needs some professional attention.

Angie recommends an inspection by a deck builder, rather than a deck maintenance company, to make sure you’re addressing structural issues and not just cosmetic concerns. It should run you anywhere from 50 to 200 dollars. You can also find a thorough deck safety checklist on the Deck and Railing Association web site, www.nadra.org.