As temperatures warm up, many of us look forward to getting out of the house and relaxing on the deck. But have you thought about the condition of your deck? Many decks in our community are reaching that critical age of 15-20 years, where we historically see structural failures from lumber that has exceeded its life expectancy. Sometimes the damage is obvious; loose decking, decking soft spots, separation between structural members, or loose railing. Sometimes the damage is much more subtle and not easily visible.
If your deck is older, we recommend thoroughly inspecting the structure to ensure it is safe. Visually inspect the framing underneath, including joists, rim joists, ledgers, and beams. Can you see damaged wood? Wood that appears to be overly saturated from water? Wood where there appears to be mold growth? Even if there is no visible framing damage, you should probe the wood with a screwdriver or similar tool. Sometimes joists that look solid can be rotted, especially if they have been painted. Don't forget the stair structures. These can be overlooked, yet one of the more hazardous components of the deck.
Check all the metal connectors — especially the hangers at ledgers and beams. Moisture-damaged joists and joists that have shrunk over time can become unsupported where they bear on the hangers. Look for separation between the wall and the ledger and between the ledger and joist hangers. Check the columns to make sure they are bearing correctly on the concrete piers.
Guard rails and handrails should be tested to ensure they will prevent accidents from falling. Make sure posts, balusters, and rails are present and secured. Push against the railing somewhere near the middle. Don't be shy, guardrails must resist lateral concentrated loads of at least 200 lbs. Better to identify railing weakness before an accidental fall.
There's a lot to look at. These are only a few of the most important. If you are not confident in your ability to make a good judgment on your deck's condition, seek a reputable contractor's help. It's important.
Looking to replace your deck or construct a new one? Sign up for the City's free Deck Building Clinic!