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Deck Safety at Home: Better Safe Than Sorry


Dangerous Decking

May is Deck Safety Month, and the North American Decking and Railing Association, or NADRA, is busy spreading the word about the care and maintenance of those enjoyable outdoor spaces that, in recent years, have turned out to be deadly.

Berkeley, Calif., was the site of a deck collapse in 2015 at an apartment complex; six were killed. A waterfront bar in Miami was the site of a deck collapse in 2013, and while no one was killed, 33 were injured. In both cases, undetected rotting and rusting were the culprits that compromised the structures to the point that they gave way. In 2017, a deck collapse occurred in Lakeside, Mont., during a funeral. A total of 32 were injured—five critically – after a spongy section of wood detached and caused a domino effect on the rest of the deck. This year, a deck collapsed on Saint Patrick’s Day at a tap house in Savannah, Ga., where revelers were gathered to celebrate the holiday; 14 were injured.

Such tragedies could be prevented if industry professionals as well as and consumers regularly inspected decks for signs of aging and disrepair. NADRA is reaching out to both the industry professionals it represents, as well as the consumers it is trying to protect.

“With more than 50 million decks in the U.S., it is estimated that 25 million decks are past their useful life and need to be replaced or repaired,” Michael Beaudry, NADRA’s executive vice president, said in a blog titled “Deck Safety Marketing Resources now Available to Help Outdoor Living Industry Boost Business this Spring.” “This means big business opportunities for deck builders, remodelers, inspectors and contractors to promote deck inspections, ensuring homeowner safety while simultaneously building their own brand. May is Deck Safety Month – along with prime outdoor living season – and that presents a perfect chance for savvy pros to market their business.”

For consumers, a 10-point checklist titled “Check Your Deck” is aimed at ensuring home safety. It notes, however, that the checklist is intended merely to help consumers and will not prevent a collapse.

“Checking a deck using this information does not constitute a code compliant deck,” it states. “Seek a professional such as a deck builder or an ASHI home inspector to get a deck evaluation.”

Here are some safety tips:

  • Rotting and rusting: Look at the deck’s different sections and make sure of the wood’s integrity. “This includes the ledger board (where the deck attaches to the house and a common source of deck failure), support posts and joists under the deck (if you can reach them), deck boards, railings and stairs.” Pay particular attention to sections where water tends to pool when it rains. Use a sharp object such as an awl to splinter off a piece of the wood to see whether it is decaying. “This is also a good time to look for small holes in the wood, which may indicate insects.”
  • Loose hardware: Perhaps the most crucial part of the deck, fasteners can range from anchors to nails to screws that secure the flat surface to the wall. They should be free from corrosion, and if they are not, they should be replaced. “Tighten any loose fasteners, and pound in any nails that have popped up. (Note: The ledger board should not be fastened with only nails.)”
  • Sagging or swaying stairs: Such a situation should raise a red flag right away. Test the handrails for firmness and strength, and do the same to the risers and the stringers that hold the stairs in place. “If the area behind the stair treads is open, this opening should be no more than 4” high. Also, always keep stair pathways clear of planters, décor, toys and other items that can present a tripping hazard.”
  • Cleaning: If debris such as leaves falls on a deck, it should be swept up daily because it can cause mildew that will lead to decay. “If mildew is present or the deck coating has worn away, make time to clean and apply a new waterproofing coating. It can help prevent the split, decayed wood and loosened fasteners mentioned earlier.”

Decks are beautiful enhancements to homes and are to be savored for the views they afford and entertainment they make possible. Tragic collapses should never be a factor if correct action is taken.

“Communicating safe decking standards remains a top priority for NADRA,” Beaudry said. “We continue to focus our efforts on educating both pros and consumers on proper deck installation practices as well as on consistent deck inspections.”

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