2007-05-03 / News

Tips for a safe summer season on your deck

Gas prices are on the rise again, the number of people traveling is down and families are choosing to spend more time at home enjoying their decks. And with so many accessories available that make the yard an oasis - from solar fountains and fire pit tables to stainless gas grills - the deck extends the living space and creates an athome vacation spot.

Whether for entertainment, family time or just quiet enjoyment, a well-built deck offers a safe haven for outdoor living. A deck offers increased square footage and better pay back than a kitchen or bath remodel. As with any sound investment, it's important to do proper maintenance to preserve the integrity of the deck.

The number of deck failures and resulting injuries has been increasing at an alarming rate. Between August 2004 and December 2005, the U.S. news media reported 225 injuries and one fatality from deck collapses caused by ledger connection failures. Many more deck failures, with and without injuries, went unreported in the media.

In an effort to save lives and prevent injuries, the North American Deck and Railing Association, Inc. (NADRA) declared May as the first Deck Safety Month in 2006. Now in its second year, the purpose of the promotion is to increase public awareness of the necessity for regular inspection and maintenance of existing decks, and proper installation of new decks.

Reasons for a deck collapsing range from the age of the deck, poor maintenance and exceeding load capacity to improper building methods. Deck failures can be avoided. It's a matter of making the consumer aware of the necessity of choosing a professional deck contractor, regular maintenance and inspection, and knowing the limits of the deck structure.

Mike Beaudry, executive vice president for NADRA states, "A simple, annual deck inspection doesn't take long or require special tools, but it's a great investment. It can help prevent unnecessary accidents, and keep a deck a safe place. Each May, we will encourage homeowners to get an annual deck inspection, with the goal of reducing the number of deck injuries suffered each year."

"May is a great time to do a deck-check," Beaudry continues, "especially in locations where there is a lot of snow and ice, as a deck could develop a trouble spot over the winter. A professional inspector will examine every inch of a deck, evaluate the deck's capacity limits, identify problem areas and provide a map of what to keep your eye on in the future."

Researchers at Virginia Tech University in cooperation with the International Code Council have produced a "Manual for the Inspection of Residential Wood Decks and Balconies." The manual is intended for use by homeowners, home inspectors, contractors, engineers and builders interested in the inspection of residential wood decks. Frank Woeste, a deck-safety expert of Virginia Tech, who helped develop the inspection manual, notes, "I'm aware of deck collapses with no one on them, further demonstrating the need for homeowners to get involved and interested in their deck's structural integrity." For more information or to purchase the inspection manual, go to www.nadra.org.

Complete a deck check every May for Deck Safety Month, and you'll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your family and friends can safely enjoy your deck all summer long. NADRA's 10-Point Deck Inspection Checklist is also available on the website.

For extra safety, check out any deck accessories you use. As with any source of fire or heat, such as grills, fire pits, heaters of any kind and candles, make sure they are safely placed away from flammable surfaces, use caution and follow manufacturers' directions. Make sure steps and pathways are well lit and all lighting, electrical outlets and appliances are up to code, in good condition and childproof if necessary.

Test all deck furniture for sturdiness. Childproof storage boxes and benches. Store all dangerous products safely away from children, including barbecue lighter fluids and matches. If you have trees surrounding your deck, look for decaying or broken limbs that could fall on the deck.

- ARAcontent Things to look for when

inspecting your deck

Split or decaying wood -- Check ledger board (deck connection to the house), support posts and joists, deck boards, railings and stairs for cracks, soft or spongy wood, insect holes and other signs of damaged wood.

Flashing -- Be sure the flashing is sound and firmly in place to direct water away from sensitive areas like ledger boards.

Fasteners -- Check the entire deck for loose or corroded fasteners including nails, screws, or anchors in the ledger board. Tighten any loose fasteners, and pound in any popped up nails and, if a fastener appears rusted or corroded, consider replacing it.

Railings and banisters -- These should be secure with no give when pushed. Rail height should meet codes. Rails should be no more than four inches apart to keep small children and pets from squeezing through.

Stairs -- Make sure railings, handrails, risers and stringers are securely attached and not decayed.

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