As the first warm days of spring breathe fresh life into all of us, and we start to venture outside after our winter hibernation, it’s a good time for us to inspect one area of our homes that will be in high demand during the warm months—our decks.
Outdoor decks see heavy use in the spring, summer and early autumn. We cook, eat, relax, entertain, play and garden on them—just to name a few things. Being sure that they are safe and in sound shape will ensure that this year’s fun in the sun is hazard free.
To help us with this job, the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) has released a checklist that homeowners can use to do a once-over of their decks every year (www.nadra.org). They offer the following tips.
- Check the wood in several different areas of the deck for wear. Pay attention to where the deck attaches to the house (called the ledger board); also examine the support posts and joists located under the deck; look at deck boards, railings and stairs. Be sure to also check any areas that are prone to remaining moist. If the wood is soft and spongy, it may be decaying. Finally, inspect the wood for insect damage.
- Make sure the deck flashing is in good shape and still firmly attached. Water should not be collecting around the flashing.
- Check and tighten any loose fasteners—nails, screws or anchors. Be sure the ledger board is attached to the house with more than just nails. You may want to replace rusted fasteners as they can cause the surrounding wood to deteriorate.
- Railings and banisters should be secure with no movement. Most codes require 36” to 42” high railings, and rails should be no further than 4” apart for safety purposes. Professional deck builders should be up-to-date with code requirements if you are not aware of them.
- Check stair railings and handrails to be sure they are tight and in place. Risers and stringers should be firmly attached with no decay, and if the area behind the stair treads is open, it should be no more than 4” high.
- Be sure to keep the deck clear of leaves and debris because these things allow mildew to get started. If mildew is a problem, you will want to thoroughly clean the deck and apply a new waterproof coating.
- Check the lighting and electrical outlets, being sure they are all up to code and in good condition. If you have small children around them, use childproof measures to protect them. Make sure electrical cords aren’t a tripping hazard.
Ultimately, if you have some lingering questions about the condition of your deck, a professional deck builder will be able to examine your deck and let you know of any concerns. Follow these basic tips, and your deck will be ready for another season of outdoor leisure and entertaining.