Summer nights wouldn’t be the same for those who entertain on their decks. People every year are injured when unsafe decks collapse. Railings break, causing fall injuries, ledgers tear from the house taking everyone on the deck with them.
Anytime of year, inspecting your deck is a good idea. Here’s how to inspect your own deck so you know in advance what needs to be repaired for safe entertaining.
You will need:
- Notebook and pen
- Flat head screwdriver
- Marking pen or grease pencil
- Knee pads (optional)
- Four or six foot level
- Spray paint (optional)
Walk around your deck and visually inspect the wood. If it hasn’t been sealed, it probably needs to be sanded and sealed. Water raises the grain, and constant weight on dry wood causes minute cracks, which lead to splinters. Water also soaks into dry wood, leading to mold, fungus, and rot.
Check the depth of splinters and signs of rot with the screwdriver. If you can easily push the screwdriver in over 3/8,” you’re most likely encountering rot. Mark the board for replacement, and check the rest of the wood carefully. Perhaps you can replace just the section of wood.
Insects also love moist, rotting wood for a snack/home. If you notice “bug signs” such as- obvious tunnels or chewing by termites or carpenter ants, it’s time to act.
Write down “sanding,” “sealing,” “bug treatment” in your notebook.
Go to the railing and grasp it. Wiggle it back and forth. If it wiggles, mark the wobbly section, and note it in your notebook.
If the deck is still in use, mark the railing with a rag, towel or other marker and let guests know to stay away from it- particularly children.
Before beginning this step, check to make sure no animals are living under your deck. If they are, then contact animal control for safe removal.
Crawl under the deck with your flashlight and inspect the ledger board. This is the main board attaching the deck to the house. If any sign of rot or bug damage is apparent, put the deck off limits until it has been replaced.
Look at the bolts/washers. Inspect the flashing- this is metal/plastic strip designed to keep water from passing in between the ledger and the house. If it’s cracked/corroded/pulled away from the house, note that it needs immediate repair.
While you’re still under the deck, look at the different posts and joists. If you used metal joist hangers, check them carefully. The aluminum/metal hangers can react with compounds in treated wood and cause corrosion. If any metal hangers/nails are corroded, replace them with galvanized, stainless steel or hot dipped versions.
Look at the posts attached to the concrete footings. If corrosion appears, make notes for immediate repairs. Mark the needed areas with spray paint, marker or other visible signs.
Visually inspect the area in front of and around the deck. If the space is enclosed with lattice, screen or plywood, look for signs of rot or breakage. Mark and note needed repairs.
With the level, check the stairs. If a stair isn’t level, check for a warped tread. If the whole staircase is off level, put it off limits until it is replaced. It could be the stringers have warped (the “saw-like” board that holds the risers and treads), which would need immediate replacement. Perhaps one side sank in the soil. In that case, dig the stringer up, and if it’s still good, install a concrete pad and attach the stringers to it.
Go back to the deck. Inspect for warped boards and mark for replacement. Check for any nails that have popped out- do not simply nail these back in, because that doesn’t work. The nails popped out because nothing is holding the nail. Use a new nail an inch away from the old one. If possible, use deck screws with pre-drilled holes.
If deck screws have popped out, the same procedure applies. Fill the old holes with wood putty to keep insects/water out.
Using the level, check to see if the entire deck is still level. If any of the support posts have sunken in the ground, they will need to be raised and places on new footings before your deck is safe.
Sit down with your notebook and check everything that needs immediate replacement. You can effect repairs according to your finances, or take the “worst of the list” first.
Do not fail to complete the entire list.
Not only will your deck last for decades with regular maintenance and inspections, but when it comes to resale value, a healthy deck can pay for itself by increasing the house’s price.
Source: Natalie Rodriguez, “Deck Check,” This Old House Website, no date given