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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

May is Deck Safety Month

Spring is here! As our thoughts turn to spending more time outdoors, cleaning up our backyard and garden is all part of getting ready for summer fun. Part of being ready to enjoy the summer is making sure your deck is safe.

A well built and maintained deck is a great place to spend time outdoors with friends and family. However, a poorly built or unsafe deck can mean disaster. May being Deck Safety month is a great way to help people understand the need for a regular inspection of their deck old or new.

Feel free to click on any of the following photos to enlarge them for a closer look.

There are a number of areas of your deck that need to be inspected. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, I highly recommend finding a reputable, experienced contractor in your area to come by and perform an inspection of your deck. Your Deck Company services most areas in Southern Ontario for this type of inspection. Unfortunately Decks and especially wood decks do not last forever. Commonly, the structure of a deck will last longer than the exposed parts of the deck although the structure will eventually fail as well. There are protective membranes available for new deck construction that will help to increase the life of a deck's structure although routine maintenance and inspection is still necessary.

The first and usually the easiest area to inspect is the floor of your deck. On wood Decks it is common to see decay on the ends of the floor boards as early as 7 or 8 years after installation. It is important to look for any signs of decay. Part of your spring maintenance should be to clean or clear the spaces between the floor boards. Any debris build up between the floor boards will prevent water from properly draining. This will lead to mould and the eventual rot of the floor as you can see in the photos to the right

The rot on the floor shown in the photo to the right is not new. This is a few years of decay. If this had been dealt with early it would not have been necessary to completely re-build the deck. I once went on a call where a person had fallen through the floor of the deck. This is unfortunately a scary reality. Once the wood starts to rot, it brings in insects then come the larger animals such as skunks and raccoons that come for a meal. It was a skunk that was seen tearing this rotten floor up.
If you have composite floor such as Trex or Timbertech, you will not experience the rot that we see with wood. You will still need to clean the spaces between the boards and any mould that is on the surface.

The key to inspecting your Deck is knowing where to look on your deck and what to look for. This only comes from experience. Over the past 24 years, I have ripped out more rotten wood decks than I care to remember. Through this experience I gained the knowledge of what seems to fail first and at what rate these failures occur. One of the problems with wood decks is that they can be a bit deceptive. What I mean by this is that on the surface the wood will appear to be intact and in good condition. What is happening below the surface is what you need to be concerned about. Generally most wood rot will happen from the inside. Left untouched it will migrate to the surface which is when you start to see it and now its too late to do anything about.
One tip I would like to give you is to look at your deck after it has rained and mostly dried. Pay close attention to the areas that stay wet the longest. Do those spots seem to be absorbing the water most? Get a screw and poke around in those areas. If you are able to press your screw easily into the wood then you need to address that area.

The giveaway on this post was the way the water was wicking up the base of the post. The outside looked fine otherwise. Upon closer inspection I was able to easily poke my key into the post without any resistance. I then proceeded to slide a stick right through the post. This deck is 9 ft in the air and is basically sitting on a sponge. This client called me just in time. I doubt there was another season on this deck before it collapsed.

Moving up from the foundation it is critical to check the post to beam connection on your deck. Many decks have improper connections at this point. This will show up when the deck moves due to frost. As you can see in the photo on the right the post has completely disconnected from the beam. Also look for any signs of rot or decay at this connection. Make sure any nails, screws, or bolts are secure. When you have a separation like this it means you have a larger issue going on with your foundations. Check for any frost heaving or excessive sinking in soft soil conditions. Most foundation repairs should be handled by a professional.


Next you should inspect all railing connections. First where the railing post connects to the deck and second where the hand rails (both top and bottom) connect to the railing post. Usually we see rot beginning at the ends of the boards. This is the same direction that the tree takes in moisture when its alive. The properties of the lumber remain the same, and by wicking moisture in from the ends of the boards, the connections begin to decay.
A great alternative to help solve this issue is to install a Trex Trancends or Timbertech Radiance rail system. These rail systems do not have any components that will decay. So the railing continues to remain strong year after year. The problem with wood it that it only becomes weaker over time. With a synthetic rails such as Trex or Timbertech there is no rot so the strength of the railing remains intact much longer than a wood railing. Although I still recommend periodic inspection of ALL railing systems

The first photo is of a Trex Designer rail system with Trex flooring and trim.

The second photo is of a White Timbertech Radiance rail system accented with a Decorative Accent light and Timbertech XLM flooring.


After the inspection of the rail all stair components should be inspected for any signs of decay. Also any mould or mildew should be cleaned from any walking surface. When mould gets wet it tends to become quite slippery. The staircase in this photo actually has gone well beyond the stage of mould and turned into moss. YIKES.... The treads on this particular staircase are ready to crumble and cause someone some serious pain.


I am frequently called out to inspect decks that are in need of some help. It is not always the old and decaying decks that are a hazard. It can be and quite often is new decks, that quite simply do not meet the building code. Here are 2 photos of some "professional craftsmanship" Yes the clients at these projects actually hired a professional to install this.

The first photo is of a very interesting approach to installing a step. With the height of this deck there should have been 3 steps installed and not supported on a concrete downspout slab. This is so dangerous and careless.
If you are curious about the bench, NO it does not qualify as a railing. Due to fact that the bench is built into the deck, many building inspectors would interpret the bench seat as the "height of the deck", therefore the railing should be 36" above the height of the bench seat to meet code and YES this deck is over 2 ft high so it does require a proper hand rail.

This second photo is of a deck that at first very quick glance looked OK. It only took a few very short moments to see all kinds of issues. One of the issues with this deck is the top and bottom hand rails are made of 2x2. This is far to thin a material to meet the building code. Also the the height of the stair rail is to low and the attachment of the rail post to the stair stringer is incorrect and dangerous.

Below I will list the top 10 items to inspect on your deck. Whether your deck is older or new, it is wise to routinely inspect your deck personally or hire a professional. Some repairs are obvious and others need a professional with experience to detect but hopefully with a bit of what I have described you have a better understanding of what to look for.A top 10 quick check list includes the following items

1.Any decay on the flooring (check all board ends, any joints in the floor, rot usually starts here first)
2.All foundations at ground level
3.All post to beam connections
4.Connection of the plate to the house and the joists to the plate
5.Connection of the joists to the beams
6.All fasteners for corrosion or any nails that have popped up
7. All railing post connections to the structure of the deck
8. All railing to post connections around the entire deck
9.All stair connections and any signs of rot or decay on the stair treads, risers or stringer support
10.Under any planters or benches that may promote rot

After you have checked your deck out I hope you have a great outdoor season full of fun with your friends and family.
If you have any questions regarding anything mentioned here, feel free to contact me and I would be glad to try and help out.
Todd Mounsey
Owner / Designer