Inspect the deck yourself every year
The biggest problem to look out for is wood rot
Call a deck builder to inspect a deck in a new home
You’ll also want a pro inspection once your deck is five years old
Once your deck is over 10 years old, consider an annual pro inspection
Your deck’s the perfect place to hold a backyard bash, play with your kids and pets, exercise, or just relax and unwind. However, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors warns that less than half of the existing decks in the US are completely safe. It’s not enough to just sweep up leaves or power wash your deck occasionally. Regular deck inspections can save you from worrying about your next fun cookout ending in disaster.
Why Are Deck Inspections so Important?
Outdoor decks are constantly exposed to the elements and heavy loads—think piles of snow in the winter and groups of people in the summer. Wooden decks are especially prone to cracks, splinters, warping, rotting, and insect damage. Your deck's age and the construction methods also affect its durability. Many decks are well over the typical life expectancy of 20 years, and some might not meet modern building codes or receive regular deck maintenance.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, decks are responsible for a surprising number of injuries every year. Railing breakages, raised boards, stair problems, or even total collapse are regular offenders. If you don’t regularly look out for structural deterioration, this heavily used area of your home can become a safety hazard. Plus, issues left too long are more costly and complex to repair.
Inspect Your Deck Annually—Regardless of Age, Material, or Condition
Below are the key areas of focus when you're doing your annual deck inspection. For professionally constructed decks less than five years old, doing a simple visual inspection yourself every year should be enough as long as you stay on a good maintenance schedule regardless of age, deck materials, or condition.
Wood rot is a major reason for deck failures. Check the key areas of wooden construction, including support posts, flooring boards, joists (you’ll have to check under the deck for these), railings, and stairs. The easiest way to tell if wood is rotting is to poke it with a screwdriver—it’ll be soft to the touch. If you can easily push the screwdriver into the wood as much as a quarter of an inch, then it’s a cause for concern.
Also, check for evidence of pest damage—small holes or piles of wood dust are telltale signs. You might need to hire a local pest exterminator to get an infestation under control.
Don’t forget to closely inspect the wooden ledger board—the large, main piece of lumber that attaches the deck to the house. It supports the deck joists and a lot of the deck’s weight. Many total deck collapses happen because the house and the deck ledger board are separating.
Check that nails aren't attaching the ledger board, as these can gradually pry off with normal movement and temperature changes.
All decks should have metal or plastic flashing running along the length of the ledger board and in other sensitive areas where moisture and debris can collect between the deck and your home. Check to ensure flashing remains firmly in place and that water isn’t collecting anywhere it shouldn’t.
Ensure all nails and deck tension hardware (structural screws, bolts, or tension ties) on the ledger board are tightly in place. Replace fasteners showing signs of major rust or corrosion.
Deck railing injuries are common, and you don’t want a guest to fall over the side after leaning on a rotten handrail. Check that they’re all firmly in place and the wood isn’t showing any signs of rot. If you push on them and there is any give, this needs addressing.
When to Call Out the Deck Pros
If you spot any worrying signs in your annual inspection, don’t delay in calling out the pros before it becomes a bigger problem. You might need to defer to a local deck repair contractor if you spot any issues. They can assess the extent of any damage and advise you on repairs and costs.
A reputable deck builder near you should have the knowledge and skills to conduct a general inspection for you if you’ve just moved into a new home with a deck. Just be sure to follow up on references and check their credentials. They can alert you to any damage and make sure the deck conforms with current local building codes.
When your deck is around five years old, it’s time for another general inspection. For decks over ten years old, you may want to get the pros out every year or two. As the deck ages, it’s more prone to developing problems. A professional can spot these more easily and recommend appropriate action before they spiral out of control, so you can get back to the grill and soak up the sunshine.