5 Essential Deck Safety Tips

Updated March 25, 2022
Couple enjoying outdoor breakfast
Photo: AzmanL / E+ / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Regularly inspecting your deck and practicing proper maintenance are essential to deck safety.

  • Decks may deteriorate or fail for a variety of reasons, including decaying materials, pest infestations, exposure to the elements, and ordinary wear and tear.

  • A professional deck builder should regularly inspect and repair missing, corroded, loose, or broken elements.

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For many families, it’s not the kitchen that’s the heart of the home. Rather, it’s their spacious outdoor deck. And with good reason. After all, your deck is where you host your kids’ birthday parties and family cookouts. It’s where you and your significant other retreat to watch the stars at the end of a long day. 

Yes, your deck has served you well. But if you want your deck to continue to set the scene for some of your family’s most cherished memories, then you need to prioritize deck safety.

1. Monitor the Condition of Your Decking 

Your deck is made of a variety of materials, any of which may cause common deck problems (like deterioration or failure) principally due to insect infestations, exposure to the elements, and ordinary wear and tear.

While the decks in many modern homes are constructed from PVC or vinyl, which is often more durable and less vulnerable to weather and pests than traditional materials, most existing homes have decks made primarily from wood. Often, wooden decking is made from cedar or redwood. Pressure-treated wood, typically in pine, is also a popular choice because of its weather-resistant properties.

In addition to the plank decking, your deck parts will also consist of support structures, including the foundation, footers, posts, beams, and anchors. And then, of course, you also have the hardware holding all these elements together, including nails, screws, bolts, and braces.  

No matter your deck’s material, though, they’re all going to wear over time. This is especially true of a wood deck that has not been properly maintained. 

This means that you’re going to want to check the condition of all the elements of your deck. If you notice, for instance, that your deck boards feel soft, spongy, or springy, this could be a sign of wood rot or pest infiltration, which could potentially cause your boards to crack, splinter, or break, leading to potentially serious injuries and falls.

But that’s not the only warning sign that your decking may be failing. If you notice that your boards seem to be cracking, splintering, or separating, that could indicate that your deck is deteriorating and needs prompt inspection.

2. Check Your Deck’s Support Structures and Hardware

Backyard deck and pergola landscaping
Photo: filo / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

In addition to monitoring the condition of your deck planks, you’re also going to need to keep an eye on your deck’s hardware and support structures. If you notice any loosening in your support posts, joists, or ledger boards, which attach the deck to the house, then this could be a sign that your deck is settling or that your materials are deteriorating due to decay or pest infestation.

Another significant warning sign is if you notice missing, broken, or loose fasteners, including loose, rusty, corroded, or missing bolts and screws. Any such issues need to be addressed immediately to prevent a potentially devastating deck collapse.

3. Assess the Construction of Your Deck

If your deck existed when you moved into your home, then it may not have occurred to you to assess your deck’s construction. This is an important safety measure, though, because some construction problems can lead to life-threatening injuries. 

For example, you should ensure that all rails and railings are present, secure, and stable. In addition, all railings should be at least 36 inches high, and rails should never be further than 4 inches apart to help protect children and pets from a fall hazard.

Another significant construction issue to be wary of is the arrangement of your deck boards. If your boards have not been staggered during installation and all meet at the same central point, then that means that your deck has a weak point at its center and may not be structurally sound.

4. Practice Good Maintenance

Ensuring the safety of your deck also means maintaining it properly. If your deck’s coating has worn away, give it a good washing and then reapply a waterproof seal throughout. 

In addition, you should promptly repair or replace any missing or broken elements, such as broken fasteners or loose or missing boards. And when you do this, be sure to use the strongest and most durable materials, such as pressure-treated lumber or bolts, rather than nails to affix wood to wood.

Above all, be careful not to overload your deck. Consult with a professional to determine your deck’s weight-bearing capacity and take care never, ever to exceed it. 

5. Conduct Regular Inspections

When you move into a home with a deck already installed, you should make sure to have a local deck builder inspect it before using it.

In addition, you should inspect your deck yourself at least once a year. For that added bit of safety, an annual deck inspection is your best bet, especially if your deck is more than 10 years old. Even with newer decks, though, you should never go more than three years between inspections.

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