Thursday, April 14, 2022
The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) estimates almost half of all decks in the U.S. are past their useful life and need to be replaced or repaired. But how do homeowners know if their decks are safe? One answer is to comply with annual deck inspections. These inspections help identify current and potential safety hazards and should be considered part of the routine upkeep of a deck. To help homeowners find inspectors in their area, NADRA has online directory of professional and qualified deck inspectors.
In addition, homeowners can also carefully examine the deck system from the ground up to spot potential problems. Here are five common issues inspectors look for to help ensure a deck is as safe as it can be:
1. Aged and softened joists
2. Cracked or warping boards
3. Wobbly railing
4. Stairs that are not up to code
5. Loose fasteners above and below deck
Deck joists are a critical component of the structural integrity of a deck. A deck joist is the support beam that runs perpendicular to and connects the deck the house. These joists also support the deck surface boards. As such, they are often unseen and unthought of until the worst happens—like a collapsed deck. Knowing if deck joists are bad can help homeowners prevent dangerous situations and costly damages. For wooden joists, the wood should be hard. A homeowner should not be able to push a screwdriver easily into them. The joists should also be rot-free and without cracks.
If a homeowner or inspector discovers bad joists, it often means it is time to replace and rebuild. Traditional wood joists often begin to show signs of decay after 10 years, though it may be earlier in areas that experience extreme weather. On the other hand, steel deck framing is noncombustible and invulnerable to rotting, warping, splitting and pesky insect damage. With such strength and durability, it can extend the lifespan of a deck no matter the environment by sidelining issues that plague traditional wood frame decks, such as deterioration after long-term exposure to moisture and warping as a result of extreme changes in temperature. Steel deck framing is also virtually maintenance free, unlike traditional wood systems that need harsh chemicals for routine refinishing.
Deck boards rest on top of the frame and provide a walkable surface for homeowners and guests. They also bear the brunt of weather exposure. Standard wood deck boards will typically need to be restained, resealed and eventually replaced at regular intervals to help maintain the integrity of the entire deck. Decks located in regions with heavy precipitation or rapid freeze-thaw cycles will show signs of decay far more rapidly than regions with milder weather. When deck boards start cracking, warping and decaying after long-term exposure to the elements, it is time to replace them.
Wood-alternative materials, like bamboo-PVC composite boards, all but eliminate the issues associated with wood. Composite deck boards deliver the natural wood grain aesthetic and richness of standard wood deck boards without the required maintenance. Made with recycled plastic and bamboo flour, composite boards can resist water damage from heavy rains as well as fading from harsh UV exposure. Because they lack propensity to warp, crack or deteriorate over time, the only regular maintenance they typically require is to be washed with soap and water. Further, select manufacturers have developed composite decking boards that efficiently disperse heat and provide category leading slip-resistance to bolster overall deck safety.
Why do decks fail safety inspections? The answers are plentiful, but a common one is because the deck’s railing is either not up to code or in a state of disrepair. The International Residential Code (IRC) has set up safety standards for deck railing that help ensure they are dependable. That said, local codes can be more stringent and vary from place to place, which can make it difficult for those new to decking to know what exactly is required.
In addition to potentially failing to meet codes, wooden deck railing can, over time, decay and become unsafe. On the other hand, aluminum and steel can sideline deterioration issues to deliver a safe railing alternative that will stand the test of time. Made with these strong and long-lasting materials, Fortress® railing is code-tested and backed by industry-leading warranties. It is also available in a range of design aesthetics to help homeowners meet code-requirements while displaying their personal style.
For new DIYers and seasoned builders alike, deck stairs can present several uncertainties. While international and local codes establish baseline requirements (like maximum rise, tread width, railing style and placement options and more), deck stair sizes can vary widely and still fall within these codes. For this reason, researching and consulting with inspectors and decking professionals before building is highly recommended.
Choosing strong and durable materials like composite and steel can help homeowners build stairs that are easy to install and will last longer than traditional materials. Steel stair framing systems solve several rampant issues in traditional wood decks, like poor stringer-to-deck connections and inconsistent rises. The fixed and adjustable stair brackets can accommodate various rise and run options and include stair tray blocking every 10 inches on center for consistency.
Finally, fasteners are another important aspect of deck safety. Small but mighty, deck fasteners hold everything together and yet have the potential to be overlooked by homeowners. Because a faced fastener is screwed directly into a board, it will bear the brunt of weather. But even hidden clip systems should be checked from time to time. Whichever fastening system a homeowner uses, the fasteners should be tight and rust free. Keeping an eye out for these little details will not only ensure a deck is safe but may also alert homeowners to potential, less noticeable issues (like rotten or decayed wood).
Decks can be deemed unsafe for many reasons. The five areas above are just some common issues that causes decks to fail inspection. Homeowners who pay attention to these areas as well as schedule annual deck inspections will help ensure their decks are sound for years to come. Further, by building with alternative materials like composite and steel from Fortress Building Products, homeowners can rest assured their decks will remain dependable for longer.