How to Inspect Your Deck
According to the North American Deck & Railing Association (NADRA), the majority of the decks were installed over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the large majority of those deck owners fail to adequately assess the structural health of their deck. It makes perfect sense to make sure that the structure under your feet was built properly and is maintaining its structural integrity. If you have never inspected your deck, then now is the best time to take a look “under the hood.” By measuring the health of your outdoor living area, you’ll give yourself peace of mind in knowing that your deck is safe and sound. NOTE: It doesn’t matter what deck you have, these deck inspection tips apply to all decking material.
With the recent string of bad weather in the United States (hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and even dust storms!), the following deck inspection tips are a great way to ensure that you can not just enjoy your deck, but be safe on it as well.
Deck Inspection Checklist
1. How are the fasteners that run through the ledger holding up?
If your deck was installed with at least 1/2″ diameter lag screws your deck should be in good shape. If you or your deck builder ran nails through the ledger to the rim joist, you should, one by one, replace them with the stainless steel or hot-dipped galvanized lag screws and be sure to use washers for a more secure fit. Using nails to fasten your deck to the home is a disaster waiting to happen.
If you, after a recent storm with heavy winds and/or flooding, you notice the screws and ledger starting to loosen up, reinforce them immediately with 1/2″ diameter lag screws.
2. Is there flashing between your deck and your home to protect the ledger from water damage?
Rotting ledgers can be a problem regardless of the decking material you’ve chosen. If water penetrates the area between your deck and ledger, your chances of rapid rotting and decay skyrocket. Don’t bet on rust proof screws from helping. If the material surrounding the screw starts to fail, then it won’t be able to do its job and your chances of deck collapse are very high.
3. How are the joists holding up? Are they attached with galvanized joist hangers and hot-dipped joist fasteners?
When it comes to deck building, the smallest details count. There’s a reason why professional and reputable deck builders use hangers and fasteners made just for joists. Regular fasteners such as common nails and screws are designed for interior applications. Their performance outdoors just does not stand up to the way outdoor materials expand and contract due to varying climate changes. Sure, joist fasteners and hangers might cost more, but you’ll give yourself an easier path to passing building code. Heck, isn’t it worth knowing that you used materials that were specifically made for decking? The point is to avoid your deck from collapsing, not saving a few pennies.
If your neighborhood has recently experienced some flooding and you notice your anchor posts have shifted, you might want to seek advice from a local deck builder to see how best to reinforce those posts.
4. Were hot-dipped galvanized brackets used to connect beams to posts?
If not, then your deck was probably installed using the toenail method. Toenailing is an insufficient method of connecting deck beams to posts. The last thing you need is costly repairs and maintenance due to the weak nails snapping. Reinforce the connection and install a hot-dipped galvanized bracket.
5. Was your deck stairway system installed using the appropriate connectors?
Again, common nails, even galvanized ones are inadequate fasteners to use on deck stairs. Instead, use stringer-to-deck joist hangers with galvanized screws and bolts. You’ll get a stronger hold that will last longer and greatly decrease accidental breakage, or worse, your stairway collapsing.
After any significant weather event, be extra vigilant in inspecting any deck stairways.
6. Were nails used to attach the deck to a Deck handrail system?
Wobbling posts and handrails need to be either rebuilt or reinstalled ASAP. You risk someone getting injured, or worse if deck rail systems are not as rigid as they need to be.
7. Nails bad. Hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners and connectors, good!
Sorry to get all neanderthal on you, but it really is that simple. Using the connectors and fasteners that the pros use is going to increase the life of your deck, save you tons of money in the future, and allow you to breathe easier at night knowing that your deck is safe for you and your loved ones.
Final Notes about DIY Deck Inspection
Everything you just read should be verified through your local municipal building department. You are responsible for making sure that your deck conforms to local building codes. Call your local building department for more information on deck building codes. Also, while you might have a better understanding of what to look for, if you have any doubts, or are still uncertain about your deck’s structural integrity, call your local inspector before you, or your loved ones spend more time on your deck. Taking a chance that your deck will stay intact when you have doubts about its components is a risky and dangerous decision.