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Deck Safety

A deck is a wonderful place to unwind and entertain. Follow these tips to make sure your outdoor space is safe and fun.

Deck with Hammock.

Inspecting Your Deck

Deck, Deck Railing and Deck Stairs.

Inspect the elements of your deck annually:

  • The ledger board, which connects an attached deck to the house
  • Decking — the floor of the deck
  • Joists, which support the decking
  • Beams, which support the joists
  • Posts, which support the beams
  • Footings, which secure the posts in the ground
  • Stair treads
  • Stringers, which support the stair treads and the stair railing
  • Railing around the deck and along the stairs

Before beginning work, check to see if any building codes apply to your work and if permits or inspections are required. If you can't access parts of your deck or don't feel comfortable doing the inspection yourself, contact a professional deck builder. The steps below describe some basic areas of inspection. For a complete check of your deck, have it inspected by a professional.

Good to Know

You may be able to make minor repairs — tightening fasteners or replacing decking and railing — yourself. If you need work on structural components — such as joists, beams, posts, footings or a ledger board, consider contacting a professional.

Step 1

If the deck is connected to the house, make sure the ledger board is securely attached to the house with lag bolts. Check any flashing that covers the area to make sure it's secure and undamaged. Replace it if necessary.

Step 2

Check the joist hangers, which hold the joists in place. Every hole should have a joist hanger nail securing the hanger to the deck frame. If you need to add nails, use joist hanger nails.

Step 3

Ensure deck posts are not sinking or loose. Check the soundness of the post footings.

Step 4

Inspect several locations for rotten wood. Give particular attention to parts of the deck that are regularly damp and areas around fasteners. If the wood is soft, breaks easily without splinters or if you can easily push a screwdriver 1/4 to 1/2 inch into the wood, there may be rot. Pay attention to soft spots as you walk across the deck. These may also indicate decay. Even a deck built with composite material, which resists rot, has structural elements which are made of wood. If you find rot, replace the component.

Step 5

Look for cracks and splits. Cracks around fasteners and in decking between joists are of particular concern. Also pay attention to cracks that grow larger over time. Replace any damaged components that you find.

Step 6

Check for insect damage. Wood and composite materials used in decks are typically resistant to insects, but the areas of the house that connect to the deck may not be.

Step 7

Secure any loose fasteners. If you notice nails that have worked out, replace them with deck screws. Replace any damaged hardware. Check fasteners and hardware for rust and corrosion, which can weaken the wood. Replace them as needed.

Caution

Removing fasteners and hardware from a structural component may make the deck unsound. Consider consulting a professional to replace them.

Step 8

Inspect railings around the deck and along the stairs to make sure they are sound and sturdy. They must be firmly attached to the deck frame and easy to grip. Make sure the balusters — the vertical pieces — are the proper distance apart to prevent children or pets from getting stuck between them. Refer to your local building codes for specifics.

Step 9

Check to see that decking and stair treads are solid — they shouldn't sag or shift. Make sure all the boards are in good condition, solidly attached and not slippery. Apply non-slip stair tread strips to increase traction. Secure loose boards or treads and replace any that are damaged.

Other Deck Safety Tips

Lights on Deck Steps and Post Cap Lights.
  • Add outdoor lighting. You can Illuminate and beautify your deck with a variety of decorative lights, including rope lights, string lights, lanterns, post cap lights and step lights. Low-voltage or solar landscape lights help family and guests find the path to your door. Take a look at Landscape Lighting Ideas to get started.
  • Clean and seal your deck. Algae and mold make the deck slippery and some mold can eat away at the deck. Wood that is not sealed deteriorates more quickly. Read Clean, Seal or Stain a Deck for instructions on cleaning and protecting a deck from the elements. Use care when cleaning with a pressure washer. Too much force can damage the surface of the wood. See Pressure Wash Decks and Fences for pressure washing tips.
  • Keep rugs and mats in place. Secure outdoor area rugs with non-slip pads or rug tape. Use non-slip door mats at every entrance to the house.
  • Use heaters, grills and torches correctly. Read and follow all product instructions and safety precautions for heat-generating items on a deck or near the house.
  • Keep the deck free of ice and snow. During winter months, your deck — as well as your porch and patio — can become icy and unsafe. To prevent slips and falls, keep enough ice melt, sand or kitty litter on hand to treat slippery patches. In areas of heavy snow, keep your deck clear of snow buildup to prevent overloading.