A little maintenance goes a long way to keep your deck safe, performing well and looking great any time of year. Just like you need an annual checkup with your doctor to ensure you’re in good health, so does your deck. While you may think spring is the time to check your deck, another ideal time is now as we enter the fall season. This is especially true if you live in parts of the U.S. that spell “winter” with the letters “i-c-e” or “s-n-o-w.”
The prescription for a safe deck requires a few minutes of prevention each year, starting from the ground up. These three steps will help ensure your deck is equipped to handle whatever nature may send your way, no matter the season.
1. Make sure you’re up to code. First and foremost, always be sure your deck is built according to code. Mark Clement, licensed contractor and Wood, Naturally spokesperson, recommends reading the DCA 6 prescriptive deck building code. “It’s everything you need to know to properly build a strong and durable deck, from how big your joists and posts need to be, to how to attach the ledger board to the house,” Clement says.
2. Check the wood and deck connections. “The best thing you can do for deck safety is go underneath the deck and examine how it’s put together. That starts with the ledger board, which fastens the deck to your house,” says Clement. Then, make sure posts, beams, joists, deck boards, railings, fasteners and connectors are all in good shape and that nothing is unstable.
There are many advances in deck connectors that can help strengthen a deck, according to David Finkenbinder, branch engineer of Simpson Strong-Tie. “If you need to attach your posts to concrete, for example, there are new connectors that can be retrofitted onto a deck that has older connectors or no connectors at all,” says Finkenbinder.
3. Inspect flashing. After assessing your deck’s foundation, be sure to also check the flashing, which is an L-shaped piece of metal that diverts water and is on top of the ledger board. If it’s degraded, has holes, or is missing, replace it or have a new one installed.
Remember, when it comes to decking, nails are not enough. A safe deck features the use of heavy-duty, metal hardware throughout the entire structure, spanning from the house to the posts in the ground. “Missing connections are the number one warning sign of an unsafe deck,” says Clement.
For additional safety tips check out the Simpson Strong-Tie Deck Connection and Fastening Guide, with details on everything from ledger connections to joist hangers, post to footing connections, and pertinent building code sections.
Lastly, when in doubt, check with a professional. Contractors and licensed professionals can help inspect your deck, provide suggestions and let you know how much a repair should cost.
“Wood is a natural choice for outdoor living. And, just like anything that lives outside — your lawn, your garden, your car — your deck requires a little tender loving care,” says Clement. “Performing annual checks ensures that your deck remains safe and secure for you and your family to enjoy all year long.”