Your deck provides the foundation for your family’s outdoor entertainment and leisure activities, from cookouts and birthday parties to your favorite spot for Sunday morning coffee. That’s why it’s vital to ensure your deck is safe and up to current regulatory codes by performing routine inspections. With peace of mind that your deck is in solid working order, you’ll be able to get the most enjoyment from it.
On average, a professional inspection of the condition and strength of your deck’s guardrails should be scheduled every two years, and the deck surface should be cleaned at least annually to extend its lifespan and aesthetics. After all, just like your home, a deck undergoes high levels of stress throughout the year, including constant exposure to the elements, load-bearing situations and just normal wear and tear. The following deck inspection checklist is a good place to start.
Deck Framing Inspection
Framing inspections are usually only required for decks that are built low to the ground to make it possible for inspectors to do their job without crawling under the structure. In these cases you will need to call for an inspection before the decking is installed so the framing is visible from above the deck. They will be verifying that you are building precisely what your plans indicated. Are you using the same size and type of wood as you specified? Is the joist spacing correct?
Inspectors will also be looking closely at the specific connections as they are assembled across the frame. They will want to see that you are using the proper joist hangers and they are not missing any fasteners. They will also be interested in seeing how well your beams are connected to your support posts.
Inspectors will be checking your framing to make sure it is consistent with your plans. They will be checking joist and beam spacing and all hardware connections.
When all your work is completed, you will also need to pass a final inspection before the permit can be closed. If you fail an inspection, you should be given a correction notice for what needs to be fixed before you can pass the inspection.
Deck Safety: What to Look Out For
Your deck faces the harsh elements of the outdoors all year long. Being exposed to extreme heat and cold can take a toll on even the most well maintained decks. So, when you or a professional inspector check to see if your deck is up to spec, here are a few things to look out for regarding repairing your deck and its overall safety:
Most modern-day decks are made of wood or composite that’s treated with chemicals to keep the bugs away. In some cases, including decks built before the 1980s, the wood isn’t treated with insect repellent, making it more likely for ants and termites to get into the framework and cause damage that can literally pull the deck away from the house.
You can check for this by noting whether your deck has any movement when you first step out onto it. If you notice a slight sway when you walk out, call a professional to come out for a thorough inspection and to check for insect vulnerabilities.
Rusted Fasteners, Connectors & More
One of the biggest factors in determining whether your deck is safe and sound is not outwardly visible. That’s why it’s important to look under your deck to ensure that fasteners, connectors and joists are all in good shape. That includes making sure that the nails, bolts, screws and other metal connector pieces aren’t rusted or otherwise compromised. If you detect rust, call an inspector.
Furthermore, it is highly recommended that any deck over 10 years old be inspected by a building professional with knowledge of current code. As building code evolves, new techniques and materials aimed at making sure decking projects are safe may need to be implemented.
Cracks & Rotting
It’s no surprise that after extended use, wood tends to crack. Small cracks aren’t anything to be alarmed about, as long as they don’t continue to grow. However, you do need to keep an eye on any cracks located around fasteners or between joists; these can exploit weaknesses in your deck and lead to serious problems down the line if not properly treated.
Regularly sealing and staining your deck every 2-3 years can help reduce cracking from water, cold and heat exposure. And if you do have a cracked floor board that keeps growing, replacing deck boards is your best safety option. The same tactic applies to wood deck rot. If you have a noticeable portion of boards that are rotting, you’ll want to replace those for both safety and aesthetics.
Remember, it’s your duty as a deck owner to regularly inspect your deck’s frame for safety vulnerabilities. Perform the “pick test” on deck posts to check for areas of decay or rot. If the wood slowly bends and doesn’t splinter much upon breaking, then you may have decaying wood that will need to be addressed.
If your railing is loose, fix it immediately. The risk for injury is simply too great for a railing repair to be put off. Railing is a critical area of the deck, and as mentioned above, it is important to ensure proper code-compliant construction techniques are employed. To ensure they remain sturdy, don’t allow anyone to sit or lean excessively on railings; after all, this is what deck furniture is for!
Mold & Mildew Exposure
Nearly every deck will develop a bit of a green tint from some mildew during its lifespan. Steps are the most susceptible to mildew growth, which can make them slippery and unsafe. Regular washing and staining will help prevent mildew growth. Mold and fungus, on the other hand, is nothing to take lightly. If you notice a fuzzy or mushroom-like growth, immediate attention is required as it could be a “tip of the iceberg” situation.
Deck Inspection Tips
1) No lag screws in ledger board:
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with residential decks. If a ledger board is not well fastened, the deck could easily fall off the house. Building inspectors advise that for a safe connection, a deck must have lag screws or lag bolts installed to the ledger board.
In order for the deck to have a strong connection to the home, lag screws need to be installed on the ledger board. If they are not, the deck can fall off. Inspectors have found that many decks have problems with improper installation of the ledger boards. Building inspectors have advised that the most common problem is a lack of proper fastening of a ledger board to a house. To solve this issue, a lag screw needs to be driven into the ledger board every 16 inches.
2) Missing Nails in Joist Hangers
It’s a common misconception that joist hangers only need one nail to hold them in place. In reality, there are a lot of nails needed for a joist hanger to be secure. Without all the nails, the joist hanger will easily pull away from the ledger board or rim joist. Deck builders often put a couple of nails into the hangers to hold them in place then forget to add more later.
3) Rotten or Compromised Deck Posts
Decking posts that rest on the ground soak up water and then they rot. Older decks often have concrete footings that sit right on the ground and this causes pressure-treated posts to rot. When the post rots, it loses its strength and can’t support the weight of the deck. Newer decks keep the concrete footings a few inches above ground and they use a special bracket to keep the deck posts from getting wet.
4) Wobbly or Shaking Deck
If your deck starts to shake as you walk across it, don’t worry. This is a common issue and the shakes may not be that serious. However, sometimes the shaking can put a lot of stress on the fasteners and connectors. Over time, the joists can move away from the rim joist or ledger board, which will cause it to weaken. Fastening angle braces under the deck will help it stay stiff and take the stress off of the joists.
5) Missing Flashing on Deck Ledger board
The edges of a home should be watertight. The smallest leak can lead to mold inside the walls and the rim joist (support for a deck) will rot. Stand or crawl under the deck and look at the ledger board. If you don’t see a metal or plastic lip over the top of the ledger board, add flashing. Flashing stops leaks from forming, which prevents mold from growing and wood from rotting.
Deck Inspection Tips