Don’t get deck-ed


Don’t let that rotted board, loose rail or rusted screw go unrepaired on your deck any longer.

At least 30 deaths have been reported as a direct result of deck collapses the past several years, according to data from deck building experts. Most of those tragedies occurred when upper floor decks were crowded with friends, families or revelers whose collective weight overloaded the support system, or the supports had structural issues.

“Highly rated home inspectors tell us that about one-third of the decks they check out are unsafe. If yours sags or bounces, it needs some attention from a professional,” said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s leading provider of consumer ratings on local service companies. “Building experts say there are more than 40 million decks that were installed more than 20 years ago scattered in neighborhoods across the nation that’s a lot of decks that could pose serious risks.” 

Nearly 40 percent of Angie’s List members who reported having been on a deck that collapsed said the fall came because there was too much weight on the deck. Thirty percent blamed rotting wood and the remainder blamed unsecured ledger boards or support posts. 

“The summer months mean people are spending more time on their decks and more decks are being built,” Hicks said. “Now is a great time to have your deck inspected by a professional to ensure it will hold up.” 

Hicks cautioned consumers who are considering buying homes with decks to be diligent about checking them out. As an example, she relayed a story from a home inspector whose client was assured by the seller that the deck was safe, but got an inspection anyway. 

 “The inspector had serious issues and asked both the buyer and the seller to join him on the deck so he could demonstrate his concerns,” Hicks said. “He stood with his feet shoulder width apart, moved back and forth one time and the whole deck rocked with his movement. Everyone ran for the door as soon as the rocking started. The seller agreed to rebuild the deck and made sure it was properly supported.” 

Angie’s tips to test for deck safety:

  • Test railings and banisters: Properly secure any that might be loose. Railings should be at least 36 inches high. Rails should be no more than 4 inches apart.
  • Stability: Ledger boards are used to attach decks to houses. Support posts and joist hangers anchor supporting beams under the deck. Support posts should have bracing to prevent lateral movement.
  • Wood rot: Wood that is soft and spongy is an indication of decay, which could lead to trouble. Small holes in the wood could be a sign that insects, like carpenter bees, are causing structural problems.
  • Fasteners: Replace any nails, screws and anchors that are loose, rusty or corroded.  Use bolts instead of nails to fasten wood to wood.  Ledger boards should be secured with appropriately-sized lag bolts.
  • Inspection: Ask your home inspector for a thorough inspection of the deck, if you’re buying a home that already has one.  If you have an existing deck, annual inspections are your best bet to ensure it’s structurally sound.
  • Permits: If you’re buying a home with an existing deck, ask for proof that a building permit was issued for the construction and that a certificate of occupancy was issued upon completion.  Those documents help ensure the deck was built to the applicable municipality codes and regulations.

Angie’s tips for building/maintaining decks

  • Hire a qualified professional: A well-regarded professional is the best route to go in building or inspecting a deck. If you want to build your own deck, do yourself a favor and get it inspected before you host your first deck party.
  • Seal it up: If your deck coating has worn away, clean and waterproof it again. That will help prevent decay in the wood.
  • Use pressure treated lumber: That is the most durable when it comes to framing. Untreated lumber will decay faster.
  • Make it “Joist” so: Special hangers connect the joists, or support beams, to strengthen load-bearing connections. They are essential to proper deck support.
  • Dam it: Don’t forget the flashing, a metal or plastic barrier between the house and ledger board, which keeps water from entering the house.
  • Avoid overload: Don’t put a 3,000-pound hot tub on a deck built to withstand 1,400 pounds. Check with a local builder or architect to determine how much weight your deck can support. Most residential decks are built to withstand a minimum of 40 pounds per square foot.

*3,136 Angie’s List members took our poll. Responses are representative of Angie’s List members, but not the general public.