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Decks and Safety Concerns

By Steve Vacha

Decks are an important and valuable component on many homes.  Decks are usually elevated above the ground which makes proper construction and design a critical feature.  Often decks are built by home owners after new construction of the rest of the house.  A good inspection of an existing deck is critical for the safety and well-being of the home buyers.

Listed below are some of the areas of safety concerns and construction specifications for decks;

  • A properly constructed and tightly fastened railing is important for safety.

–          Guard rails are necessary if the decking is > 30” above grade.

–          Guard rail height must be >= 36”.

  • Rail / spindle openings should be correctly sized.  This is important so little children cannot fall or crawl through the openings.

–          Guard rail openings should not be less than 4” on decking.

  • Stair requirements

–          Guard rails on stairs are necessary if the flight of stairs is > 30”.

–          Guard rail openings on stairs should not be greater than 4 3/8”.

–          The gaps between the bottom rail and the top of the stairs should not allow a ball larger than 6” in diameter to pass through.

–          Riser heights on a flight of stairs should be uniform and are not to exceed 8”

Bolting the deck to the house is important to keep the deck secure.  Even with all the press coverage on this issue, we still find decks not properly bolted to the house. Worn or damaged components of a deck need to be identified.   No matter what material is used for a deck, they all have their expected lifespan.  Repairing isolated boards will extend the life of the deck. Rim joists and framing joists need to be a properly sized for the span and weight they will carry.   Some home owner will try to save money by selecting undersized rafter components for the deck which will cause the decking to bow and the frame lean.

After making sure a deck is safe for use, a home owner will want to extend the life of their deck. Periodic cleaning and sealing will help.  Sealing the deck will help the wood from splintering and shrinking.  The best sealers are clear or lightly tinted stains. These materials will wear off instead of peeling off like paint.  It is never suggested to use a solid colored stain or paint on wood decks, because the deck will only look good for one season before the new finish will start to peel or wear off.