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Chris Breen

Chris Breen

Chris Breen, Principal Owner of Legacy Decks and Outdoor Living and has been serving families in Upstate South Carolina since 2005.

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Code-Compliant Decks1

Deck Safety Tips To Check If Your Deck Is Code-Compliant 

Who doesn’t love a good deck? They add joy to your daily life and are the perfect place to relax in the sun or entertain guests. But if your deck is old or wasn’t built to code, it could be unsafe. At Legacy Decks, we’re all about deck safety, and we want your family and friends to be safe when enjoying your outdoor space.

Here are some tips to help you check if you have a safe and code-compliant deck.

How Old Is Your Deck? Has It Been Inspected Recently?

If your deck is more than 10 years old or has not been inspected recently, it’s time for a safety check. 

Wood is vulnerable to rot and decay, so it’s important to check for damage regularly. And even if your deck uses composite materials, the framing and support structures are still made of wood and are subject to the same issues.

Although the tips in this article intend to assist you in checking your deck’s safety and code compliance, only a certified professional can inspect your deck and give you a definitive answer.

Are There Any Obvious Signs of Damage?

Even if you’re not a deck expert, you can probably spot some obvious signs of damage. Look for things like cracks all the way through the wood, loose nails, warped boards, and splinters. These are all signs that your deck may need repairs.

If you’re unsure whether something is a problem, err on the side of caution and call a professional to schedule an inspection. They’ll be able to tell you for sure whether a particular issue is serious enough to warrant repair or replacement.

Inspect The Support Structure

One of the first things you should do is inspect the support structure of your deck. This includes the ledger board (the board that is attached to your house), support posts, beams, and joists.

Look for signs of weakness, such as rot, corrosion, or water damage. A weak support structure is one of the most common reasons decks collapse.

Pay Close Attention To Any Areas That Are Regularly Exposed To Water

Areas of your deck that tend to remain damp or that are regularly exposed to water are more likely to develop rot and decay.

Check any areas where water can collect, such as low spots, between boards, or areas where rainwater drains. Be sure to look for any telltale signs of water damage, such as warped boards, discolored or soft wood, and mold.

You can use a tool like an ice pick or screwdriver to probe the strength of the wood and check for any signs of weakness. If you can easily push the tool through the wood without splinters or the wood is soft, it’s likely that the area is weak and needs to be repaired or replaced.

Pay Close Attention To Any Areas That Are In Contact With Fasteners

Any areas where fasteners (nails, screws, bolts, etc.) penetrate the wood are more likely to develop rot and decay, becoming weak over time. This can cause the fasteners to loosen, which can lead to deck failure.

Rust On Fasteners And Connectors

Rust on fasteners and connectors is a huge red flag and a sure sign of water damage. If you see any rusty nails, screws, or bolts, it’s an indicator that your deck may be unsafe.

If you’re unsure whether something is rust or dirt, try to wipe it away with a cloth and warm water. If it comes off easily, it’s probably just dirt. But if it’s difficult to remove or leaves a reddish/brownish color, it’s most likely rusty.

Check The Ledger Board

The ledger board is the piece of wood that attaches your deck to your house. If it’s not firmly attached, your deck could collapse. The ledger board is one of the most common sources of deck failure, so it’s important to check it.

Look for signs of water damage, cracks, splits, loose fasteners, or any other sign of weakness. The ledger board should be firmly attached to your house, and the bolts should be caulked and sealed.

Check The Flashing

Flashing is a strip of metal or plastic that’s installed over the ledger board, where the deck and the house come together.

The flashing is the first line of defense against water infiltration, so it’s crucial to ensure it’s in good condition and well-positioned. When not, water can get behind the ledger board. This can weaken the ledger board and ultimately lead to deck failure.

Look at the area where the flashing meets the ledger board, and be sure the flashing is firmly in place. If you see any gaps or spots where water can collect, that’s a problem. If the flashing is loose, damaged, or plain out missing, you should schedule an inspection as soon as possible.

Look For Signs Of Insect Damage

Another thing to look for is any signs of insect damage. Termites and other insects can do serious damage to a deck, as they see it as a delicious food source – so keep an eye for any evidence of them.

Look for things like:

  • Holes in the wood
  • Termites or winged ants
  • Sawdust or wood shavings

Have A Fire Pit, Grill, Or Heat Source?

If you have a fire pit, grill, or other heat sources on your deck, it’s important to take extra precautions. For example, most local building codes don’t allow you to have a wood-burning fire pit or grill on a wood deck because it is a fire hazard.

But even if your deck doesn’t catch fire, the heat can cause the decking to warp and weaken over time. So make sure to check any areas around heat sources for signs of damage.

Railings

Railings are an essential safety element, so ensuring they’re up to code and in good condition is vital. The higher your deck is raised off the ground, the more critical it is to ensure your railings are sound and secure.

Some decks do not require guardrails, but if your deck is more than 30 inches off the ground, the guardrails should rise to at least 36 inches, as required by most building codes. In addition, the spacing between the balusters (the vertical posts) should be no more than four inches. This is to prevent small children or pets from getting through.

Look for signs of weakness, such as loose fasteners or wobbly railings. If there’s any sign of instability, it’s probably time to replace or repair the railings.

Stairs

If your deck has stairs, you can do a few things to check if they are up to code. First, look at the risers (the vertical part of each step). They should be no more than 7 1/4 inches high. The tread (the horizontal component of each step) should be at least 10 inches deep. If your stairs don’t meet these requirements, your deck is not up to code, and you should schedule an inspection as soon as possible.

When looking for signs of damage, examine the risers and stringers to verify that they are firmly attached and not decayed.

Conclusion

These are just a few things you can do to check if your deck is safe and code-compliant. If you have any doubts, it’s always best to schedule an inspection with a professional. You should do this at least once a year, even if your deck looks fine. Only a professional can give you the peace of mind that your deck is safe and up to code.

Remember, your family’s safety is the top priority!