With more than 50 million residential decks in the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that around 20 million decks across the country may be structurally unsound, well-past their expected life span, violate code or have deteriorated over time and may have a potential hazard.
As our thoughts turn to spending time out of doors – BBQs, comfy outdoor furniture, beautiful flower pots, friends and family gathering to share time on the deck – often used, perhaps even taken for granted, the backyard deck serves us loyally underfoot.
This year, people have been asked to stay at home in a way never done before and the CDC stay-at-home guidelines have meant homeowners are out on their decks earlier in the season than ever before and for longer stretches of time. The deck quickly converted to an “outdoor” room to provide additional square footage, fresh air and a different perspective (or view, literally) on the quarantine.
1. Deck Safety Month: A Reminder to Homeowners Safety Always Comes First
May is designated Deck Safety Month, sponsored by the North American Deck & Railing Association (NADRA), and encourages homeowners to make sure to have their deck inspected by a professional to identify and fix any hazards before any problems arise. If you suspect your deck shows any warning signs, don’t attempt to handle the problem yourself. Hire a professional who’s familiar with the coding laws in your area and you can then be sure your outdoor deck can be fully enjoyed safely.
Homeowners can visit NADRA’s website to download their free safety checklist to be on top of any safety issues that could occur. Here are two links for homeowner deck safety checklists: https://www.nadra.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/shapeimage_3.png and https://www.nadra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NADRA_DSM_Checklist.pdf
2. Structural Signs Your Backyard Deck Might Be Unsafe
To avoid testing the limits of an older deck and potentially put loved ones at risk, it’s important to endure certain parts of the decking floor have been attached correctly, make sure that metal sections such as connectors and bolts show no sign of rust, and keep an eye out for rotten wood.
Unusual noises,creaking, movement, warped or weak boards and wobbly railings are all important to look for to determine deck safety issues. Loose or damaged railings or steps are a safety hazard for children and the elderly as there is greater risk of falling.
Examine your deck to confirm it has the proper structural connections. If you don’t see the standard bolts and metal connector plates supporting your deck and only see nails, your deck is structurally unsound. Additionally, look at the wood posts supporting the weight of your deck and make sure they’re not off center on their concrete footing. If you don’t have any concrete footing at all and your posts are touching ground, this is usually a coding violation.
- Decks whether new or existing, key to its construction is the ledger board. The ledger board is the main anchor to a deck and must be properly installed. (Fact: 90% of all deck failures are from the separation of the ledger board from the home. Info supplied by NACHI).
- A ledger board should be bolted into the main frame of the home such as a rim joist whether it’s a first floor or second floor deck.
- If it’s an existing deck check for bolts that may have become loose, corroded or may have the wood around it show signs of rot.
- Ledger Boards should never be bolted on top of the homes siding material.
- All deck rafters should be should be installed with steel “U” hangers for the correct support.
- There should be some form of flashing or membrane material to protect the home from water damage.
- Check underneath the deck for signs of flashing.
- Check for water damage where the deck meets the home.
- The best construction for decks foundation is concrete piers. These piers should be 6” or larger depending on the decks load and at least 36” deep.
- Steel brackets should be installed to protect the decks wood posts. Make sure these connectors are in good condition.
- Check the entire deck for any splitting or rotting wood.
- Check all fasteners and braces for corrosion.
- Check all railings for strength and stability.
- All Railings should be 36” in height. Balusters should be no more than 4” apart.
- Railings should have the ability to support 200lbs.
- Check all stair trends for rot and or splits.
- Check for loose or uneven stairs.
- If your deck is wood it would be beneficial to protect it with stain, varnish or sealants. There are many products on the market. Whichever product you choose it should be applied on an annual basis.
- Make sure no part of the deck is touching the ground surfaces as this will promote rotting.
3. Proper Maintenance Helps Ensure Deck Longevity
After a long winter some decks will accumulate moss or just get dirty. Whether it is wood, trex or a composite, power washing the deck with the proper solutions is the best way to keep it clean and free from debris. There are also many products on the market and experts recommend homeowners should clean their decks at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall.
6 Cleaners for a Dirty Deck
- Natural cleaners, Baking Soda, Vinegar and Dish Soap, can be used on the outdoor deck to tackle mildew and algae.
- Borate is an all-purpose natural cleaner that can be added to water to address small areas of your deck at a time.
- Pressure or Power Washer can be used starting at the center of the deck and direct the spray to both ends, hitting all areas. (This should be done prior to applying a cleaner or brightener.)
- Oxygen bleach products are considered to be safer for the environment. Although they may not be the best remedy for stubborn mold and algae that is set into a wood deck, but with frequent regular use, build up of mildew and algae shouldn’t occur quite so often.
- “Spray-and-Forget-It Products” allow you to clean your deck without much effort. Some help with stain from mold and mildew, others repel rain and snow. Some claim to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- The most effective product at killing mold, Tri Sodium Phosphate or TSP, is a powder-based cleaner. However, TSP is not considered an especially environmental choice and has a precautions on the back of its box. But if the deck has not been cleaned in a long time and algae is visible, it may have to occasionally be used, with care and caution.
Advice Tip: Maintain the deck more often, including sweeping, and you may avoid having to treat it with something strong like trisodium phosphate.
4. “Inside” Activities have Moved Outside to Help with Quarantine Fatigue
Now that you have addressed the components of your deck to insure safety for yourself and loved ones, you can fully enjoy your additional outside square footage.
Expanded deck use means people have brought many of their typically “inside” activities outside with them. People have taken haircuts, office work, school work and arts and crafts right outside onto the deck.
Exercise, particularly important at a time when people are staying inside their home for much longer periods of time than they are accustomed, isolated from others, and moving a lot less than normal, has significant health benefits. During this time of quarantine, the deck has become a space for a unique way of coping with the stay at home policy and helps provide a much-needed mental and physical release as an alternative exercise space.
Gym Membership to Your Deck
Whether you have a big deck or a small deck, there are a host of things to take advantage of your outdoor space and statistics show physical activity boosts the immune system and help reduce stress and anxiety, contributing to an overall more positive mindset.
Some outside deck exercise ideas include:
- Make a “circuit training” course. Include stations for exercises like jumping jacks, jogging in place, squats and lunges, pushups and planks. You can carry small dumbbells, jumpropes and mats outside.
- Stretch session with a chair require no special gym equipment! Check out this chair stretch session by Greater Seattle YMCA with a kitchen chair on your back deck for this full body stretch workout. It is an easy way to help remedy hours of virtual work meetings at your desk. Even just five minutes of daily stretching can can help with how you feel.
- A hula hoop workout, with or without the kids, exercise combined with upbeat music and laughing, can quickly turn into fun! And maybe a little competitive edge mixed in to see who lasts longest may amp up the fun meter! Either way, it’s easy and inexpensive.
- If you are looking for high intensity training, that can be done on the deck easily as well. “Shape” has designed a particular outdoor HIIT workout that doesn’t require a single piece of equipment. Check out 12-minute workout from “Shape” magazine.
5. Ten Things to Consider Before You Build a Deck
Make plans before jumping into a deck project. Besides determining it’s a deck you want instead of a patio, you will need to establish a budget, select material, find a space to build it, and realize that this is likely the type of DIY project where you’ll need to hire a professional.
1. Why Do You Want a Deck?
2. Where is the best location?
4. “DIY” Project or Professional Contractor
5. Decking Materials
6. Deck Design, Size and Shape
7. Extras: Railings, Roofs, Privacy Fencing and Other Deck Structures
8. Building Codes and Legal Requirements
9. Deck Lighting
10. Storage, Seating and Planter Boxes
Enjoy Your Deck!