May is the time of year when people start to step out of their homes and onto their decks. With Memorial Day coming up, everyone has barbecuing and outdoor entertainment on their minds. But if your deck is improperly installed or maintained, it could pose a serious safety hazard.
The North American Deck and Railing Association has declared May National Deck Safety Month in an effort to spread the message about deck safety. Maintaining your deck and making sure that new decks are properly installed isn’t just a good idea. It can actually prevent serious injuries and save lives.
When it comes to deck safety, you can think about the Big Five. The Big Five comes in two parts. The first part is the “Three Legged Stool”. A stool has three legs and removing any one of them will topple the stool. Similarly, if any one of the three legs of deck safety is missing, you and your deck could be in danger.
The Three Legged Stool
The first leg is the deck posts. A deck is usually held up by thick support posts. But a post shouldn’t be resting directly on the ground. Instead, the base of post should be connected to a properly poured cement footing. When installed correctly, the post will be attached to the footing with a post base or a mechanical fastener. While it is possible to place a post directly into the concrete, Georgia and local Atlanta code prefers for a post to be raised off the ground and connected to the footing with a base connector. This allows air to flow around the base of the post and helps prevent rot.
The second leg of the stool is the beams that support the weight of the deck. Beams should be placed on top of the posts and run the length of the deck, perpendicular to the joists. A beam needs to be connected both to the post and the joists with a mechanical fastener. The joists should rest directly on the beam so that the weight of the deck can be supported by the joists which are then directly supported by the beam.
The third leg is where the deck meets the home. If the deck is going to use the home as support, it needs to be connected properly. The deck should be connected with the right bolting pattern and use the right type of fastener. Ideally, the deck should be connected with a half inch bolt with a washer and a nut. The washer and nut should be placed on the outside of the home so that they can be tightened properly.
The Rest of the Big Five
The other two parts of the Big Five are your railing and your stairs. Often they are built with the same supports as the deck itself.
Of course, railings are important for preventing falls. A loose or structurally unsound railing poses a serious risk of injury. A railing may feel solid, but if it not built to code it is still a risk for collapse. If it collapses while someone is leaning on it, that could lead to serious injury. In addition to the injury, there could be serious financial damage.
Lawsuits and homeowners insurance claims can be expensive, in addition to the unfortunate injury of a friend or family member.
Stairs are integral to the safety of your deck. They will bear a lot of weight of and need to be built correctly to take a regular beating. Stairs are not a simple structure. There are lots of pieces that all need to be built and attached safely.
Building Your Deck
Here in Georgia it is perfectly legal to apply for a permit on your own behalf and build a deck. All you have to do is follow the Georgia Deck Prescriptive Details. These outline all of the proper practices to follow to ensure that your deck is sound and doesn’t pose a safety risk.
However, if you are hiring someone else to build your deck, that person must be a licensed contractor in Georgia. That means that they will have passed an exam and met other qualifications for certification. This includes holding a certain amount of insurance in case something goes wrong.
Only a licensed contractor can apply for a permit to do construction work on somebody else’s home. That contractor is required to follow the Georgia Deck Prescriptive Details and the International Residential Code. In addition, the deck will have to be inspected to ensure it is being built to code.
Fixing an Improperly Constructed Deck
To fix an improperly constructed deck, a contractor will have to remove parts of the deck first in order to rebuild them. This usually means installing temporary supports while the existing supports are removed. Once the existing supports are out of the way, new supports built to code can be installed. Once all the new supports are in place, the temporary supports can be removed and the deck will be safe.
When to Inspect Your Deck
Many homeowners don’t think about their decks until April or May, when outdoor living starts to become enjoyable. But if you find that your deck is unsound, it may be a long wait until you can get it fixed. That’s because the spring and summer months are prime deck season. And that’s not just for homeowners, that’s for contractors, too. So it may be months until a contractor can get to your job. In the meantime, you could be living with an unsafe deck.
The best time to inspect and fix your deck is in the fall, when deck contractors are less busy and deck season is ending.
Of course, if you need your deck inspected or repaired, or if you are having a new deck built, TrustDALE is a good place to start. TrustDALE has a number of certified partners who specialize in deck installation and repair. You can call Outback Deck, Plus Services, Reliable Deck, or Ben Hill Renovations for deck service you can trust.