It’s absolutely crucial to ensure the safety of an exterior deck and its hand railings. Often times these decks are elevated quite high above the ground presenting a very real fall hazard. If a deck were to fail perhaps under heavy load from many party guests, the results could be catastrophic. Luckily, there are some basic items that home owners can inspect for possible danger.
1) Most building codes require special connectors to secure the deck better than nails and screws alone. There are often metal connectors at all intersections: post to ground, post to deck, joist to beam.
2) Check to see that all the connections are tight and none have become loosened. This is especially important with the hand railings. Posts should feel solidly connected, not wobbly, and should resist a force pushing it out.
3) All fasteners like screws, nails and metal connectors should be specially coated to resist exterior conditions and harsh chemicals in pressure treated lumber. Rusted fasteners can cause deck failure and will be visibly corroded or streaking.
4) Wood should be hard. Soft wood is a sign of rot and rotten wood can fail unexpectedly.
5) As it ages, all wood develops cracks and checks. It is important to make sure that none of these cracks damage the structural integrity of the deck. If you have doubts, ask for help.
6) It is also important to check the deck ledger, where the deck attaches to the house. Numerous decks have failed at this connection. Check for bolts as most building codes require the deck to be bolted to the house.
These simple steps will preserve the outdoor living experience at your house and also provide a safe environment for friends and family to come together in the outdoors.