I’m always bothered when I hear about another accident involving a deck because they are usually preventable. Deck safety continues to be ignored and we need to make it a priority. So before you officially open your deck for barbecue season and start entertaining, make sure it’s safe so it can support you and your loved ones.
Spring Deck Check
Your deck is a structure. Unlike the structural framing of your home, it has zero protection from the elements and is constantly exposed to harsh weather conditions, causing wear and tear. Over the course of its lifetime, your deck will start to decay or rot which affects the boards, joists, railings and stairs. The fasteners and deck connectors can corrode and loosen, making your deck a safety hazard.
Regular deck maintenance is key, and spring is the perfect time to do it. Check for signs of deterioration on hardware. Is there rust or corrosion on the metal connectors or fasteners? This will happen if the fasteners are not galvanized, stainless steel or specially coated for pressure-treated lumber. Are there signs of cracking or decay along any wooden components? Check for missing or loose connections too, especially along stairs, railings, joists and deck boarding.
Parts of your Deck
The deck’s ledger board, the board that runs along the side of the house and attaches the deck to your home, undergoes the most stress and is the area where most deck failures occur. Pay special attention to this area or, better yet, call in a certified professional for an inspection. The inspector will check that the proper bolts and structural screws are used and will check for signs of deterioration. Nails should never be used to attach the ledger board to the house.
Deck railing is an essential safety feature. Ideally, the spindles on deck railings should be spaced less than four inches apart, especially if you have small children. If the railing moves when you push or lean on it have an inspector check it out. The same goes for the railing on the deck stairs. The railing is there to support you going up or down the deck stairs, so make sure it’s sturdy and secure.
Sweep away any leaves, debris and other combustible rubbish from the deck surface. There’s always the risk of glowing coal embers falling from the grill and these can ignite whatever combustibles are close by. Leaves can also pose a slipping hazard and can cause mildew growth. Give your deck a high-pressure clean to get rid of all the dirt that has accumulated over the winter months.
So you’ve completed your spring deck check and now it’s time to consider the safety of your guests when you’re entertaining.
Outdoor lighting not only looks good, but it’s an added safety feature for your deck. Have lights on the deck stairs so your guests can keep proper footing. I have small LEDs all around my deck for safety, and you can also add hanging strings of lights for ambiance. Just make sure they’re near an electrical source – you don’t want any electrical cords hanging around or down low where they can become a tripping hazard. Remember that all outdoor outlets should be GFCI- protected (ground fault circuit interrupter) and make sure that any extension cords you’re using outdoors have all the proper safety checks and are suitable for outdoor use. Have proper lighting around outdoor grills or kitchen areas to prevent any accidents. And give all lights a wipe-down when doing your spring deck checks so that the maximum light shines through.
Furniture and Storage
Even though your patio furniture may be stored away during the harsh winter months, make sure each piece is sturdy before anyone sits on a chair or places something on a table. Avoid placing seats at the edge of the deck, not only for fear of falling back, but you also don’t want kids being able to reach the deck railing by climbing on the furniture. Consider installing child-proof latches on storage benches or boxes, and keep all hazardous products like lighter fluid and cleaners, safely stored away from children and from heat sources.
Set your grill at least a few feet away from your house and high-traffic areas. You can protect your deck surface by placing your grill on a non-flammable pad. Always have a fire extinguisher handy, and keep your eyes on the grill and surrounding deck area at all times. Make sure that your grill is not under an overhang, including tree branches, and is away from anything flammable. If your deck has recently been treated with a stain or sealant, it can be extra flammable, so in that case, set your grill on a level patio or concrete area several feet away from the house. And NEVER place a chiminea on your wood deck.
Entertaining outdoors is fun. Make it right by making it safe.
Images courtesy of Joern Rohde of RDC Fine Homes (top main), The Holmes Group and Eaton Wiring Devices (third image).