Keeping decking safe: Tips for annual inspection & maintenance

Posted by Brad Porteus on 13 July 2015

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An outdoor deck is a charming addition to any home, but annual maintenance and inspections are required to ensure the safety of the structure. Moisture, heat, parasites, poor construction and overloading are all circumstances that can turn a seemingly harmless space into a hazardous, life-threatening danger zone. 

In fact, a recent investigation into deck safety by ABC News revealed that there are an estimated 12,000 unsafe decks throughout Australia!

Here’s how you can ensure your deck is safe and can be enjoyed by your family for the year to come.

Moisture damage

Deck planks that take on any amount of seasonal moisture can become saturated - almost like sponges. This swelling effect loosens the grip of the screws that hold the planks in place, and as the cycle of expanding and contracting repeats, the planks can become completely unattached. You can get the jump on rainfall by treating deck floors with penetrating oil treatments that prevent wood from absorbing water.

This should be done soon after the deck is built and once yearly thereafter. Using treated wood for deck construction is also essential, as is assuring that there is a "spacer" between each plank that will allow water to seep through rather than accumulate between each length of wood.

Heat damage and warping

The ultraviolet rays of the sun beat down on your deck, first bleaching out the colour of the wood and eventually drying the planks to a point where they begin to warp.

This means gradual twisting and bending, a force of pressure that over time will loosen the fasteners, resulting again in wobbly planks. Pressure treated wood is more durable than wood with no treatment, so choosing this for building will ensure that a deck lasts longer before maintenance is needed. For an existing deck, it is essential to stain the wood as needed to protect it from the sun, almost like applying sunscreen. 

Timber rot & infestation

Decking planks that are neither oil-treated treated nor stained can become host to certain strains of Decay fungi. This is especially true in exposed wood that sees moderate degrees of temperature, rain and sun. This fungus feeds on the wood itself, breaking down the cellular structure of the material and systematically weakening each plank, post and support joist.

Furthermore, the wood actually shelters the fungi, protecting it from the elements and allowing it to proliferate. Repel fungi by using pressure treated wood that is harder to penetrate and by oil treating and staining your deck on a regular basis.

Coincidentally, fungi-proof wood is also set to repel termites, which if given the chance can turn an outdoor deck structure into a death trap. There are additional salt and creosote treatments you can apply to wood before building that repel termites. Exposed wood should be inspected and handled by a professional to detect and deter any termite activity. 

Substandard Construction

A free-standing deck that does not rely on the structure of a building for support is fundamentally safer than a deck that is fastened to the house. Decks that attach to housing can trap moisture where the ledger joist meets the home exterior, resulting in wood rot and eventually to a collapsing situation. Many times attached decks are done so improperly, using nails instead of lag bolts and bolt connection points that do not involve enough steel through solid wood.

Other trouble spots can be the posts and footing that support the deck, the lateral bracing that keep it from moving side to side, the outer ledger, joists and joist hanger that all support the deck planks you stand on.

A licensed building inspector (like us here at BSP Construction consultants!) can inspect a deck during construction to ensure safety. A poorly built deck such as the one in the ABC News profile can result in more than one tragedy if it's party time and there are dozens of people loading the structure with weight.  

Regular inspections & maintenace  

Don't leave the safety of family and friends to chance. Taking precautions will ensure your deck is a place for worry-free enjoyment. It’s always a good idea to get a professional eye to inspect your decking as well as issues throughout the home at annual intervals to ensure small issues are identified and fixed early, so they don’t become dangerous defects down the road. If you would like to book a building maintenance and defects report for your home get in touch with us today!