Almost Deck Weather!

Is your deck in good shape?

It is always a good idea to check your deck, railings and steps before using it.  Making time to repair the deck is difficult when you are in the middle of enjoying it.  You also don’t want to lose the use of it right when you want it the most.

There are a few things to check that don’t take long but can make a big difference down the road.  Monitoring the health of the deck can reduce large expenses in the future.

Deck Components

Steps:  These are commonly make of wood, concrete or masonry.

Railings:  This should be provided wherever there is a danger of falling.  Generally when the height off the ground is more then 2 feet.

Posts:  The supports for the floor joists.

Joists: Carry the load of the floor including deck boards, people, furniture and so on.

Deck Floor:  Should be sturdy enough not to flex between joists and allow water to drain off of or through.

What should you watch for?

Rot is always a big problem with outdoor wood structures.  90% of decks in Ottawa a built with either cedar or pressure treated lumber.  Even though cedar and pressure treated lumber are resilient to rot, nothing can withstand it indefinitely.  Although there are new products available that are rubber composites, their support structures (posts and joists) are generally wood.

Wherever wood contacts soil there is a high risk of rot.  Generally posts are supported at the ground level by concrete block or poured piles (tubes).  However, it is not unusual to find pressure treated lumber directly on the ground.  Even if the area around the wood post is gravel or stone, the risks of rot are higher then posts off the ground.

The first step is an inspection of everywhere the wood touches the soil.  This can be done by using a screw driver to test how spongy the wood is by probing.  For example, if the screw driver sinks into the wood you are probing easily, you have a significant rot area.  This means that the wood can no longer support weight.

Look for debris that collects on the deck. Soil is not only found on the ground.  Leaves that collect in the fall in the spaces between deck boards or where the deck joins with the house will turn into soil eventually.  Make sure you clean out debris from cracks and crevices regularly and especially in the spring.

Watch for pooling water. Water swells wood opening the pours creating a great environment for rot.  Carpeting on outdoor decks trap water and increase the rot risks.


Stairs,Railings and Guards.

These 3 components of your deck are very important for your safety.  There are a few standards you should be aware of.

  • Stairs should not flex when you step on them, 1 to 1 1/2 inch thickness is common.  They should be 9 1/2 inches deep and rise no more then 8 inches per step.
  • Railings on your steps should be there if your rise is 3 (steps).  There should be a hand rail on both sides if your steps are more then 44 inches wide.  Railings are commonly 32 to 42 inches high.
  • Guards are required if your deck is more than 24 to 30 inches off the ground.  The guards should be 36 to 42 inches high and sturdy.  Generally the spindles of the guards are spaced so that a 4 inch sphere cannot pass through.

When inspecting the railings and guards you can expect a little movement but this should not be much.  If these are loose now, they will be worse later.  Where there are screws attaching the railings and guards you can tighten them.  This is also true with bolts and nuts.  It is not uncommon to have these loosen a little over the winter.  This can be described as maintenance.  Rot will happen often where wood contacts wood.  The contact is never air tight or water tight and therefore be a source of loosening over time.

Don’t take chances with an old rotten deck!

Over the years I have personally rebuilt more than a dozen decks and stairs because the rot was extensive.  Neglecting to check your deck can result in very expensive rebuilds in the future.  The difference is the cost of replacing a board or a stair tread versus the whole deck or entire stair case.  In some cases it is an unavoidable undertaking.  If you are concerned about your deck you should have it inspected.  This is something that Scratch and Son Performance Inspection does and can provide a detail of your deck’s needs.  If you are not confident that your deck is safe, please give us a call.

Posted by Jeremy Scratch

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