We get many calls every year from people who want to know if their existing decks are still safe to use. Whether you are getting ready to sell your house, looking at buying a house, or just want to know if it's safe to continue using your deck until your budget allows for an upgrade, it's crucial to know when a deck can no longer safely support people. There are 4 common problems that can lead to decks becoming unsafe, which we will address below. However, these are not the only issues that can render a deck unsafe. Check these 4 points, but if there are any red flags at all, please seek an expert opinion.
1. The Deck Ledger to House Connection
The deck ledger is the framing member that lays flat against the wall of your house. It is generally attached to the house with lag or through bolts. If it is only attached with nails, it's a good idea to add some lag bolts or ledger screws. This connection should also be flashed with rubber or metal. It can be tough to tell if it is flashed, so you may have to remove the back floorboard and some siding to see for sure.
If there is no flashing, make sure to check the wood for moisture & softness. If you can poke a screwdriver into the wood easily, that may mean that you will need to replace it. An easy way to tell if the wood is rotting down between the ledger and house wall is to add some ledger screws or lag bolts to the ledger board. If the bolts or screws grab well in the house wall, that means the wood is still good. If the bolts or screws just spin out, it may mean that there is rot in the house wall.
2. The Joist to Ledger Connection
The floor joists are the framing members that run perpendicular to the ledger and are usually supported in the front by a beam & posts. The joists should be connected to the ledger with metal brackets that are U-shaped. These brackets are called joist hangers. If these joist hangers are missing or rusted, you will want to add or replace them. They are available at any lumber yard or home improvement store.
3. Heaved or Sunken Footers
If your deck is heaved up or sinking in the front by the posts & beams, this can cause serious issues. It can cause the deck to disconnect from the house, especially if the ledger connection is weak. If you catch heaving or sinking early enough, fixing it can be as simple as replacing the footers under your deck posts, if your deck is high enough to work underneath.
4. Inadequate Railings
Several factors can cause your railings to become inadequate. To test the strength of your railings, grab the top railing and pull it towards you. If you can move the railing more than a few inches, you may need to repair or replace it. Additionally, use a screwdriver to push on the wood at the ends of the railing components to check for rot. If the wood is soft, you will need to replace them. If the wood seems to be good, then the issue is likely inadequate fasteners in the posts. You can add some ledger screws or lag bolts to the railing post & framing connections to shore up the railing strength.
Wondering whether or not your deck is still safe to use? Contact us for help today!