Check Your Deck

As many people have probably heard by now, a major deck collapse happened at a Little Canada apartment building on Friday.  An investigation is currently underway to determine what caused a third-story deck at Montreal Courts to fall to the ground without notice, injuring four people.  A previous visual inspection did not indicate anything was wrong with the structure.  Representatives of Goldmark Property Management in Bloomington, which manages the complex, have instructed the renters of 280 units with balconies not to use them until an independent structural engineer can inspect them. 

Ironically enough, May is Deck Safety Month, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association.  It is a good idea to check decks for problems before they become dangerous like in this situation.  Regular inspection and proper maintenance can prevent many such tragedies from happening.  In an effort to prevent injuries and save lives, they have on their website a 10 point safety checklist for the average consumer to use when inspecting their deck.  Here is a brief description of their checklist, but you should really check out the detailed list!

1.  Split or Decaying Wood. Check several different areas of the deck to be sure the wood is still sound.  Where the deck attaches to the house is a common place for the wood to become soft or crumble. Look for discolored wood as well, as this could be a sign of mold or fungus.

2.  Flashing.  This is the metal or plastic guard that directs water out and away from sensitive areas of the deck, to keep moisture and debris out. If the flashing shifts or cracks, water can collect between the house and the deck, contributing its possible failure.

3.  Loose or Corroded Fasteners.  Tighten any screws which may have worked their way loose.  Pound any nails which may have popped up.  Replace any which are corroding, as they can cause deterioration in surrounding wood.

4.  Railings and Banisters.  Lean on them heavily (and carefully) to be sure they are on solidly and won’t give under force.  They should also be high enough, usually 36 to 42 inches.

5.  Stairs.  Always keep stair pathways clear of planters, décor, toys and other items that can present a tripping hazard.  Check for loose or rotting boards on steps. 

6.  Cleaning and Maintenance.  Clean away debris such as leaves, which may cause the wood to develop mildew.  If the deck coating has worn away, take the time to apply a waterproof coating to prevent mildew, decaying wood, and loosened fasteners.

7.  Grills, Fire Pits, Chimneys, Heaters, and Candles.  Obviously, we’re talking about fire risks here.  These items may provide a cozy atmosphere, but they can also be a fire hazard.  Protect the deck surface from heat to prevent it from combusting.  Also keep it away from other things which may catch fire.

8.  Lighting and Electrical. Make sure all lighting is working.  Trim any plants or tree limbs that may be blocking light.  Be sure all electrical outlets, appliances and features are in good condition and childproof if children are present.

9.  Outdoor Furniture and Storage.  Test all outdoor furniture to be sure it is sturdy. Avoid placing seating right at the edge of the deck. If you have a swing or hammock installed, don’t forget to test the chains, ropes, and whatever it is hanging from to be sure it is secure.

10.  Surrounding Trees.  If you have trees overhanging your deck, make certain there is no danger of decaying limbs breaking free and falling from trees surrounding the deck.

The collapse of a deck even just a few feet off the ground can cause injuries.  Inspection and maintenance can prevent such things from happening.  Use the NADRA’s checklist to thoroughly evaluate your deck, patio, or balcony.  The organization also recommends that any decks positioned on the second story or higher to be inspected by a qualified professional. 

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