How Safe Is Your Deck?
If you haven't inspected the structure of your deck for some time, it's time to do it now before it becomes a safety hazard for you and your family.
We always featuring advice and tips on maintaining and restoring a deck, but it is a fact that very few homeowners pay particular attention to what is underneath the deck - the structure, and yet this element should be given periodic inspection to ensure it is in good condition to ensure everyone's safety. With this in mind, in this article, we offer advice on what to look for when inspecting the main support structure for a deck.
Decking that is left untreated turns silvery-grey with age, but this isn't always good.
Wear and tear
If the deck is not regularly maintained and no exterior protection is applied, it is not too long before the planks start to show the lack of care. Whereas some prefer this natural aged finish for their deck, the faded timbers become brittle and dried out and are susceptible to cracking and breaking as they lose natural flexibility. If this is what is happening on the top of the deck, you can imagine what the timber looks like underneath.
Look below the surface
As we take a break from summer, this is the time when you can take care of outdoor elements that are used constantly in the summer months as part of your outdoor entertainment. A deck needs to be able to withstand a lot of daily wear and tear and most homeowners only pay attention to the surface of a deck and forget to occasionally inspect the support structure.
The problem with overlooking the support structure for a deck is that it can so easily become unstable or unsafe and there are many reasons for this:
Termites have a voracious appetite for timber and even treated timber can sometimes be susceptible to attack by pests. While it is not always easy to spot termite damage on hidden or concealed timber, you will eventually start to see signs of small piles of sawdust or notice a mouldy smell.
The only way to repair termite damage to a deck structure is to remove and replace infested sections and to be vigorous with ongoing treatment against repeat termite damage.
Pressure-treated wood can rot or be damaged under certain conditions, especially if not regularly treated with a suitable exterior product.
Treated or untreated, dry rot can set in and quickly infest surrounding timbers and because it is a fungus is can soon spread and destroy the timbers that support a deck. The microorganism that is dry rot feeds on the cellulose within the timber and leave behind a dry, brittle wood that is unsafe for use of any kind.
If the deck structure has sunken into the footings or there are pools of water that collect around the deck structure area, this can lead to dry rot. Always inspect around the deck support structure and check that water flows away from the area. As with termite damage, there is no way to repair dry rot and the timber needs to be removed and replaced.
Corroded support elements
Loose or rusted fastenings are the main culprits when deck planks appear loose or wobbly or the entire structure feels unsteady. Loud creaks and groans should not be overlooked as these could indicate damage to the sub-structure.
The problem with decks in South Africa is that many of them are not raised too high from the floor level and are difficult to get into for regular inspections, which is why you need to be on the lookout for any unusual signs that may indicate damage. If visible beams are damaged in any way chances are the damage could be more substantial underneath the structure.
The bottom line
With our extreme climate and use of local timbers for deck building, for example, pine, a deck that is over 10 years old and not in good condition will need to be replaced.
Before doing this, remove sections of decking planks to take a look underneath and give yourself a visual idea of what the support timbers look like.