Ensure Your Deck is Safe This Summer: Top Reasons for Deck Collapses and Failures


Summer is just around the corner, and nobody loves summer quite like Canadians. After a long, cold winter, who doesn't look forward to spending time outdoors with family and friends?

But - is your deck safe for your summer gatherings? We've provided a list of top reasons decks collapse or fail - here's everything you need to know heading into the summer months.

1. Rotting Wood Deck Boards
Wood rot can happen prematurely to unfinished and exposed wood. When replacing your old wood deck or building a new one, use pressure treated or cedar lumber and finish all exposed wood to prolong the life of your deck. Other decking materials are available such as composite decking which does not rot or require on-going maintenance.

2. Post and Beam Failures
Posts fail when the posts are placed directly in soil without cement piers. Posts often rot to the point where they can no longer support the weight of the deck (structure) or people gathering on the deck. Beams that have been incorrectly installed or poorly maintained could also fail and should be replaced.

3. Fasteners and Joist Hangers
A poorly fastened deck to your home or building can be a dangerous situation. Most of these failures are a result of improper toe nailing (nails placed at an angle) to the deck ledger or lack of adequate lag screws or carriage bolts. Fasteners can corrode and should be inspected yearly. Joist failures usually do not cause the entire deck to collapse but in the situation where your deck is located higher off the ground such as off the second floor it could result in a serious injury.

4. Preventative Maintenance
An unwashed deck is an invitation for mould and mildew to grow. This can cause premature decay of the wood. It is important have a routine in place to inspect the condition of the wood. After the winter season you should also check for loose nails or screws and routinely seal the wood. Sticking to a preventative maintenance schedule can eliminate expensive repairs or deck collapse.

5. No Permits
Building a deck in Canada without an appropriate permit can be problematic. It can result in significant fines, or even a potential lawsuit should someone become hurt from a failed component on the deck.

6. Lack of Flashing
Flashing is an important part in deck construction. While everything may appear on the surface to look just fine, without the installation of flashing your home or deck could be secretly rotting behind the scenes, causing significant damage.

7. Missing, Loose or Improper Railings
Railings are crucial on decks that sit 24" above the ground. In older homes some guard rails were built short and don't meet the current building code thus posing a threat to someone that may sit on the rail and accidently fall to the ground. If you have an older home, it is important to update your railings and spindles to ensure a maximum of 4" between each spindle.

Railing failures cause more injuries than any other part of a deck. The railings typically fail if they were installed incorrectly, do not have the correct exterior fasteners (screws, lags etc.) or were modified. Check with your local building department for building codes.

8. Pest Damage
Inspect your deck for pest damage and ensure you are treating any areas of concern. Termites, carpenter ants, beetles and rodents can cause structural damage and holes in the wood.

A great deck can take backyard entertaining to a new level, but it's crucial you ensure your deck is safely constructed and properly maintained. If you're looking for an expert to assist you with a thorough deck inspection, look for a CAHPI Home Inspector in your area.

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