Planning to install a deck? Here’s how to keep it safe

Planning to install a deck? Here’s how to keep it safe
safety tips installing a deck

If you’re thinking of building a second-story deck, maybe that viral video of the Indiana family tumbling 15 feet after their deck collapsed comes to mind? But highly rated deck builders say there’s nothing to fear, as long as your contractor pulls building permits, and your deck is built to local standards.

Why building codes matter

Local building codes provide specific, up-to-date instructions for optimal safety, and require inspections by code enforcement agents.

“If the contractor wants to avoid it, then that to me puts up a red flag,” says Mark Dillon, owner of highly rated Evergreen Fence & Deck of Brookeville, Maryland.

Contractors who don’t follow code can and do build stable decks, but what reassurance do you have other than the contractor’s word, asks Ralph Ford, owner of highly rated DeckMasters of Greenwood, Indiana. Without a code inspection to evaluate every aspect of the deck build, the homeowner must rely on the builder’s knowledge. Ford says it isn’t an ideal situation, as some deck builders are ignorant of code requirements.

“For homeowners, it’s the perfect insurance,” Dillon adds.

Ensure a strong foundation

Whether it’s a second- or third-story deck, or even one built on the ground level, the deck should support itself, and not rely on the house for structural support. Deck builders say some outdated codes allowed decks to rely on the support of the home, making them more likely to collapse.

“I have actually repaired a few decks over the years that just gave way from the house,” Ford says.

Other considerations for building a deck

Builders say newer decks tend to last about 15 to 20 years compared to the 40- to 50-year life span for decks built in the 20th century, which they credit to a change in chemicals used to process wood. The life span also depends on the deck’s placement. Decks in full sun may see deterioration on the floorboards, but the structure should remain dry. A deck in full shade can hold in moisture, which causes wood rot. Deck pros recommend applying a protectant stain to prevent both issues.

After installation, both Ford and Dillon suggest checking the structure periodically for weak spots in the flooring, movement and rotting wood.

“The floor boards always decay before the frame does,” Ford says. “When you start having decay in your deck floor, it will not get by you. After a while, decks just start to decay no matter how well they’re built.”

For more information, please visit the Angie's List Guide to Decks and Porches.

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