All Decked Out
by Elyse Umlauf
Getting your deck ready for summer entails more than cleaning the furniture and planting flowers. Here are some considerations:
1. Pre-2004 decks: According to Consumer Reports, if your deck was built before 2004, it could be constructed with lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). CCA is a chemical preservative that was used to protect wood from things like dry rot, molds, and termites. But its arsenic, chromium, and copper content poses a health risk.
2. CCA Options. You could remove and replace a deck with treated lumber or refinish it and seal in the toxins. Consider hiring a professional who has experience handling the wood and the sealants safely.
Tip: Don’t chip, mulch or burn CCA-treated wood, don’t inhale sawdust from treated wood, and wash your hands after handling it.
More safety information at EPA.gov.
3. Inspections. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, most deck collapses are caused by poor construction and age. Confirm that your porch or deck is safe and meets your local building code by hiring an inspector. Find one at HomeInspector.org.
Also see, “A Deck Built to Fail”:
4. DIY safety. The North American Deck and Railing Association offers some DIY resources to help you assess the safety of your deck or porch.
Consult the NADRA site for a complete list of things to check. Here are just some key areas to inspect:
• Is the handrail height 34″-38″?
• Is the handrail graspable?
• Are railing or handrails firmly in place?
• Are there any visible signs of red rust on fasteners or connectors?
Ledger boards. The ledger board is the spot where the deck attaches to the house. Improper connections are a common cause of deck collapses.
Tip: The ledger board should not be fastened just with nails.
Wood decay. Be sure the wood is sound. Check where the deck attaches to the house, support posts, the joists underneath the deck, and deck boards and stairs.
Signs of decay include being able to easily insert a screwdriver ¼ to ½ an inch into the wood and being able to break off slivers of wood without seeing splinters. Spongy wood is also a bad sign.
Support posts. Be sure the connections are tight between support posts and beams under the deck.
Though the next two items come from a company that sells deck products, they do provide clear explanations and images of safe deck construction.