Outdoor decks are a common feature on most homes. Unfortunately, they are also an increasingly common issue in hospital emergency rooms. In the past five years alone, about 30 deaths and 300 personal injuries have been linked to decks and experts expect that number could grow. Most homeowners do not realize that decks have an expected life span of 10 to 15 years. Decks have been a popular feature of homes for about two decades now, so many decks out there are past their prime, and many homeowners do not realize the dangers lurking in their own backyards.
As decks age, the wood supports can weaken and rot, eventually leading to collapse. In some cases, pests may get into the wood and compromise the structure of a deck. Boards can become loose and nails and screws may rust or fall out. Unless a homeowner checks their deck carefully, however, these changes and dangers may not be obvious until it is too late.
According to the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University, deck accidents are very preventable. Professional, licensed home inspectors, for example, can quickly tell a homeowner whether a deck is safe or whether it needs some repairs to be safe. If it has been a few years since your deck was installed, call a qualified inspector. New safety codes may be in place that make parts of your deck obsolete.
Most experts also agree that if you buy a new home, you should have the deck carefully inspected before you step out on it. Many decks are DIY projects and while many homeowners build perfectly safe and sound decks, construction varies widely. If the previous homeowner knew little about building but wanted to quickly put together a deck to make the home more attractive to buyers, you could be in trouble if you assume that your deck is safe.
An unsafe deck can cause anything from skin injures (caused by splinters or undismayed pieces of wood) to serious, permanent injuries. If the deck collapses while you are on it, you could sustain brain injury, broken bones, spinal cord injury, and other serious injuries. If your deck is made from certain pieces of pressurized lumber, it could pose a hazard to your health. If someone else is injured on your deck, you could be held liable. It pays to exercise caution.
Even if your deck was safe last year, you still need to inspect it carefully. The ground under the deck may have eroded, causing the deck to shift. Pests might have moved into the wood or under the deck. Moisture from rains and weather might have caused pieces of wood to rot. In some cases, dry weather can cause the wood to crack. When checking your deck, look for corrosion, rot, loose nails or connections, and cracks. Any one of these may be a sign that it’s time for a professional inspection.