Home & Garden

Any aging deck should be inspected for safety's sake

Angie Hicks
Angie Hicks MCT

Dear Angie: Our deck is at least 20 years old, and we haven't done much upkeep in the eight years we've lived here. One floorboard is definitely rotten. We want to get an inspection to know if it's safe and sound. — Brenda B., Upper Marlboro, Md.

Dear Brenda: That's a wise decision. Deck builders recommend an annual inspection or safety check for any deck more than 10 years old. Given the age of your deck and your past maintenance habits, you should get your deck inspected as soon as possible.

The North American Deck and Railing Association says more than 40 million decks in the United States are older than 20 years old, with many built before code requirements were in place. Consequently, many decks weren't built strong enough to handle use over time. Thousands of people are hurt on decks every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The higher the deck, the more potential for serious injury. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors estimates that only 40 percent of existing decks are completely safe.

The deck and railing group recommends that deck owners look over their structures once a year. Look for corroded or missing screws and fasteners, split or decaying wood, weak joints, excessive wobbling, missing flashing and weak railings. To check for wood decay, expose the post where it goes into the ground. If you can push a screwdriver into the wood, you probably have a problem.

If your deck needs professional help, NADRA recommends contacting a deck-building professional, who should determine, among other things, whether the ledger — the board that sits against the house and connects to the deck — is properly secured and whether footings are large and strong enough to support the structure.

The cost of a professional deck inspection varies widely, depending on where you live and how detailed the inspection. Prices can range from $25 for a 30-minute review to $199 for a one-hour inspection that includes a structural check, a general safety check and common building code violations delivered in a written report, along with photos of any issues.

You will be paying for knowledge of current codes, deck-building expertise and experience to ensure that your deck won't collapse. The pros we spoke with say you should always get a written inspection report.

You're not obligated to hire the inspection company to do repairs. The written report can be used to get a second opinion or compare repair quotes. You can hire your own contractor or you might be able to do the work yourself.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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