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5 Steps to a Safer and Stronger Deck

Rochester Home Inspections, collapsed deck

Most experts agree that the average life expectancy of a wood deck is 10 to 15 years. There are millions of decks in the U.S. that are beyond their useful life and may be unsafe. Since 2003, deck collapses have caused thousands of reported injuries* and several deaths.

As you evaluate the safety and construction of your new or existing deck, knowing these simple steps will help to ensure your deck is structurally sound and properly maintained. We’ve included a list of warning signs, so you’ll know what to keep an eye out for on your deck.

1. Check Out Your Deck
The first step in making your deck safe is knowing that it may not be. Decks are potentially the most dangerous part of the house, according to some experts. Factors, such as improper construction, exposure to the elements and lack of maintenance can make your deck unsafe. It’s important to look for warning signs. If you are unsure about the safety of your deck, consult with a professional such as a
structural engineer or contractor.

2. Carry the Weight
For most homeowners, the deck is a popular gathering place for friends and family. Like a house, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people and objects placed on it as well as the forces of Mother Nature like wind, snow and earthquakes. Knowing how weight and other forces can affect the safety of your deck is important. There are three types of forces that put pressure on your deck, causing strain to the critical connections that keep it together:

• Gravity – downward pressure typically caused from people standing on the deck or snow and ice.

• Lateral – a back and forth (horizontal) motion caused by people walking on the deck and/or leaning on a railing. Wind and earthquakes also can create lateral movement.
• Uplift – wind flows under the deck creating a lifting effect. People standing on the overhang of the deck also creates upward pressure on the connection that attaches
the deck to the adjacent support structure, which is typically your home.

3. Create a Path
A continuous load path, that is. A continuous load path is a method of construction that uses metal connectors to create a series of solid connections within the structure of the deck. This path transfers the load or weight of the deck through its frame and into the ground and adjacent support structure (typically your home). If your deck is built with a continuous load path, it will be better equipped to resist the forces that can weaken your deck.

4. Combat Corrosion

Decks and the metal hardware that keeps them connected and safe are exposed to the elements every day. Over time, metal connectors, screws and nails can corrode and weaken the structure of your deck, especially if the right product is not used. If you live in an area prone to moisture, such as along the coast or near bodies of water, the risk of corrosion is much higher. Chemicals in pressure-treated woods and
other corrosive elements also can damage your deck. Using connectors, screws and nails that are made from stainless steel is the best way to combat corrosion. When choosing connectors, take into account where you live and how weather and the environment may affect your deck. For critical information about corrosion and connector selection, visit

5. Maintain a Safe Deck
Just like other parts of your home, regular maintenance and inspection are required. To prolong the life of your deck, you need to check for things like loose boards or protruding nails. You also should keep your deck clean from debris and depending on the type of deck boards used, keep them sealed to protect against water and sun damage.

Is Your Deck Unsafe?
Look for the 5 Warning Signs

If you see any of these warning signs you should consider repairing, retrofitting or rebuilding your deck.

1. Missing Connections:
A deck should be built using a series of wood members, nails, screws and metal connectors to create a continuous load path (see image on right). Look at how your deck is built—if all you see is nails, your deck may be unsafe.

2. Loose Connections: Depending on how the deck was built, vital connections may have degraded over time due to various factors. Issues such as wobbly railings, loose stairs and ledgers that appear to be pulling away from the home are all causes for concern.

3. Corrosion of Connectors and Fasteners:
Metal connectors, nails and screws can corrode over time. Look for red rust and other signs of corrosion that can weaken the structure of your deck.

4. Rot:
Wood can rot and degrade over time with exposure to the elements. Wood
members within the deck frame that have rotted may no longer be able to perform
the function for which they were installed, making your deck unstable.

5. Cracks:
As wood ages, it is common for cracks to develop. Large cracks or excessive cracking overall can weaken your deck.

Repairing or Retrofitting an Existing Deck

If you’ve determined your deck is unsafe, you’ll need to either repair or retrofit it or in some cases, rebuild it altogether. If rebuilding your deck is not feasible, there are
improvements you can do on your own to strengthen your deck. However, some cases may require the professional services of an engineer and contractor.Remember, when hiring a professional, be sure they are licensed and have a good reputation. Once the work is done, don’t forget about your deck—it needs to be checked and inspected on a regular basis.

The Simpson Strong-Tie® Deck Framing Connection Guide can help you through the process of making your deck safe, secure and code compliant. You can download the guide or request a copy at

*Based on data collected by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s
National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

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