The leaves in New England are starting to change, the nights are cool and crisp and the days are getting shorter. New Englanders love this time of year, but it also signals the end of baseball, summer barbecues, and hanging out with friends and family on the deck. By the end of October it’ll be time to trade in the gas grill for the snow blower and bring in the outdoor furniture. Many use the last waning warm days of Fall to rake up the leaves, and clean up the yard including the deck. So, we take this time to ask “Is your deck still safe and will it still be safe next spring?” Why? Your deck is about to weather a cold, rainy and snowy winter that will take its toll on your deck. But often as spring returns, we resume our activities on the deck and most people take it for granted that the deck is still safe and solid….until it’s not.

For example, just a few weeks ago, a Massachusetts family had just gathered on their deck following a funeral, when the deck they were all standing on failed. It ripped away from the house sending the deck and everyone on it 8 feet down to the ground below. Fortunately no one was critically injured. Most suffered only cuts and bruises and one suffered a broken bone. But it could have been much worse! Imagine if someone had been standing beneath the deck? Unfortunately, deck collapses like this one occur thousands of times each year in the U.S. and usually the injuries are more serious. A number are even killed each year in deck accidents.

In the case of the family in Massachusetts, it was determined that their deck collapsed as a result of rotted wood.  Improper installation of flashing where the section of the deck connected to the home had allowed moisture to rot the wood until it could longer hold the weight of the deck.

Could such a collapse have been foreseen or prevented? Yes. The first step in avoiding a deck collapse is to be certain that the deck is properly installed in the first place. Second, you should inspect your deck. Some of the signs of a potential collapse can be seen easily, while other things should be inspected by a professional.

What are the common causes of deck collapses?

Excessive weight
Poor installation

Weak or even missing connections

Rotted wood

Corroded hardware
Failure to meet certain safety requirements

So, this year, take a look at your deck. The old saying certainly applies, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although your deck may appear safe it is wise to routinely inspect it. When the spring arrives and you step out onto your deck for the first barbecue of the year, won’t you feel good knowing that your family and friends are safe and secure?

Next time, we’ll explore in more detail how you can visually inspect your deck. When and why you should call a professional inspector, and if you are building a new deck, how to be sure that it is installed properly by you or your contractor.

Until then, enjoy that last fall barbecue and make it a safe one.