Whether you are building your own deck, hiring a professional or want to inspect your existing deck, there are some basic structural do’s and don’ts to follow. If you are building a new deck please don’t cut corners. Building your deck to code and with proper materials and fasteners will save you money in the long run and, more importantly, will ensure the safety of your family and friends for years to come.

Here are the basics

1. Properly installed flashing material.

Properly installed flashing protects the ledger from water damage. If water penetrates the space between the deck and the ledger, the ledger will begin to rot and decay. This is a problem regardless of the material being used. Water rot on the ledger is one of the number one indicators of an impending collapse. It’s not a matter of if, but when!

2. Properly attach the ledger with appropriate fasteners

Check to see how you or the builder fastened the ledger to the rim joist. If it was fastened with nails, then you need to upgrade. Using nails to fasten the deck to the house is a recipe for disaster. Eventually those nails will succumb to the weight of the deck and a collapse is imminent. You should replace the nails, one by one, with ½” diameter hot-dipped galvanized lag screws and be sure to use washers for a secure fit. These screw types are coated with as much zinc as possible. The exceptionally thick coating results in high corrosion resistance. They are expensive but, again, they ensure a safely constructed deck.

3. Inspect the joists hangers and fasteners

Regular fasteners such as common nails and screws are designed for interior applications, but they are not made to build a deck. When it comes to building a deck a professional and reputable builder will use galvanized joist hangers and hot-dipped joist fasteners.

If you are building a new deck, use materials that are specifically made for decking. Don’t skimp here; saving a little money will compromise the integrity of the deck. If your deck was fastened with common nails, you will want to upgrade to proper hangers and fasteners.

4. Inspect the stairway and handrail system

Wobbling posts and handrails need to be rebuilt or reinstalled soon. It doesn’t require much force for someone to lean against a weak railing and fall and become injured. Like other features of the decking system, common nails are insufficient for deck stairs. Instead, upgrade to stringer-to-deck joist hangers with galvanized screws and bolts.

These features may cost more money, but ultimately these improvements will extend the life of your deck and ensure the safety of others.

If you are building a new deck, you are responsible for making sure that your deck conforms to local building codes. If you have questions, call your local building department for more information. If you feel that your deck was improperly installed or the builder cut corners you will want to contact a reputable builder or inspector. And if you visually see defects, keep your family and friends off of the deck until it has been properly repaired!