How Safe is a Twenty-Year-Old Wood Framed Deck?

How Safe is a Twenty-Year-Old Wood Framed Deck?

May is Deck Safety Month, and we’re coming up on grilling season, so we thought it is an appropriate time to discuss this common backyard installation.

We receive phone calls and emails about aging systems in people’s homes all the time. “How long do you think it will last?” is the question most often asked.  The answer, of course, is that it depends. The answer “it depends” will be a function of the quality of the original construction and materials used to build the deck, along with the care the system has had over the last nineteen years.

Note that we referred to the deck as a “system” rather than a collection of “parts”. While it is true a deck is made up of parts, the longevity largely depends on each component functioning well within the system to enable us to determine how safe the deck is at this junction.

Most people would agree that a twenty-year-old deck is pretty old. Consider that this twenty-year-old deck has been out in the weather for all that time. I don’t know about you, but if I was out in the weather for twenty years I’d be in rough shape.

For purposes of this article, we will assume the deck was originally well built and has been cared for annually. Given that, one of the most important things to remember when inspecting an aging deck is that as wood ages, it weathers, checks, and cracks, thereby weakening the system. So, it is reasonable to assume its strength is something less than when first built.

Also, the flashing, fasteners, and connectors have been in place for that period of time, generally receiving no maintenance. Therefore, one can safely assume some level of compromise here as well.

Finally, the engineering has changed in the last twenty years; the types of connectors and fasteners used by any measure have improved in that time, as have the detailed building directions from both manufacturers and the building codes themselves. Therefore, with good reason, many aged decks built in the 1980s and 1990s have failed, sometimes resulting in serious injury.

What can you do if you have one of these aged systems? Well, there is no shortage of advice to check the safety of a deck, my advice is to call someone who builds or inspects decks for a living.  Many decks can be, and are, rehabilitated extending the life of the system. Generally, if you see evidence of movement, cracking, or loosening and red rust at fasteners or connectors you should take action.

If you are looking for a skilled carpenter, you can check out our Contractor Network. And if you need objective third-party advice, give us a call.

The summer parties are beginning soon; take the time to check the safety of your deck first!