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Unlike most features of your home, a deck is outdoors and is subject to the most rigorous of conditions. Hot, cold, wet, dry, wind, foot traffic, swelling and shrinking, expansion and contraction, etc. There is no other feature of your home that suffers such torture. Not even your roof. And just like the roof, decks wear out.
The North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) says the number of aging and failing decks has been increasing at an alarming rate. They say that there are more than 40 million decks in the United States that are older than 20 years with many built before code requirements were in place.
Every year during the warmer season there isn’t a week that goes by without at least one deck collapse somewhere in the United States. A deck collapse that is close to the ground can cause bumps and bruises and sometimes more serious injury. A deck collapse on an upper floor deck or a railing failure can cause major injuries including paralysis and even death. The higher the deck, the greater the potential for serious injury. Deck safety can be a matter of life and death. Just goggle deck collapses and you’ll get a full picture of the gravity of the problem.
According to Don Bender, the Director of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at WSU, the deck is the most dangerous part of the house He’s said, “Decks cause more injuries and loss of life than any other part of the home structure. Except for hurricanes and tornadoes, more injuries may be connected to deck failures than all other wood building component and loading cases combined”.
Because decks look relatively simple to build, many people do not realize that decks are structures that need to be designed to adequately resist certain stresses in addition to withstanding the elements and the ravages of time. Like a house, or any other building, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people and objects placed on them as well as lateral and uplift loads that can act on a deck as a result of wind or seismic activity. But time and the elements take a toll on a deck and the deck structure requiring either its partial or full replacement in a relatively short amount of time. The simple fact is wood deteriorates and rots, even pressure treated wood. And metal connectors corrode and rust.
Existing decks need to have a serious look by a professional periodically. Even decks less than 10 years old if not built properly will absolutely show signs of decay and rust. If left uncorrected such a deck might find its way into the news at some point. Decks that are 20 years old need to have a serious evaluation about its viability. Most should be replaced.