How does one build a safe deck and why do we hear about decks that collapse?

A: The relative ease of building decks results in the construction of some unsafe decks. Decks are somewhat easier to build than houses but like houses they require some basic structural and safety features. Here are a few examples:

  • The deck structure must be properly bolted to the adjacent house, nailing the ledger board to the house is inadequate.
  • Decks (like houses) need lateral stability. Deck posts and footings can provide great vertical support but very little lateral support. The attachment of the deck to the house structure can provide some of the needed lateral support but other bracing maybe required in order to prevent sideways pressures. Such lateral support can be achieved with various types of metal brackets, wood bracing, stair structures and some railings.
  • Deck railings and staircases are just as important in decks and similar outdoor structures as they are inside the home. Don't want to block the view with railings? Take a look at deck railings made out of tempered glass or metal cables.
  • Barbecues can produce some very high temperatures. Great for some cooking methods but potentially dangerous. Barbecues must be located in a safe location. For example a BBQ on a wood deck should be placed on concrete board or tiled area.
  • GFCI protected electrical circuits are required in all outdoor areas - a great safety feature. This is one more reason to make sure that the wiring on your deck meets code.

The bottom line is that decks tend to be less complicated structures than houses but that does not mean that they can be built without good planing and attention to structural requirements and codes. And there is lots of good help available for such deck projects. Here are some suggestions:

  • Building Departments - most building departments have some on-line and printed information about deck structures. The permit application and inspection processes can also help to make sure that a deck is a safe structure.
  • Books - there are many good deck construction books with construction details and information.
  • Professional Designs and Engineering - sounds too expensive? not if you estimate the total cost of the construction and calculate that a good design costs a small fraction of the project.

So, with a little extra time to design and plan a deck, you can end up with a very safe and long lasting structure.