It has been nearly four years since a high-profile deck collapse killed 13 people during a summer party in Chicago, yet an estimated 20 million decks across the country are still in danger of collapse. University researchers, the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) and Simpson Strong-Tie kick off a campaign today to educate homeowners about how to protect themselves from deck failure. The campaign coincides with the start of Deck Safety Month.
In the past five years there have been more than 350 reported injuries and 17 deaths as a result of deck failures. Millions of decks are built incorrectly, have not been properly maintained or are beyond their lifespan of approximately 10-15 years, depending on the construction materials used and the location of the deck.
"The deck is the most dangerous part of the house," warns Dr. Don Bender, a deck safety researcher and director of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University. "However through proper design, construction and maintenance, most deck failures are completely avoidable."
To evaluate the safety of their decks, deck owners should look for five warning signs that a deck is unsafe: loose connections (for example, a wobbly railing), missing connections (for example, the deck is just nailed to the side of the house), corrosion, rot and cracks. The two critical areas in a deck collapse are typically the deck's connection to the house and the railings.
"Deck safety is a growing concern among professionals in the building community," said Mike Beaudry, executive director of NADRA. "As Americans head onto their decks to enjoy the weather, they may not realize the risk their deck poses to family and friends."
To ensure the structural safety of a deck, it should be built with a continuous load path-a method of construction that creates a series of solid connections within the structure of the deck that transfers the load through its frame to the ground and adjacent support structure, commonly the house. If deck owners are unsure of the safety of their deck, they should call a professional contractor for an inspection.
"It is critical that all deck owners be familiar with the warning signs and contact a professional engineer or contractor with questions," said Steve Pryor, P.E., S.E., building systems research & development manager for Simpson Strong-Tie. "Having the deck inspected will help identify problem areas and provide peace of mind as summer kicks into gear."
To assist homeowners in evaluating the safety of their deck, Simpson Strong-Tie, a leader in innovative structural products, has developed a deck version for its series of homeowner guides, "5 Steps to a Safer and Stronger Home." The five steps include checking for the warning signs of an unsafe deck, knowing how weight and other forces affect the safety of a deck, ensuring the deck is built with a continuous load path, combating corrosion and knowing how to maintain a deck to prolong its life.
Simpson Strong-Tie manufactures metal connectors, such as joist hangers and other hardware used to secure the structural frame of homes and decks. Simpson Strong-Tie uses highly specialized equipment to model and test a structure's ability to resist earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. This research is used to develop new and improved ways to help builders and homeowners increase the structural safety of their homes.