How to Inspect and Repair a Deck
It’s particularly important to closely inspect and repair a deck made from wood, says certified inspector Jeff Frishof of Eagle One Services LLC. Composite decks—made from a blend of plastic and wood—are more durable. You won’t need to paint or stain them, nor do you need to be concerned about insect damage. That said, they do still require regular cleaning, and it’s also important to ensure the structure is secure at least once a year, regardless of materials. Here’s what to do during these annual reviews.
Walk the space.
Some signs that your deck needs repair are obvious. “If a board or railing sags, moves, creaks, or is [clearly] loose as you walk on it, you’ll know you need to repair it,” Busch says. When walking on the deck, it should feel secure, not spongy. And the structure shouldn’t sway, notes the North American Deck and Railing Association.
Investigate underneath, too. This might reveal sagging beams or other damage that isn’t visible from above. Stains or rusting hardware are early signals of needed repairs, Frishof says.
Check railings and balusters.
Rail failure is responsible for more injuries than decks collapsing, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Give a little push and tug on the railing to confirm there isn’t substantial give, recommends certified professional inspector Pete Bagwell. Some building codes require railings to be able to handle 250 pounds of lateral resistance, he notes.
Next, “run your hand along the balusters [the lateral pieces of the railing] like it’s an introductory class to playing the harp,” Bagwell recommends—this will help you identify anything loose that needs to be repaired or replaced.
It’s also a good idea to confirm that the height and spacing of your railings matches local regulations, notes Joe Cummins, director at the National Institute of Building Inspectors, which provides training and technical support for HouseMaster. In California, for instance, railings must be 42 inches in height and the space between balusters should never exceed four inches.
Look for rot.
Inspect the joists under the floorboards for signs of wood rot, such as discoloration or a cracked appearance. “If it sounds hollow or you can easily poke a screwdriver into the area, then it’s time for replacement,” says Bagwell.
As you’re inspecting, keep an eye out for signs of termite damage—such as dark or blistered wood. You should also look for termite tubes, which are narrow, long, and winding mud tunnels that may be close to the house.
Inspect the posts.
Wooden posts should be set in concrete to prevent the bottom of the post from coming in contact with soil, which can cause the wood to rot, says Bagwell. While you’re looking at the posts, confirm there isn’t water from a sprinkler or downspout hitting them, advises InterNACHI.