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Memorial Day weekend is when many people host that first outdoor barbecue, and the deck is where most guests congregate. However, if your deck is old or wasn’t built properly, there is the potential for deck or railing collapses that could lead to serious injuries.

The average life expectancy of a wood deck is around 10 to 15 years, which means that millions of decks in the United States are beyond their useful life and may be unsafe.

“We are seeing fewer customers building decks themselves because of all the code changes and the complexity of deck designs,” said Jeff Frye, sales manager for Dillman and Upton, (248) 651-9411, dillmanupton.com.

But for those who do, Frye said he directs them to review the Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, a booklet based on the Michigan residential building code. He said in addition to building new decks, he is also seeing a demand for customers who want to update their deck by re-skinning the top with new composite boards, but even that generally requires them to pull a permit and follow the new building codes.

According to Dave Czuprenski, a building inspector for Chesterfield Township, (586) 949-5290, chesterfieldtwp.org, guardrails around the deck and railings on stairs are among the biggest safety concerns if not secured properly.

“We give people a handout on deck construction when they pull a permit, but many of them don’t even read it so they don’t do things right.” Czuprenski said.

One of the most common causes for deck failure is ledgers that pull away from the house, resulting in a complete collapse. Attaching the deck to the house is also an area where Czuprenski said the code has changed to make the deck safer and avoid potential for the human shift load factor when too many people are on one side of the deck and it collapses.

“You used to be able to screw the deck into the brick, but now it needs to be attached to the joist inside the house,” he said. “But many people still use the old methods to attach it or have old decks that were attached improperly and could now be unsafe.”

When building a deck, there are a number of critical connection points. Using the proper attachments and brackets is vital to secure these connections.

Fortunately, one of the leading manufacturers of these structural products for decks, Simpson Strong-Tie, strongtie.com, has a wealth of deck safety information available on its website to help the homeowner build the deck properly. However, with all the changes in code and the difficulty in building a deck to make sure it passes inspection, Czuprenski recommends homeowners consider hiring a professional contractor who is familiar with building decks to code.

“There are a lot of things that have changed. The spacing between railing spindles now needs to only be 4 inches apart versus the old 6-inch gap,” he said. “That’s why I recommend people considering hiring a professional to make sure it is built to code.” Czuprenski said.

So before you clean up the deck for the big Memorial Day party, check your deck for improper or loose connections and make sure your railings are secure and not swaying when you lean on them. Now that is how you move to the front of the home improvement class.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, from between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.

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