There are many areas of a home to check when undergoing a property inspection. Many concerns arise when considering the inside of a home, but it is important to remember the outside as well. For prospective home buyers, or someone looking to make home repairs and renovations, always pay attention to the structural safety of decks.

This section of a home can be one of the most relaxing, but it can also be dangerous. Many aspects factor into to the structural security, and a professional home inspection can provide insight into any dangerous situations. Don't make financial commitments to a home without first understanding the integrity of outdoor structures.

Stay on top of any deck problems

A deck is a wonderful addition to a home, and is a place where the family can spend time and relax. A deck can also become dangerous, though, with several elements that could create a potentially hazardous situation.

One way to ensure it's a safe and secure area: start by keeping the deck clean. Dirty and grimy wood surfaces can make spotting any structural weaknesses more difficult, and good deck maintenance can also help stop any problems from appearing in the first place. Purchase a quality pressure washer, and clean regularly to keep a deck spotless. Be careful to avoid damaging the wood, since pressure washers provide a lot of force in a concentrated area. Once a deck is cleaned properly call in a professional property inspection, and make sure there are no lingering problems. 

Additionally, it's best to replace any damaged wood as soon as possible. Don't let any rotted boards linger for too long. A thorough deck cleaning can help a homeowner notice any flaws, and bad wood can lead to structural weakness and other safety hazards. Make sure to drive down any nails that are sticking up. This is especially important if there are any small children or pets in the family.

There are protective finishes for homeowners looking to give that deck an extra layer of safety. Choosing the right one depends on the age and current quality of the wood, and horizontal applications to decks last a shorter amount of time compared to vertical surfaces. There are oil-based and water-based products, and it mostly comes down to preference. Water-based coatings clean up fast, when oil-based ones require solvents - but can be applied with only one coat, instead of two. 

Inspect before you buy

Many homes have decks more than 20 years old, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association. Safety standards for decks change frequently, so it is crucial to have a home inspection done to determine if there are any flaws.

"Many were built before code requirements were in place to protect consumers. Some of these decks may have deck-to-house attachments using only nails," said Mike Beaudry, North American Deck and Railing Association's executive vice president. "Others have become weakened through the years, and the owners don't realize how close to collapse they may be."

Check how the deck is connected to a home, as well as the structural supports. Each state has specific guidelines in regards to deck railing heights, so measure to see if a deck meets the safety code. A too-low railing can increase the concern of people falling off the deck. Another checkpoint is the sturdiness of these railings, look to see if they are strong and don't give or wobble when touched. 

The NADRA offers a list of specific areas to pay attention to. Old wood, loose fasteners, weak railings and stairs, and poor maintenance are all things homeowners or potential home buyers should be aware of.

"Deck failures can be avoided," said Beaudry. "It's a matter of making the consumer aware of the necessity of choosing a professional deck contractor, providing regular maintenance and inspection and knowing the limits of the deck structure."