Deck Safety: Part 1 – Stairs

Deck stairs with split stringer

Deck stairs with split stringer

Information on correctly and safely building a deck for your home is readily available, and yet many decks that we see are just an accident waiting to happen. As a homeowner it is important to ensure that your deck is safe, and to do your best to prevent potential risks to your family and loved ones. No one wants to have a tragedy occur during a backyard barbeque, but an unsafe desk poses just such a risk. There are a number of components that make up a deck, and that need to be maintained to ensure deck safety, however for the purposes of today’s article we are going to focus on the stairs.

Stairs or steps leading to a deck are often one of the most overlooked areas, and pose one of the largest risks. Of the homes that our company inspects that have decks, approximately 80% of the stairs to those decks are not installed or maintained properly. The following are a list of three simple things you can check, or have a contractor check, in order to ensure that your deck stairs are safe.
1. Check the deck stringers, and how they are attached to the treads. Often times these are installed with small deck screws or nails, and are typically installed without tapping or pre-drilling the stringer, which can cause splitting. When the stringer splits, the screw can pull loose, subsequently causing the tread to pop loose while in use. If the stringer is split on your stairs (see photo for example), you should have them replaced. When new treads are installed, make sure that the tread and stringer are pre-drilled so that a split will be less likely to occur again.
2. Check how the stringer is attached to the deck at the top of the stairs. The stringer should be bolted through the side of the deck joist or structural member. There are also designated ‘strong tie’ brackets that can be used to suspend the deck stringers. The stringer should never be toe nailed or screwed. If the stringer is not secured properly the likelihood of the stairs falling becomes very high, and should that occur while someone is walking up or down the stairs, injury is highly likely to occur.
3. The railing on a deck stairway is an incredibly important component, however simply having a railing does not completely mitigate the risk of falling. In order to best utilize your deck railing, it is important to make sure that the railing is graspable. What this means is that a person should be able to grip the rail with their thumb on one side, while still being able to wrap their fingers around the other side. The standard acceptable dimension on a circular railing is between 1-1/4 and 2” in diameter. As with the stringers above, it is also important to ensure that the deck railing is attached in a stable manner to the deck structure, and does not come loose upon having reasonable pressure applied.
The three issues listed above are the most common problems we see with deck stairs, however it is in no way meant to be an exhaustible list of potential safety hazards. It’s always best to have your deck periodically evaluated by a qualified contractor to ensure the highest level of safety for yourself and those who use your deck. With all this gorgeous weather a deck is a great place to spend time, just make sure you are safe while you relax!
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