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When spring is in the air, buds begin to unfurl their bloom, bees hum for honey, and birds get busy.

It's only natural that our thoughts turn to decks.

Decks?

Decks.

Decks get a whole month to celebrate their flat, stiff lives?

Not exactly.

May is Deck Safety Month, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association who along with the Simpson StrongTie company, first rolled out the red carpet for deck safety in May 2006 to make sure you make sure you or you loved ones don't get, well, decked by your deck.

More than 92 million homes in the United States have a porch, deck, balcony or patio, and experts say that an astonishing 20 million of them are in need of immediate replacement or repair.

The association says between August 2004 and December 2005, the U.S. news media reported 225 injuries and one fatality from deck collapses. Many more deck failures -- with and without injuries -- went unreported.

Simpson, which offers an interactive, online "Critical Deck Connections" and "What You Need To Know To Make Your Deck Strong And Safe", reports that the average life expectancy of a deck is 10 to 15 years and requires frequent inspection.

You or a qualified inspector should give your deck the once over to evaluate its safety and construction and to be certain it is structurally sound and properly maintained.

The association offers a"Manual For The Inspection Of Residential Wood Decks And Balconies" and a "Check Your Deck Consumer Checklist" and says pay special attention to warning signs your deck may be about to give way.

The signs include:

  • Rotted, split or decaying wood. Typically found where the deck attaches to the home, in support posts and joists under the deck, in deck boards, railings and stairs. Rotted, split or decaying wood weakens the structure and raises the possibility of collapse. Keep in mind, wood naturally cracks with age, but a deck with cracks throughout or large cracks in portions indicates major weakness.
  • Missing, loose or corroded fasteners and connections. Decks should have a redundant system of nails, screws, connectors, anchors and fasteners supporting the structure. Look for loose and missing parts, rust, a shaky handrail and stairs that sway or sag.

Generally, a state licensed or trade group certified home inspector can give your deck a once over and while on the job can inspect your whole home for other safety concerns, says the association.

However for elaborate deck systems a structural engineer may be warranted. Repairs and maintenance are a job for a professionally licensed, insured and bonded deck builder or other like-licensed contractor experienced in the work.

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