How to Stay Safe While Building a Deck
See our tips on staying safe when adding a deck to your home this summer.
The backyard deck is more than just a place to store your BBQ; it’s a space to enjoy family dinners, entertain friends, or curl up with a good book. In fact, decks are so important to outdoor living that they’ve become a key piece of home design.
A well-constructed deck can serve you well for years. But bad building techniques can cause collapse, and even injury. If you’re thinking of building your own this summer, take a look at our safety tips before picking up that hammer.
Most deck designs require city permission, and going ahead without proper approval could mean hefty fines. For example, in Toronto, a deck over 2 feet high (and more than 108 sq. feet in size) needs a building permit. Obtaining one can require some work, including administrative fees, detailed drawings, and inspections throughout the construction process. As the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to handle the paperwork and get things in order before you start building.
Wear the right safety equipment
Protective gear is a must when doing any kind of construction. A good hard hat, safety glasses and steel-toed boots are essential. If you’re cutting lumber, don’t forget to wear a dust mask, too.
Even though it may be warm out, resist the urge to work in shorts and a t-shirt. Shirts with sleeves and long pants offer better protection. And those steel-toes boots aren’t just for fashion – your feet require real protection, so forget the flip flops for this project!
Understand the importance of stability
Your deck will only be as stable as the foundation it’s built on, so it’s extremely important to lay the proper groundwork beforehand. Most decks are constructed over a pier system that involves digging holes below the frost line, then pouring in concrete to support the posts.
Dig too shallow, and your deck will wobble. In winter, moisture in the ground freezes up, making the soil swell. This triggers something known as frost heave, which will cause your deck to shift. Make sure your holes are dug deep to avoid this during the colder months.
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Choose non-toxic materials
Whenever possible, choose materials that are free of toxic chemicals. Pressure-treated lumber can emit hazardous by-products. Many manufacturers offer composite decking made of recycled plastic that looks like natural wood, but isn’t harmful to your health.
Invest in a stable railing
Never cut corners in this area. Rails are integral to the safety of your deck, and building inspectors check them meticulously to make sure they meet deck building codes. Most structures higher than 2.5 feet must have guardrails with a minimum height of 36 inches. Your rail should be able to withstand 200 pounds of lateral pressure from anywhere along the top.
Never work alone
Deck building may seem like an enjoyable solo activity, but this kind of project is always safer with a partner (or two). Carrying lumber, securing joists, and building stairs are often two-person jobs. Aside from having an extra pair of hands, working with a buddy means you can warn each other of obstacles and call for help in an emergency.
Once your deck is built, get a professional to assess it ever so often. They’ll be able to identify and rule out any structural problems that may not be obvious to a homeowner. By receiving confirmation from a pro, you can enjoy your deck with peace of mind for years to come.