Check your deck before Santa’s sleigh touches down

14 December 2018

Is your deck strong enough to hold Santa, his sleigh and all nine of his reindeer? 

Did you know that a male reindeer weighs about 200kg and the minimum load-bearing limit for some decks is 300kg per square metre? So nine reindeer, a sleigh full of presents and a not-very-slim Santa would certainly test the strength of the sturdiest Queensland deck. 

The Queensland Building and Construction Commission’s (QBCC) gift to Queenslanders this Christmas is an urgent reminder about deck maintenance before the busy barbecue and party season at this time of year. 

QBCC Commissioner Brett Bassett said home owners should check their decks now. 

“Anyone with a deck should check that it’s safe,” Mr Bassett said. 

“For homes built before January 2000, it’s worth getting a builder to inspect its structural integrity and ensure it complies with the current code. 

“Deck collapses in the 1990s caused a re-examination of the building code and further developments to the Australian Standards around deck compliance. 

“One of the changes made in January 2000 was that decks over one-metre high need to have an additional floor loading equivalent to about 300kg of force per square metre, or about five people per square metre.” 

Mr Bassett said the building codes were changed partly because of the Australian culture and climate. 

“Summer is the time of year that we love to get out on our decks with family and friends,” he said. 

“If you are planning on having guests on your deck, now is the time to get it checked. 

“Decks and balconies require regular and effective maintenance to help ensure their long-term safety. The frequency of this maintenance depends on the materials, type of finish, climate and the degree of exposure to the weather.” 

Here are the key areas to look at when undertaking a deck check: 

Fixings - Fixings, including post brackets, should be free from rust, bending or fractures. 

Rust may occur more rapidly if you live in a coastal region, although there are products that can be applied to metal fixings or components to slow or prevent this process. 

For a weather-exposed deck or balcony, all fixings such as nuts, bolts, screws and nails should be metal with non-corroding properties. In most cases, hot-dipped galvanised fasteners should be used; however, in some highly-corrosive coastal atmospheres, stainless steel fixings will be needed. 

Check for bending or stress of post brackets. In most cases, these brackets will be above ground level which will make visual inspection easier. 

Inspect nuts, bolts, screws and nails for signs of deterioration. These fasteners can be integral to the deck or balcony, and need to be free from deterioration. Rusting metal can be easier to find as it may leave a mark on the connecting timber or paint. Identify, repair and replace these areas as soon as possible. 

During an inspection, it is also good practice to remove bolts to see their internal condition. 

Posts - Deterioration and subsequent failure of posts can result in death or serious injury to people and damage to property. Timber should be treated appropriately if in the ground or be of a species that will not degrade in soil. 

Check timber posts for decay where bearers and other timbers are in contact with posts. Signs of decay include a fungus-type growth on the timber, timber becoming spongy and fibrous, and failure of the timber. Steel posts in the ground should be checked for signs of rust and deterioration as water can pool around these areas. 

Bracing - Bracing is often used to support a deck or balcony, helping prevent it from moving under load. 

Decks and balconies can come under considerable stress from swaying or twisting. It is important to inspect any bracing of a deck or balcony to ensure there has not been any excessive structural movement. If bracing fails, there is a significant risk of harm being caused to people and property. 

Check for warped, cracked or damaged bracing elements, fixings that are coming loose or deteriorating, and cracked or rusted welds. 

Bearers and joists - Bearers support the joists, which in turn support the decking. To maintain the integrity of the decking, it is vital for bearers and joists to be in good condition and free from defects, such as warping, cracking and decay. 

Ledgers or pole plates - Decks and balconies are often attached to the main external walls of the house or other structure, such as a pool, by supporting joists or bearers off ledgers or pole plates. 

Ledgers and pole plates must have adequate structural connections to their supporting structure, which may mean connecting them through the external wall cladding to the structural frame of the house. 

While it is common for brick veneer houses with a deck to just use a masonry fastener (expanding anchor) to connect the ledger or pole plate, this is not usually an acceptable or structurally adequate connection. 

Decking boards - Decking boards are the direct link between inhabitants and the structure, and timber boards should be regularly inspected for decay. Signs of decay include a fungus-type growth on the timber, timber becoming spongy and fibrous, and failure of the timber. Using a screwdriver or chisel to poke suspect timber can assist in identifying decay. 

Call in a professional 

If you are planning to carry out renovation or repair work on your deck or balcony, make sure you choose a QBCC-licensed contractor. 

After you have any work done on your deck or balcony, remember to take photos once the work has been completed. Photos are useful reference points when carrying out later inspections to identify any changes or movement of components. 

You may also wish to have your deck checked by an appropriately licensed contractor. 

Find a licensed contractor using the QBCC’s free online licensee search or call 139 333.

Contact: 

Please call 139 333.