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Originally published Friday, March 30, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Replace deck with safety in mind

Home Fix: Dwight Barnett answers home-improvement questions. This week's topic is on replacing a deck.

Scripps Howard News Service

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Q: I purchased a home with a large wooden deck that has become an expensive maintenance nightmare over the years. The flooring is twisted with large cracks to the wood, and the railing is loose and dangerous. I plan on removing all of the old deck and replacing it to its original design. Are there any tips you can give me before I take on such an expensive project?

A: First, take a lot of photos of the original deck for future reference. Measure the deck's width, length and height from the ground and take all the information to an architect so that the deck can be designed to meet modern code and safety requirements.

The most important thing is the attachment of the wood deck to the home's structure.

The last major defect I discovered on a new home with an exceptionally large deck was the placement of bolts, which secured the deck's ledger board to the home's structure.

A ledger board is attached to the exterior of the home and then the floor joists are attached to the ledger board using joist hangers. Normally, a 2- by 10-inch board is used for the ledger and the bolts are set every 16 inches near the bottom and at the center of the ledger.

But on the home I inspected, the bolts were set approximately 1 inch from the top of the ledger.

All the weight of this deck was now being supported by a ¾-inch piece of lumber — which would eventually shear along the grain of the wood, causing the deck to fail. Make sure the weight of the deck is properly supported to the main structure of the home and support posts are no more than 6 feet apart.

Why is this so important? There are many people injured, some fatally, every year from deck collapses. Make sure your deck meets or exceeds all local and state code requirements.

For the support posts, I prefer to pour a footing for each post and use a metal support on top of the footing to keep the posts above grade. If a post is damaged, it can be easily replaced if it is not buried in the concrete footing. It's important to use the proper fasteners for the metal joist hangers and post bolts. Common house and roofing nails cannot be used on the hangers and posts, as the treated wood will eventually corrode the fasteners.

Stainless-steel or polymer-coated fasteners would be my choice to ensure the safety of the deck, but they will cost you more than the more popular hot-dip zinc-galvanized hangers and fasteners.

Be careful not to mix the different products, as this might start a chemical reaction leading to corrosion and possible failure of the lesser material. I found helpful information on fasteners and suppliers at http://www.deckmagazine.com/article/209.html.

Another major problem I often find concerns the width of the handrail on the deck's stairs. Installers often use a standard 2- by 4-inch or a flat 1- by 6-inch board for the handrail, but neither of these is safe. If you can't grip the handrail on both sides, then you can't stop your fall if you fall or trip on the steps.

Check local building codes for information on the proper sizing of handrails.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or email him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com. Sorry, no personal replies.

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