1. Push on railings and banisters to make sure they're secure.
2. Check to make sure they're high enough to keep people safe (most codes require a 36-inch-high railing at minimum).
3. Rails should be no more than 4 inches apart (measured from the inside of the rail) to keep small children and pets from squeezing through. This is especially important if your deck is elevated.
1. Check railings or handrails to make sure they are firmly in place.
2. Check the risers and stringers, the sides of the stairs that hold up the steps, to be certain they are securely attached.
3. If guardrails are used in the staircase, make sure they are no more than 4 inches apart.
4. If the area behind the stair treads is open, the opening should be no more than 4 inches high.
5. Keep stair pathways clear of planters, decor, and other items that present a tripping hazard.
Rot is wood's worst enemy, so check several different areas of the deck to be sure the wood is still sound. This includes the ledger board (where the deck attaches to the house), support posts, joists underneath the deck, deck boards, railings, and stairs.
1. Use a tool such as an ice pick or screwdriver to penetrate the wood. If you can easily push 1/4 to 1/2 inch into the lumber, break off a sliver of wood without splinters, or discover that the wood is soft and spongy; your deck might be decaying. (Solid wood will resist the tool.) Small holes in the wood may indicate insects.
2. Replace the damaged wood to maintain strength and integrity.
1. Make sure the flashing (a metal or plastic guard that directs water away from sensitive areas) is sound and firmly attached.
2. Consider adding or replacing flashing if you notice areas that conspicuously allow water to collect.
1. Tighten any loose fasteners (nails, screws, or anchors) and pound in any nails that have popped up.
2. Rusted or corroded fasteners need to be replaced because they can cause the surrounding wood to deteriorate.
3. The deck and stairs should appear even and should not sag, sway, or move when tested.
1. Clean away leaves and debris that can be slippery and promote mildew.
2. If mildew is present, or the deck coating has worn away, clean and apply a new waterproofing coating (which will help prevent split or decayed wood and loosened fasteners).
1. Make sure any source of fire is placed far away from flammable surfaces. (Or protect the deck surface with a nonflammable pad.)
2. Follow manufacturers' directions for using heaters.
3. Never leave candles unattended.
1. Make sure all lighting fixtures work.
2. Clean light covers to allow maximum light to shine through.
3. Trim any plants or tree limbs that may block light. Make sure all electrical outlets, appliances, and other features are up to code, in good condition, and childproof if children will be present.
4. Make sure electrical cords do not present a tripping hazard.
1. Avoid placing seating right at the end of the deck.
2. Test all outdoor furniture to make sure each piece is sturdy.
3. Test chains and ropes attached to swings or hammocks to make sure they're secure.
4. Consider installing childproof latches on any storage boxes and benches.
5. Keep all deck-related chemical products (including lighter fluid, matches, and cleaners) stored safely away from children and pets.
If you have trees overhanging your deck, make sure there's no danger of decaying limbs breaking free and dropping into the party area.