Deck Inspection: Checklist for Framing, Footings and More

Your deck acts as the center of your home’s outdoor entertainment activities. From cookouts and game night to sunbathing and outdoor movie watch parties, your deck is worth its weight in creating memorable moments for your family. That’s why it’s vital to inspect your deck and ensure that your deck is safe and up to regulatory codes so you can get the most enjoyment from it.

On average, a professional deck inspection of the condition and strength of your deck’s guardrails should be implemented every two years, and the deck surface should be cleaned at least annually to extend its lifespan and aesthetic. After all, a deck may seem like a fairly simple build, but just like your home, it undergoes high levels of stress throughout the year, including load-bearing situations, normal wear and tear, and extreme weather damage. Check out our deck inspection checklist below.

Deck Safety: What to Look Out For

Unlike the inside of your home, your deck is left to face the harsh elements of the outdoors all year long. Being exposed to extreme heat and cold can take a toll on even the most well-maintained decks. Having a professional inspector take a look at your deck can help you determine any critical problems with your deck. From there, you can use your inspector’s report to determine what is needed for repairing your deck.

With that in mind, when you or a professional inspector check to see if your deck is up to spec, here are a few key things to look out for regarding your deck’s overall safety.

Insect Damage

Most modern-day decks are made of wood that’s treated with chemicals to keep the bugs away. As a result, certain ants and termites are more likely to get into the framework and literally start pulling the deck away from the house.

You can check for this by noting whether or not your deck has any movement when you first step out onto it. If you notice a slight sway when you walk out, then you should get a professional inspector to come out and give it a thorough walk-through to check for insect vulnerabilities.

Rusted Fasteners, Connectors & More

One of the biggest factors in determining whether your deck is safe and sound is one that you can’t outwardly see. That’s why it’s important to look under your deck to ensure that your fasteners, connectors and joists are all in good shape. That includes making sure that the nails, bolts, screws and other metal connector pieces aren’t rusted and compromised. If it’s rusty underneath your deck, you should have an inspector come out to look at it with a trained eye.

Cracks & Rotting

It’s no surprise that after extended use, wood tends to crack. And small cracks aren’t anything to be alarmed about, so long as they don’t continue to grow. The biggest crack factor to keep an eye on for your deck’s safety are any cracks located around fasteners and between joists. These types of imperfections can exploit weaknesses in your deck, leading to serious problems down the line if not properly treated.

Regularly sealing and staining your deck every 2-3 years can help reduce cracking from water, cold and heat exposure. And if you do have a cracked floor board that keeps growing, replacing deck boards is your best safety option. The same tactic applies to wood deck rot. If you have a noticeable portion of boards that are rotting, you’ll want to replace those for both safety and aesthetic purposes.

Unsturdy Railing

Fairly self-explanatory, but if your railing is loose, then you need to fix it. That last thing you want is for someone to fall walking down the steps or from leaning on the guardrail. To make sure your railing remains sturdy, a good rule is to not sit on it or allow guests to sit on it. If people are sitting on your railing, then you need to consider getting more deck furniture.

Mold & Mildew Exposure

Every deck will develop a bit of a green tint from some mildew during its lifespan, and frequent washing and staining will help prevent growth. Mold, on the other hand, is nothing to take lightly. If you notice a fuzzy or mushroom-like growth on your deck, immediate attention is required as it could just be a “tip of the iceberg” situation. You should also be aware that your deck’s steps are the most susceptible to mildew growth, which can make them slippery, compromising deck safety.

Deck Inspections

Deck Framing Inspection

Decks that are low to the ground will often require a framing inspection before the decking is applied to allow the inspectors to check the construction of the structure. When all your work is completed, you will also need to pass a final inspection before the permit can be closed. If you fail an inspection, you should be given a correction notice for what needs to be fixed before you can pass the inspection. 

Framing inspections are usually only required for decks that are built low to the ground to make it possible for inspectors to their job without crawling under a deck. In these cases you will need to call for an inspection before the decking is installed so the framing is visible from above the deck. They will be verifying that you are building precisely what your plans indicated. Are you using the same size and type of wood as you specified? Is the joist spacing correct?

Inspectors will also be looking closely at the specific connections as they are assembled across the frame. They will want to see that you are using the proper joist hangers and they are not missing any fasteners. They will also be interested in seeing how well your beams are connected to your support posts.

Inspectors will be checking your framing to make sure it is consistent with your plans. They will be checking joist and beam spacing and all hardware connections.

It’s important to note that a professional isn’t always around to check your framing safety. That’s why it’s your duty as a deck owner to inspect your deck’s frame frequently to ensure there are no safety vulnerabilities. To check the framing of your deck, you can perform the “pick test” on your deck posts to indicate areas of decay or rot. If the wood slowly bends and doesn’t splinter much upon breaking, then you may have decaying wood that will need to be addressed.

Deck Footing Inspection

Never pour concrete until after your footings have passed inspection. In order to pass your footing inspection, you will need to have an inspector measure to verify that the holes' base sizes and depths meet the specifications of the approved plans. The holes must also be free of loose dirt and water. If you have water in your holes, you may try to pump the water out or allow them to dry out over a couple of days. If you are not going to be able to attend the inspection, you will need to post the inspection card and approved plans in an accessible place for the inspector to sign off on. Once the holes have been signed off on you can get ready to finish building your footings. Contractors can save a lot of time on a project by coordinating prompt footing inspections following excavations.

Schedule your footing inspections before you start mixing and pouring your concrete foundations.

It’s important to note that even after your initial footings are inspected prior to building, you’ll want to continue to inspect them long after use. As a solid part of your deck’s foundation, your footings are responsible for securely supporting your deck. In cases where footings are compromised, it’s most likely due to the fact that they weren't’ made large enough to support the deck in the first place. If you notice the concrete pour around your footings beginning to crack or pull up from the ground, then you should have a professional come out to perform a full inspection.

Professional Deck Inspection Cost

Now that you’re familiar with the most popular items on your deck safety inspection checklist, it’s time to talk hard numbers. When it comes to a professional deck inspection cost, the estimates typically range from as low as $25 for a 30-minute inspection to as high as $199 for an hour inspection, including a structural check, safety check and common building code violations check. Your inspection should be delivered in a comprehensive written report with photos of any outstanding issues.

There’s no substitute for professional deck-building expertise, which is why renown deck inspectors like NADRA or Home Inspector are recommended to make sure your deck is up to par. The longer you take care of your deck, the longer you can enjoy it!

What If My Deck Fails Inspection?

Failing an inspection is not a horrible thing, nor is it anything to be afraid or ashamed of. Experienced tradesmen and amateurs alike can make mistakes or overlook details. An inspector, or any other experienced person, has a completely different perspective coming into a completed stage of the job, and is likely to notice overlooked details that merely blended into the overall project for the builder.

Read over the inspection notice, or better yet, be on site for the inspection. A quick conversation on the spot with the inspector provides much more confidence in making the corrections. Once the identified issues are resolved, call for a re-inspection. If you are unsure of any of the correction items provided by the inspector, it is always best to contact the inspector for more information.