Many parents would love to build decks onto the backs of their homes, but they worry that their children will play on it too much and injure themselves. Small children at play are prone to injury anywhere, but by taking the right precautions when building your new deck, you can make it a safe environment for your entire family. While supervision is always important when small children are at play, keep the following tips in mind when having your deck designed to make it as child-friendly as possible.
1. Choose Bolts Instead of Nails
No matter what type of decking material you choose, you or your contractor will likely need to use either bolts or nails to join many components of the deck together and to your home. Experts at ThisOldHouse.com advise that bolts should always be used whenever possible.
The magazine examined past deck accidents and came to the surprising finding that almost every deck that caused injury by collapsing was held together with nails instead of bolts. The reason bolts lead to a more stable deck is that they resist pressure from several directions instead of just one. While a nail can be loosened and pulled straight out with enough force, bolts are much more resistant to this force.
2. Install Child-Proof Railings
The right railings around your deck are very important. First, choose a very durable material that is not prone to splintering or warping. Aluminum railings are a great choice. Then, make sure the bars of the railing are spaced no more than 4 inches apart. Bars spaced too wide can lead to children getting their heads stuck or slipping between them.
Also make sure any space under the railing is no higher than 4 inches. Around the main deck, the higher the railing you choose, the safer it can be for your children, but the minimum height required for safety is 36 inches.
You will also want to install rails along steps or ramps that lead onto the deck from the ground. You don't want these rails to be too high, as they need to end at a good height for little hands to hold onto. The standard 36 inches is a great height for stair railings, and make sure there is a handrail on top that is easy for small hands to grip. Aluminum rails are good,
3. Choose Vinyl Instead of Wood
Many people like the appearance of wood decks, but when you have small children, vinyl decking may be a safer option. Wood is prone to rotting and warping, and a wood deck showing any signs of rot can be dangerous to anyone on it, including adults and children.
Wood can also splinter, and while adults may be wise enough not to rub their hands on wood that shows signs of splintering, any parent knows that children love to touch everything they can. With consistent maintenance and frequent repairs at the first signs of any damage, wood decks can be kept relatively safe. However, most busy parents are better off choosing vinyl decking that will not become dangerous without constant maintenance.
4. Consider a Deck Roof or Awning
Since your family will likely want to spend as much time as possible enjoying your deck after installation, remember that any time spent outdoors exposes everyone to the sun's harmful rays. Consider a deck with a roof or an awning over it to protect your children's delicate skin from too much sun exposure.
While you may think you don't need a deck cover, because you plan to slather your child in sunscreen before your family spends time on your deck, remember that this will quickly turn into a monotonous chore that your child will grow to resent. A deck cover can make your life easier as a parent, as you won't have to battle to get your child to wear sunscreen on days he or she is insistent on skipping it.
You should always be with your child providing proper supervision when he or she is on your new deck. Even so, supervision cannot prevent every injury that could occur on a deck that is not built safely or built out of the wrong materials. Follow these tips for designing a deck that is safe for the entire family.