A wood deck greatly enhances the beauty and functionality of the home's outdoor living space. “Wood is easy to work with, affordable and its beauty can’t be copied,” said Wood, Naturally spokesperson and licensed contractor Kayleen McCabe.

That's why wood is the go-to surface for creating a functional and appealing outdoor living space, used on 70% of the 40 million U.S. residential decks. Softwood decking species like redwood, cedar and pressure treated pine are especially popular. Nearly all of those decks are also framed with wood.  

Like anything used outdoors, wood decking and framing needs regular TLC. The good news is that a wood deck that's properly maintained, with annual safety checks and periodic refinishing, can last twice as long as a neglected deck, with a life expectancy of up to 20 years.  The challenge for deck contractors is how to interest homeowners in inspecting—and if necessary repairing or replacing—their decks.

The three main approaches are an annual professional inspection, a self-inspection, and a presale inspection. Each has its place in the contractor's toolbox.

1. The Professional Service. Contractors can offer a yearly inspection and maintenance service includes cleaning the deck surface, refreshing the finish, and inspecting the structure. Anyone offering this should get a copy of the American Wood Council's DCA 6 Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, which provides guidance on the International Residential Code's deck requirements. The Guide also includes provisions that, while not part of the code, are considered good practice. It's an indispensible reference for anyone working on decks.

Another useful resource is a downloadable five-page Deck Evaluation checklist available from the National Decking and Railing Association (NADRA). It covers nearly 50 inspection points, the results of which can be used to advise homeowners on repair or replacement needs.

Contractors who offer this service say it appeals mostly to well-heeled customers and is easiest to sell when packaged with other services. Chris Laloma, owner of The Trusted Toolbox, an Atlanta-area handyman service, has sold some deck inspections as part of a yearly whole-house inspection. But he says that the buyers are invariably people "who don't worry about cost."

2. Self Inspection. A better way to reach average homeowners is to encourage them to scrutinize their own decks, and to educate them on when to call a pro. Wood, Naturally’s "4 Tips To a Safe Deck for Summer" gives homeowners the basics of how to perform a safety inspection.  Homeowners can also be referred to their deck inspection video.

Matt Breyer, owner of Breyer Construction & Landscape in Reading, Penn. is creating a page for his company website that will show homeowners how to perform simple inspections: looking for rusted or loose hardware, checking stairs and rails for bounce or sway, and inspecting visible framing and decking for signs of rot or decay. The page will also include information on which issues are symptoms of bigger problems that a contractor should check out. "We're trying to plant a few seeds of uncertainty," he says.

3. Inspecting Decks Before a Sale. One of the best opportunities for documenting deck safety actually comes when a home is sold. That's why NADRA is working with the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) to certify its members on deck inspections. NADRA Executive Director Mike Beaudry expects to have certified about 1000 ASHI members by the end of 2017 and recommends that every deck builder partner with an ASHI inspector.

Regular maintenance and periodic safety inspections go a long way toward ensuring peace of mind, and giving the deck a longer life.