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How to Make Your Cedar Decking Kid-Friendly

kids out on the deckFor many Northwest families, the backyard doubles as the children’s playground. It provides a safe place to explore the outdoors, free from fears of traffic, strangers, stray dogs and other potential hazards. With average yard sizes shrinking, however, a cedar deck can consume most of the available space and leave little room left over for playing.

If the pitter-patter of tiny bare feet on cedar decking is a common sound around your home in the summer, it may be worth taking the time to ensure your Portland decking materials are safe and comfortable for children to play on. Whether you’re building a new deck or interested in child-proofing an old one, following are some tips for making your cedar decking more kid-friendly.

Maintenance Issues with Cedar Decking

Some of the most common deck injuries spring from basic maintenance issues and are easily preventable. If you know children will be playing on your cedar decking, keep an eye out for the following:

Popped nails. As cedar decking expands and contracts, nails can often work their way out of the deck boards. These raised nails can scratch a bare foot or even cause a small child to trip and fall. At the beginning of the season, inspect your Portland decking materials for popped nails and hammer them back in to create a smooth surface for playing.

For new decks: Consider choosing a decking material that allows the use of hidden deck fasteners, which eliminate the problem of popped nails.

Splinters. Portland decking materials can crack and splinter over time, as the wood becomes old and weathered. The best way to prevent your cedar decking from causing splinters is to regularly use a high-quality, semi-transparent deck stain to minimize weather damage. For an older deck, you can restore its smooth surface by giving it a good power washing and then sanding it down.

For new decks: Instead of wood, you may want to choose weatherproof Portland decking materials, such as composite or PVC decking, which will not crack, warp or splinter.

Slippery surface. Mold and mildew growth is common on cedar decking, thanks to the Northwest’s heavy rainfall, and it can cause the deck surface to become slick and dangerous. Prevent slips and falls by thoroughly cleaning your deck with an oxygen bleach cleaner at the beginning of summer to kill any mold or mildew.

For new decks: Many synthetic decking materials, including PVC decking, are engineered to be slip-proof and safer for kids.

Other Kid-Friendly Safety Features

Maintenance issues aside, there are several other improvements you can make to your cedar decking to ensure the safety of any children playing in your yard.

Secure railings. Even if your deck is only a few feet of the ground, secure railings are an important safety feature of any raised deck – especially if you have small children. Handrails must be at least three feet high, and the rails should be no more than four inches apart to prevent children from slipping through. Check your handrails for stability before summer by giving them a good bump to make sure they’re securely fastened.

Deck skirting. Another issue to think about with a raised deck is the space underneath. This area can become a haven for spiders and small critters, as well as a breeding ground for mosquitoes – not the sort of place you want your child crawling around. Consider skirting your deck with lattice or some other material to keep both kids and critters out.

Stair safety. Keep deck stairs free of planters, toys or any other items that can pose a tripping hazard. If you use your deck at night, consider installing an LED lighting kit to highlight the stairs for extra safety.

Most deck-related injuries are easily preventable with a little thought and extra work. As more and more Northwest families are using cedar decking to create outdoor living spaces in ever-shrinking backyards, it’s becoming increasingly important to make sure decking materials are safe and kid-friendly.

[ photo by: woodleywonderworks ]

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