Deck failures are on the rise all over the country. The primary reason is structural failure of the wood itself or the mechanical connections that hold the wood together. Why now and why so many. We are coming off a building boom that lasted for years. There was so much demand that many people were building decks without the proper knowledge. In many cases building permits were not required, so they were not inspected for code compliance. In cases where building permits were required they were not secured because people wanted to save some money.
In a nut shell, poor construction practices and a lack of regular inspections is the root cause. In recent years decks and exterior stairs have come under scrutiny because of the failures that took human life. What these inspectors found was a lack of proper construction techniques and a lack of high quality fasteners.
Based on these findings new building codes and hardware solutions have been developed to minimize these failures. Chicago, IL has some of the strictest in the nation. Any outdoor structure needs to be maintained. The elements in the Mid-west can be especially hard on these structures. In addition to yearly cleaning and the occasional stain or paint, most people ignore the structural aspects of their deck until it falls apart. Hopefully no one gets hurt when it does.
It is important that the building owner have these decks inspected at least every 2 years. If the deck is older it may need some structural repairs and the addition of new hardware and fasteners. If the problems are caught early you can save a significant amount of money over a total replacement.
When viewed in context, a deck inspection is very cheap insurance against what could be significant injury to persons and property. I encourage you to find a reputable carpentry company that knows the building codes in your area to inspect your deck. Remember, you do not need to fall very far to get seriously hurt. In fact, low decks can be more difficult to inspect because they are usually surrounded with lattice or siding. Out of sight out mind is not the best approach in this instance.