Deck Check.....Is Your Wood Deck Safe?

Home Inspector with BPG Property Inspection Services

A well-built deck extends the outdoor living space of a home and is one of the best remodeling investments you can make to add value to a home. The number of deck failures and resulting injuries is something we see in the news frequently, in fact, A landmark study reveals that there have been 179 reported deck collapses from January 2000 through December 2006, killing 33 and injuring 1,122. Why are so many decks failing? Reasons for deck failures include improper building methods, exceeded load capacity, poor maintenance and age. Decks should actually be built more strongly than the house for which it is attached. Why? A house is generally designed to support a "live load" (weight of furnishings and and people) of 30-50 pounds per square foot. Bulky furniture spreads weight over a large area and tends to prevent high concentration of weight in same areas. Decks, on the other hand, are sparsely furnished, allowing people at +/- 150 pounds each to mass together. Thus, a deck and be easily overloaded, and collapse under a crowd's weight. Compounding the problem is the fact that many carpenters unknowingly build structural weaknesses into decks.

Most Frequently Observed Issues with Decks


The following are the most common issues we've observed with decks:

• Wood supports are not pressure-treated, and rotting.

• Steel posts rusting through.

• Masonry piers with no mortar, or loose, tilted blocks.

• No poured concrete footing under the support posts, or posts

resting directly on or in contact with earth.

• Posts not fastened to footing (Kick a suspicious post... you'll be surprised how many move).

• Posts improperly fastened to framing... or not at all!

• Deck merely nailed onto the house, not bolted.

• Joists poorly nailed to header, not resting on ledgers.

• Joists ledger notches cut so deeply they are weakened.

• No diagonal lateral bracing under the posts nor on the support posts.

• Stairs wobbly and poorly fastened to desk.

• Railings unable to withstand reasonable lateral force, and with pickets spaced so far apart causing a danger to children.

• Improper flashing where the deck abuts the house to keep out water entry at the joint.

Proper Maintenance is Key


Even a properly constructed deck can become a safety issue if not properly maintained. It is our perspective that a properly constructed wooden deck can last up to 15 years with proper maintenance. Yearly inspection for wood rot and annual pressure washing and sealing can help you enjoy the beauty of your deck for years to come. Key areas to check for rot are gaps in the decking where leaves, pine needles and sand collect. In addition, the areas under planter boxes can be vulnerable as any areas where countersunk screws or nails create dips that hold the water. For questions about your deck - call us.

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Gene Allen
Fathom Realty - Cary, NC
Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate

Sounds like a plan and I have seen a lot of decks that have died prematurely due to neglect.

Jan 04, 2009 12:18 AM #1
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