Shake And Shimmy

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

One of the more visible parts of a deck is the guard rails. Guardrails are required for any point on the deck 30 inches or greater from grade level. I am not going to debate the good sense aspect of the 30 inch requirement, 29½ inches is along way to fall when you're not expecting it. I want to discuss another good sense part of guard rail construction, sturdiness.Deck guardrail

The standard is the guardrail must be strong enough to resist a 200 lb. point load in any direction. That is a great deal of weight and I feel a good majority of guardrails I test would not bear up under scrutiny. When I say test, I simply push and pull on the railings and posts. I also examine the connections and general construction. I do not have some type of sophisticated testing device that can determine the point load. I doubt that anyone actually has such equipment or routinely performs that type of testing in the field.

Very thin!The other day I found a set of guardrails that have to be one of the worst I have ever seen. At first glance they looked fine, but upon conducting the shake test they failed miserably. It wasn't so much the posts that were the problem as the lower boards where the bottoms of the balusters attach. The boards are a half inch thick!

The icing on the guardrail cake was the lower board's method of attachment to the posts. When I say attachment I use the term very loosely, pun intended. The board pictured was obviously cut short, but used anyway. That little piece of wood in the fore ground I believe was an attempt to shim the space. Over all it was shoddy workmanship done as minimally as possible.close enough

I doubt these rails would pass a 50 lb test never mind 200.

My advice; if the guardrails shake and shimmy it's a good bet they may break and fail.



James Quarello
2010 SNEC-ASHI President
NRSB #8SS0022
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

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James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Serving the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, Southern Litchfield and Western New London.


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Wallace S. Gibson, CPM
Gibson Management Group, Ltd. - Charlottesville, VA

We just had our BIG back deck repaired, boards replaced, primed and painted.  It is SOLID and is 50+ years old....correct support and BOLTS everywhere.  Warped boards happened because nails popped which should have been replaced as it was happening with screws which should have been part of out long-term maintenance and it was not.

Watching the screw extension at the end of a drill with the coil of screws was interesting!

Sep 20, 2010 12:56 AM #1
Lisa Coates
Level Ten Construction Consultants - Halifax, NS
Residential Home Sales Specialist

Great Post James, pun intended. Seriously, now I'll look more closely at deck rails. Thanks

Sep 20, 2010 12:57 AM #2
TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc.
Complete Home Inspections, Inc. - Brentwood, TN
Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029

Looks like a bad case of the left hand nail gun not knowing what the right hand nail gun was doing...

Sep 20, 2010 01:35 AM #3
Ed Silva
RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

Jim, that looked just fine to the homeowner that did the job and saved a few dollars. Those are the dollars they would pay for bandages and therapy after they fell from the deck, without understanding why.

Sep 20, 2010 01:35 AM #4
Jay Schmitt
Keller Williams Keystone Realty - Gettysburg, PA
Gettysburg Real Estate Agent

Wow, it is amazing what people will accept as safe for their home and themselves.

Sep 20, 2010 01:51 AM #5
Jeffrey Jonas- Minnesota Home Inspector
Critical Eye Property Inspections / JRJ Consultants - Owatonna, MN

Good post Jim. I also have seen my share of shoddy workmanship. Many times it would have been safer to have no guardrail at all. Imagine an unsuspecting person leaning on a defective guardrail, and it giving way. That person has no chance of catching their balance to minimize their injuries.  

Sep 20, 2010 02:23 AM #7
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, maybe everyone is supposed to wear seat belts when they are on the deck.

Sep 20, 2010 03:17 AM #8
Robert L. Brown - Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids Real Estate Bellabay Realty, West Mic

I see a lawsuit on it's way to happening. What did the seller say after this was presented to him. I can just imagine.

Sep 20, 2010 03:39 AM #9
Carra & Shae Riley
Brokers Guild Cherry Creek Ltd - Westminster, CO
Helping people Transition at all ages!

Jim...I bet that was a do-it-yourself job with all the instructions from one of the big box stores.  Wow, what passes as OK for some folks is scary!

Sep 20, 2010 06:43 AM #10
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

Mr James,

I did not appreciate your negative remarks about my cousin at my bosses blog post. Shames on youse. Here's to lookin' sexy.


Sep 20, 2010 02:46 PM #11
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

That's one hacked together guardrail.  Just a thought - if someone did use a piece of equipment to measure 200 lbs, who would be responsible for all the guardrails that failed?

Sep 20, 2010 03:12 PM #12
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I have sufficiently sophisticated equipment Jim.  It's my hiney.  Works great!  And exactly 200 pounds!  Imagine that...

Love those connections!  How often do we see that?

Sep 21, 2010 12:20 AM #13
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Wallace, Sounds like you have a very solid and safe deck.

Lisa, guardrails are all about safety so they should scrutinized.

Michael, I'd say just a case of not knowing :)

Ed, The guardrails were built by "professionals". Homeowners tend to do a better job on their own homes.

Jay, In this case the contractor owns the home, nuf said.

Jeffery, Good point with no railing you would be cautious near the deck edge.

Charlie, I always thought they would be good for bar stools :)

Sep 21, 2010 12:45 AM #14
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Robert, We haven't gotten that far.

Carra, Actually they were made by contractors. No licensing or training is required in this state. It shows, wouldn't you agree?

Nutsy, I was just statin' the facts as I sees 'em.

Reuben, That would be for the lawyers to decide.

Jay, A 200 lb. hiney!? Wow, that's a big butt. :)

Sep 21, 2010 12:51 AM #15
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James Quarello

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