Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Ladder or guardrails?Permissible, now there is a word subject to wide interpretation. Look at history or around the world or even on your own street. There is no question what one person finds permissible, another sees as offensive. For literally thousands of years, the way to take a good deal of the subjective-ness out of things is to make rules.

In the world of residential construction these rules are known as building codes. Building codes themselves date back thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans created and used building codes. Archaeological records of a building being constructed by the Greek philosopher Socrates in part state:

"He shall set the joints against each other, fitting, and before inserting the dowels he shall show the architect all the stones to be fitting, and shall set them true and sound and dowel them with iron dowels, two dowels to each stone…"

Bowed deck main support beamThis I think demonstrates that it has long been understood when a building or structure is constructed, it must have a uniform method. It also must be strong and above all else, safe. It also shows incompetence and shoddy work are just as old as civilization or there would be less of a need for codes. Yet codes are only half the process. While they do exist, it does not necessarily mean they are followed by all. Another thing that hasn't changed with civilization's history. Thus the need for over site.

The process used today in many parts of this country, not all, but many, is the permitting and inspection of construction. Basically permits are taken out with the local building department. Then at some point the new construction is inspected by the local building official. When the project meets his or her approval, the permit is closed.

Let me repeat, the permit is closed.

As a home inspector I am inform often that permits were pulled for _____. My response is always the same, "are they closed?" This can at times receive a quizzical look on the face of the one who made the statement.

Four nails "securing" beam to postClosed?

Recently I inspected a permitted deck. I really have come to despise decks. There is almost always something wrong.

The first glaring defect was the ladder like guard rails and lack of handrails. Stooping to look under the deck at the support structure, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. The main support beam was very noticeably bowing. The reason was very clear, this beam by my estimate is well over 20 feet in length and devoid of an center support. A 4 x 4 post was stationed at each end, nothing any where in between. But wait, it gets better.

Going around to one post of interest, I saw the pier was not squarely on the footing. Looking at the attachment to the beam, I saw four nails. Same on the back side. The support beam was actually two separate boards face nailed to the two posts. The center of this large deck in essence is supported solely on a total of 16 nails.

Post not centered on bracket / footingThe best method for constructing a pier beam support is to set the beam on top of the posts. In this way the load is distributed evenly along the beam, with the piers fully supporting the beam, not a set of fasteners.

There were several other issues with this permitted deck, which goes to show, permissible is open to interpretation, especially when circumventing the rules.


Posted by

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

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Andrea Swiedler
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties - New Milford, CT
Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT

Jim, you are right, it is clear that there has been shoddy workmanship forever, LOL. I didn't know that there were codes back when I was born....

And yes, I agree, I also have come to really dislike decks.

Closed permit? Why?

Nov 27, 2012 08:14 PM #1
Gita Bantwal
RE/MAX Centre Realtors - Warwick, PA
REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel

Thanks for the post. That is a scary picture of the deck without proper  support beams.

Nov 27, 2012 08:23 PM #2
Clint Mckie
Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections - Carlsbad, NM
Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586

Hi James,

Looks like it was a "coffee break permit", that means the inspector got there sit down had coffee and then signed off the permit for Uncle Willy. BTW He is Uncle Bob's brother. LOL

Very good shots of the deck far from correct. Suggested the post.

Have a great day in Wallingford.

Best, Clint McKie

Nov 27, 2012 08:25 PM #3
Paula McDonald
Beam & Branch Realty - Granbury, TX
Granbury, TX 936-203-0279
Ah yes one of those muddy words that leaves the door wide open to have it mean whatever you need it to. Good post.
Nov 27, 2012 08:45 PM #4
Dave Sullivan
Real Estate One - Birmingham, MI
Michigan Realtor with an investor viewpoint

Excellent information I will forward it if that is ok? thank you!!!

Nov 27, 2012 09:38 PM #5
Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366
Dry Rot and Water Damage Mobile - 916-765-5366 - Placerville, CA
General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage

It is important to note that a closed permit is different than an expired permit; though both were "pulled".

Enjoyed the featured post today James.

Nov 27, 2012 09:57 PM #6
Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

James, people think they are saving money by not getting a permit. In the long run it can backfire as in your example.

Nov 27, 2012 10:01 PM #7
Charita Cadenhead
Keller Williams Realty - Birmingham, AL
Serving Jefferson and Shelby Counties (Alabama)

My favorite is when I hear a contractor try to avoid getting a permit.  Or I hear the words "you're going to have to get a permit" but in a manner that suggest that it's a bad thing.  I never have understood that.

Nov 27, 2012 10:06 PM #8
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, that deck is certainly a matter of "when" not "if"---it will collapse and likely during the first big open house party.

Nov 27, 2012 11:28 PM #9
Donna Bacher
PureRealty Brokerage - Hamilton, ON
Broker's always refreshing when I hear a home inspector that actually sounds like he knows whats going on! lol I think all anyone wants as a consumer is what they think they're paying for. Unfortunately, they don't always get it...and it's not until someone like you comes in and points these things out that they realize they've been duped! Keep up the good work!

Nov 27, 2012 11:28 PM #10
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

My question is similar - where is the final approval sticker?  And I get blank stares.

That Socrates quote is very similar to Amish barn construction!

Nov 28, 2012 01:42 AM #11
Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

Why are construction codes not uniform in all states? Does that go back to your "permissive" concept or the stregth of the builders' lobby?

Nov 28, 2012 02:38 AM #12
Charlie Dresen
Steamboat Sotheby's International Realty - Steamboat Springs, CO
Steamboat Springs, CO e-Pro

Wow!  I wouldn't want to be standing on that deck.  Thanks for posting.


Nov 28, 2012 03:47 AM #13
Robert Butler
Aspect Inspection - Montreal West Island, QC
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection

Ihe place I inspected this Monday had wood posts going into the ground and fence posts going into concrete. Even pressure treted wood eventually rots unless the soil is well drained, essentially a gravel depost. Clay holds water and water just rots the wood. Pressure treated lasts a bit longer but still rots.

All the wood fence posts in concrete were cracked and split open.

Nov 28, 2012 04:05 AM #14
Kevin O'Hornett


You're correct in your article regarding the term "permissible."  Permissible by whom, by what agency, according to what guidelines, or codes, and when?  One way to avoid terms like permissible, allowed, permitted, etc. is to use a term such as "generally established practice(s)" where the term is defined as: Of or pertaining to any one or more of the following: historically/conventionally applied and acknowledged materials, practices, methods, means of installation, assembly, and/or operation.

For example, the construction of deck you describe in your article could be described by stating: The construction of the wood deck including its support system, guard railings, and stairs is not consistent with generally established practices for exterior deck construction.  The report can even detail specific adverse conditions. Then the report can recommend that the entire deck be examined by a qualified deck construction contractor or even a structural engineer if the inspector deems it appropriate.

This avoids the trap of directly or obliquely discussing building codes as they pertain to some systems and components but not others and then being held to a standard of performing code compliance inspections throughout the inspection – something which home inspectors can’t and shouldn’t try to do.

Keep up the good work.

Kevin O’Hornett

ProSpex. LLC

Golden, CO

Nov 28, 2012 07:26 AM #16
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Looking at the picture of the deck post which is offset from the beam make me cringe.  The owners must have noticed this defect.  Why didn't they make the builder correct the problem.

Nov 28, 2012 11:41 AM #17
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Andrea, I think they had codes even before that :) Aren't decks just a pain? 

Gita, It would scarier with 10 or 10 people on it.

Clint, Coffee break permit, I like it!  And we both know Uncle Bob has alot of cousins :)

Paula, Isn't language fun :)

Dave, Forward away.

Tom, Have not heard of expired permits. They may not have those over here or again I'm not aware.

Michael, Yep, Always best to go by the rules.

Charita, Yes, I know what you mean. The thing is some contractors instead of pulling the permit, drop in the homeowners lap. That's not just not right.

Charlie, For sure. There is a large table and six chairs on that diaster waiting to happen. The only "good" thing is it's not too high off the ground. 

Nov 29, 2012 08:25 PM #18
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Donna, You bring up an excellent point. Homeowners hire contractors placing an immense amount of trust in them. Some unfortunately do not honor that trust. The homeowner is often unaware of the shoddy work until the home is inspected for sale. 

Jay, I didn't know the Amish used Socrates help for barn construction. 

Olga, They're not totally consistent from town to town, let alone across the country. I think the easiest answer to that is the human factor. Like I  said in the post, everyone has a different interpretation of things. 

Charlie, I actually jumped on it to test it. Yes, I am a daredevil :)

Robert, I see that installation quite often as well. Just as wrong.

Erica, They are a pain because there is usually a bunch of things wrong.

Kevin, Thanks for the blog :) I think you missed the point of the post. I wasn't speaking of writing an inspection report. I certainly do many of the things you mention. The post is an educational piece on the permit process and not assuming all is well simply because a permit exists for the work.  

Evelyn, I don't believe the present owner had the deck built. Which then begs the question, wasn't it brought up during their inspection and if so why hasn't it been fixed. 

Nov 29, 2012 08:42 PM #19
Kevin O'Hornett

Hi, James,

I got it.  But I also realize that there are a sufficient number of home inspectors who need help in describing in writing what they see on site. Thus, my response.

Dec 01, 2012 12:48 AM #20
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Kevin, Did I some how give you the impression I needed help in report writing? BTW it is something I have actually taught. 

Dec 01, 2012 01:01 AM #21
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