By Tim Shuford, NPI Franchise Owner, Jamestown, North Carolina
I have been told that more than 70 percent of decks have some type of structural issue. A structural issue typically equates to a safety concern. Based on my observations of as a property inspector, the 70 percent estimate is pretty accurate. In addition to the structural deficiencies, I commonly find many other safety hazards.
I believe there are a couple of fundamental reasons that so many decks have structural weaknesses:
- Many home owners tend to take a DIY approach to outdoor projects, such as adding or expanding a deck, even though they have limited construction knowledge and experience. If they’re not brave enough to tackle it themselves, then they probably have a neighbor, friend or relative who constructed their own deck — and that must be a testament to their qualifications, right?
- Many decks are unpermitted, so they haven’t undergone inspection by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), even though they were supposed to.
Does Your Deck Have One or More of These Problems?
Here is a sampling of structural and safety concerns that home inspectors frequently find on decks:
- The deck is nailed to the house with no other visible means of attachment. Nails can corrode and fail behind the deck band, causing the deck to collapse. Concealed damage to framing behind the deck can also result in deck collapse.
- The deck is only supported by the brick veneer on the home, and not bolted to the home’s framing. Brick veneer is not a structural element, and the deck may pull the veneer away from the home. In addition, it is also common to find other unapproved fasteners and deck bolts without nuts.
- The deck is nailed to the support posts with no other visible means of attachment. Nails by themselves just don’t have the structural strength to provide the vertical support needed for a deck, and they may pull out over time. (This was the cause of a widely publicized deck collapse during a family reunion a couple of years ago.)
- Joists are nailed to the beams without joist hangers or ledger strips to provide vertical support. Again, nails alone may not provide the structural strength needed.
- Support posts are not resting on proper concrete footings. This can allow for settlement and movement of the deck, which can also result in structural failure.
- No flashing applied where the deck connects to the home. This can allow water intrusion and damage to the structure of the home.
- Undersized deck framing that does not provide adequate structural integrity. Also, decks are sometimes constructed using unconventional framing techniques, and further evaluation by a specialist may be required to determine if the deck is structurally adequate.
- Stair risers are not adequately fastened to the deck structure. This problem can allow the stairs to fail, causing a fall and/or injury.
- Loose decking boards. These can present tripping hazards, as can nails that have backed out of the deck surface (called “nail pops”).
- Deck railings are often inadequate to provide proper fall protection, especially for children. Openings in railings may not provide adequate guarding. This includes pickets or balusters that are spaced too far apart. Railings are often not tall enough and contain horizontal or diagonal components that would allow children (or pets) to climb the railing. Railings may not have adequate strength to support the weight of an adult who falls against them, or they may have loosened over time.
- Weathered wood. Because decking materials are exposed to the elements, wooden components are subject to cracking and splintering, which is certainly a hazard to bare feet.
This list is not intended to be inclusive of every concern that a home inspector may find. Please note that the specifics concerning the requirements for many of these concerns were omitted, since specific requirements vary depending on location, etc.
As warmer weather approaches, folks will be migrating back to their outdoor living spaces — so take a look at your deck with an eye toward safety.
Tim Shuford is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in Jamestown, North Carolina. If you live in the area, call 336.823.6605 to schedule your home inspection with Tim.
NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.