Since a deck is an elevated platform designed to hold people and furnishings anywhere from one foot to sometimes over twenty feet off the ground, it is pretty important that it be structurally sound. Nothing ends a party like a deck collapsing and leaving your guests in a pile on top of a bunch of broken lumber. No one wants friends and family injured and no one wants to get sued. Upwards of 4,000 people a year are injured in deck collapse incidents. So it amazes me that something on a house that poses so much risk is so often overlooked and constructed improperly. One of the biggest reasons is that decks don’t often get inspected. Many are built by homeowners who never obtained a permit. Often, even if a permit was pulled, the city inspector is simply over worked and too much in a hurry and misses issues. Many decks were simply built long ago and construction standards have changed.
I went through just a handful of inspections and saved some photos of deck issues. Some of these are really obvious, some more subtle. All of these issues are safety related and could lead to an injury or even death.
Deck 1 has undersized pillars and the pillars are not properly fastened to the beams. The beams are also not properly fastened to the joists that ride on them. As you can see in the second photo the pillars have shifted and are no longer plumb, or straight up and down. It won’t take much stress or movement to cause the beams to rotate and the deck to potentially collapse. Larger pillars with proper footings and fastening hardware are needed to make this deck safe.
Deck 2 is also structurally insufficient. The joists that support it are undersized, they are 2” x 6” joists spaced 36 inches on center. Recommended size for this unit would be 2” x 10” joists spaced 16 inches on center. Walking on the surface above was almost like walking on a trampoline. The ledger or board that attaches it to the house is also improper. One ledger is bolted to the building but the ledger that the deck joists actually attach to is resting on the bolted ledger and is simply nailed to the house. One of the most common causes of deck collapse is the deck pulling away from the house. This one would offer little resistance. Add to that the beams the deck joists ride on are undersized; the pillars that support them are undersized and are not sitting on proper footings. This is one big recipe for disaster to be sure. Now imagine that this is not a deck. See the spray foam insulation? It is a 3 season porch! In addition to the deck surface, walls, windows, and a roof are all riding on this structural support system.
Deck 3 shows an example of poorly built stairs. Although not very high, these stairs can be very dangerous. The stringers are rotted as well as being improperly supported and connected. If you look real close at the photo, the upper decking surface hangs over the stairs about ½” on the left side and almost 2” on the right side. Therefor the stairs feel very different depending on where you use them. Our brains get trained and expect consistency when using stairs. Without a consistent feel, we can easily trip or stumble. With the combination of the loose boards, these stairs seemed to throw you down the stairs rather than allow you to safely descend.
Deck 4 has a little bit of everything wrong. It is a virtual poster child for this topic of deck safety. For starters the painted finish has deteriorated and dry rot of the wood has begun in several areas. The railings are poorly supported by undersized and improper “posts.” The railings feature horizontal balusters that are widely spaced. Small children can fit through the openings and/or easily climb them to reach an even higher height before they fall off the deck. The support pillars are undersized and the footings they sit on have settled and/or heaved from ground frost. Now they are no longer plumb and the deck surface is no longer level. The stairs are poorly supported, no longer level, and the railings are coming apart. The steps are too high and not deep enough (improper rise and run) so they are very steep. There are no risers so one’s foot could slide forward and through the opening. A myriad of safety issues on one deck.
You may have spotted more issues while looking at these photos. The issues discussed on each deck are not completely detailed but show a variety of issues that you may recognize from you own deck. If you are concerned about the safety of your own deck, or on a property you are considering buying, contact us to have an inspection completed. We will identify any potential issues, explain why they are issues and advise you on a course of action to make sure you deck is safe and sound. Call Paul at (763) 290-3042 or check out our website at www.peerless-servco.com.