It isn’t very often home inspectors have to issue a ‘Do Not Use’ warning. Recently one of our inspectors found a deck that was on the verge of collapsing. To the untrained eye, everything looked fine from the surface. Even walking on it gave no hint that in its current condition, it was a major safety hazard. If left unrepaired, the deck’s structural integrity was prone to failure and could lead to major injury or worse.
In the photo above, you can see the joists are no longer properly secured to the outer rim joist and they are barely supported by the joist hangers. In this case, the outer rim joist has twisted so severely that it has pulled away from the joists even though they have been properly secured with joists hangers and the required fasteners.
This deck was very close to collapsing. The home buyers were notified of this issue, and the sellers were also made aware of their own safety. Please pay special attention anytime a home inspector labels something as a safety hazard.
With safety in mind, here are a few other safety-related items we look for during deck inspections:
Proper Deck Railing
Any portion of a deck that is more than 30 inches off the ground needs a railing installed. This railing should be at least 36 inches tall and have spaces no greater than 4 inches apart. (The same requirements are true for front porches/stoops). A proper railing that meets these requirements is the best way to keep you and your guests safe while using your deck. It is important to make sure none of the railings are loose or deteriorated.
Rotten/Damaged Deck Boards
We often find decks with rotten or damaged boards which need to be replaced. Deck maintenance often gets deferred and this can lead to deterioration or rot. Most natural decking materials are not meant to last for decades and will require routine maintenance, repair, and replacement. Any rotten boards on any part of the deck are likely a safety hazard and should be replaced.
The number one thing that fails on a deck is the ledger board. The ledger board is where it attaches to the house. There should be flashing installed over the top of the ledger board to ensure that water flows away from the house and not between the ledger board and the house structure. Water that gets between the ledger board and the house can lead to rot and often will cause the ledger board (and deck) to pull away from the house – sometimes with catastrophic consequences.
Deck stairs are often not properly installed or secured and can settle, pull away from the deck, or rot prematurely. The height of each riser should be the same on all of the steps so they do not pose a tripping hazard. A difference of even ¼ of an inch is prone to cause someone to stumble when using the stairs.
While the weather is nice, take a closer look at your deck and double check there are no glaring issues or safety concerns. Contact a qualified contractor if you have questions or concerns, or if your deck needs repair.