If it’s constructed improperly, your deck could be considered a lethal weapon. One of the most important parts of a home inspection is a very close look at the deck when present. The number of accidents seems to be increasing, and we are regularly hearing or reading in the news about decks falling and people getting seriously hurt. There are many reasons why a deck fails, however the most common has to do with inferior construction and age.
Any time you hire a home inspector, make certain the inspector will include a close inspection of the deck. Also, make certain the inspector has the proper qualifications and knowledge needed to provide a proper inspection. Just walking around the deck and looking for some physical damage is most certainly not enough. There are specific items to check in order to be certain the deck is safe for use. Here is a list of things that should be investigated on your deck at the time of the home inspection.
1. Hand Rails – they should be strong, correctly supported and the proper height.
2. Balusters – openings between them should not exceed four inches. Any opening larger than that can allow a small child to fall through.
3. Support posts – if the deck is not attached to the house, make certain the posts are not rotten and that they are braced properly. The posts should be properly secured to the footer base as well.
4. Ledger board – if the deck is attached to the house, there needs to be a ledger board properly secured to the house structure. Lag bolts should be used to anchor the ledger board to the house and proper flashing installed to prevent water from draining behind it.
5. Joist hangers – all of the joists should be attached to the ledger board using joist hangers. In addition, every hole should include a nail where the hanger is secured to the ledger board as well as to the joist. Missing nails can limit the overall structural stability. If joist hangers are not present they can most certainly be added, and should be.
6. Age – how old the deck is can have a direct impact on its structural stability. Older wood can have damaged components from moisture intrusion and dry rot. If any rot is present, the lumber will need to be replaced. If the damage is significant, it will be best to replace the entire deck framework
7. Flashing – flashing, flashing, flashing! It’s surprising how many people underestimate the importance of properly installed deck flashing. Missing flashing where the deck is secured to the house, will most definitely allow water to enter at the rear of the ledger causing the joist which is supporting the deck to rot away. If this happens, the deck could very well collapse.
8. Steps – often overlooked as a contributing factor in injuries. Steps should be secure, sturdy and evenly spaced. Stairs should be constructed according to the IRC building requirements. Minimum width for stairs is 36 inches, maximum riser height is 7¾ inches, and minimum stair tread depth should be measured at no less than 10 inches. The tread width and riser height should not exceed the smallest by more than 3/8 inch. There should be a minimum 6 foot to 8 foot headroom clearance and illumination at the top landing. It’s also best to provide a 3 foot by 3 foot landing at the bottom, or it can be on flat ground.
If these items are checked and no issues found, you can be fairly certain the deck is safe to use. It’s important to not overload the deck either. Just because it’s built correctly does not mean it can hold more than what it’s designed to handle. Regular inspections are recommended and proper maintenance is a must. This can help keep the deck safe and strong, allowing you to enjoy your deck for years to come.