Waco Home Inspection Part 6

Decks and Balconies
A recent incident in California, where six people lost their lives for being on a balcony, has inspired me to write briefly on the topic. Back in my framing days, I always used to think that decks were over-built. Why so many supports, hangers, bolts and lag screws? Why are we pretending it needs to hold a tank? My boss and mentor at that time explained the reason very precisely. He told me that I should assume any deck would be filled with people. This is when I became much more appreciative of why we were building such stout decks. We were not going to fool around with people's lives! Since that time, hardly a year goes by without some deck or balcony collapsing, somewhere, and killing or injuring people. 
These days, while performing inspections in the Waco area, I am especially diligent with deck inspections. Here are some questions to consider with decks:
  1. What are the spans between the support beams? There are span limitations with any species of wood in regard to size. If the deck has not been engineered by a professional engineer, it may become necessary to consult a span table, such as this one. http://parkeronline.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/732
  2. How is the ledger attached? Ledgers should be well-secured to the house frame in most cases. This usually involves a minimum of two 3/8 inch by 5 inch lag screws every 32 inches. Bolts are even better. Too many fasteners, within reason, is better than not enough fasteners.
  3. Are approved connectors in use? These are joist hangers, post to beam connections, and other connectors that are designed to insure that the framing members will not pull apart over time due to weathering, expansion and contraction. Of course, they also add strength and integrity to the structure overall. Fasteners should be galvanized or stainless steel to resist corrosion. Typically, 1 1/2 inch 10D nails are required with connectors.
  4. Is diagonal bracing present for supported decks? The rule of thumb for this is 12 feet, but even at 8 feet, I would recommend diagonal bracing. At the very worst, it is a bit too much, and that is never a bad thing where decks are concerned.

The numbered points only apply to some types of decks. Another style uses cantilever, where the joist supports extend into the floor framing of the house or structure. The rule of thumb for this is for every foot that extends from the building, two feet extend into the floor area. These types of decks or balconies are difficult to inspect with any certainty on a completed house. They are also difficult to maintain properly and can lose integrity over time. A better, more reliable design would involve steel beams.

So, if you have me inspect your home and you have a deck, don't be surprised if I have a lot to say about it! 

Until next time, stay safe!

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