Deck Inspections - Part I
Many homes have decks attached to them for entertaining and
relaxing under the stars, but most homeowners do not perform a
regular deck inspection. Each year, people are injured or
killed due to faulty construction or the lack of needed regular
maintenance of decks.
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The deck’s hardware and footings must form a continuous load path
into the ground to provide a strong reliable deck. The
wooden support columns or piers can be cemented into the ground or
a metal bracket can connect the concrete pier to the bottom of the
wooden columns. Keeping the wood and cement/ground away from
each other can help prevent future rot. A rotted support
pier can compromise the rest of the deck. The concrete pier
should continue underground below the frost line, typically at
least 3’ in south central PA. Without digging (which home
inspectors don’t do), the depth of the pier (concrete or wood)
underground is most often unknown. Lumber that enters the
ground must be rated for ground contact and properly preserved
(including adding preservative onsite to the exposed interior
grain once the lumber is cut).
Also, the home’s downspouts, sump pump, and the grading under the deck should drain away from the deck to help minimize the chances of wood rot as well as insect or rodents being attracted to the area around the deck.
A free-standing deck is another option in most cases. This type of deck is not attached to or supported by the home but merely is fastened into the ground adjacent to the home with piers. Since the deck and home don’t touch, flashing isn’t needed and therefore water penetration into the home at this area is much less likely. Since a free-standing deck has to fully support itself independently, additional structural bracing is required for this type of deck.
To construct the rest of the deck’s various structural components (piers, girders, joists, etc.) together, proper metal hardware is a must to ensure strength and long life. Proper bolts and screws are preferred over nails when building a deck. As mentioned above, nails are not designed for shearing loads and can come loose over time, whereas bolts and screws will tend to provide a much more reliable and longer lasting connection. Hot dipped galvanized or stainless hardware should be used, the latter is more expensive but is most often used on decks near the ocean due to salt water deterioration of fastener plating.
The photo above shows a wooden girder under a deck that is
merely sitting on top of wooden piers and the girder is only
fastened to the piers using short 2x4s and 8 screws. This
is an inadequate mechanical connection. There are no bolts
to secure the deck’s structure together. Ideally, the
piers should have had a pocket or notch cut in them to allow the
girder to rest on the pier and allow bolts to secure everything
together. This particular deck was mostly relying on
gravity to stay in place. Settlement or erosion of the
grounds around the deck could lead to a deck failure.
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