Editor’s Note: Click to read Deck Inspections Part I.
Deck Inspections - Part II
It is also best if the deck surface is a step down from the doorway’s threshold to help prevent water or snow from possibly backing up into the door opening.
Joists and Hangers
The deck above had a good amount of racking when standing on top. Racking is horizontal movement and most often indicates a weak deck structure. Once these nails continue to pull out, the deck’s structure is compromised and safety becomes a real concern as the deck can now pull apart. In the photo above, the outer rim joist was literally separating from the individual floor joists. The rim joist and floor joists were only end-nailed; a substandard method of deck construction.
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Modern decks would use joist hangers to properly and securely attach the joists and framing together. Hangers can be added to older decks that have only end-nailed joists in most cases to shore up the structure.
Hurricane or seismic straps are most often also used to secure perpendicular members together in lieu of relying on gravity. A small earthquake, for example, could allow a deck’s structural components to lift upwards if only gravity “holds” the joists and girders together. The photo below shows a properly installed joist hanger.
Deck joists are most often 2x10 or 2x12 lumber depending upon the deck’s size and span. Joist hangers designed for this size of lumber should be used. Each hole in the joist hanger should be filled with a properly sized nail or screw. This is really the only place that nails should be used when building a deck. Filling only some of the hanger nail holes may not provide a durable connection for years to come. Also, sometimes it may be difficult to tell, but joist hangers should not be bent, cut, or otherwise modified in the field. Various sized and orientated joist hangers exist for different applications. Modified joist hangers often indicate that the installer didn’t have the proper hanger on hand and simply modified and used whatever he had on hand. This will often be a red flag indicating that other short cuts may have been made when building the deck and hidden hazards may exist. Also, the joist hanger’s flange should be flush with the lumber to which it is fastened.
Staircases should be at least 36” wide. The riser height (the vertical distance from one step to the next) should not exceed 7 3/4” and the stair tread depth should be no shallower than 10”. The most common issue that I find while inspecting a deck staircase are risers that vary greatly in height or are well beyond the 7 3/4" standard . Modern standards say that tread heights can not vary more than 3/8” between the shortest and tallest. Anything more than that can present a trip hazard.
All staircases (internal or external) need to have a proper hand railing if the staircase has more than three steps. The height of the hand railing should be between 34”-38” above the stair tread’s nosing. The nosing is the portion of the stair tread that sticks out over the step below it (nominally about 1”). I often run across deck staircase hand railings that are much shorter than 34”. The lack of a hand railing at a proper height can allow someone to fall. The top surface of the hand railing should also be easily graspable.
Again, like many internal staircases, deck staircases typically have at least one open side. The open side can allow someone, such as a small child, to fall off the staircase below the railing. To prevent this hazard, components such as balusters or spindles are required. The spacing of these balusters or spindles should not exceed 4”; this spacing helps prevent a small child from getting his head stuck in the railing.
Guard railings should be at least 36” vertically and should have no spacings wider than 4”, like the staircase openings mentioned above. Many older porches and decks have some sort of guard railing, but a considerable number of older porches and decks have only horizontal rails or have short railings. Having only horizontal components can allow a small child to climb them like a ladder and fall over the other side. The photo below shows a good example of this flaw.
Guard railings will often come
slightly loose over time. This may be the actual solid
railing posts or the guard railing between the posts. As
part of the home inspection, I check to make sure the guard
railing doesn’t have excessive movement. Modern standards
call for no more than 4” horizontal movement if 200 lbs. of
pressure is applied to the guard railing. No home
inspector is going to put 200 lbs. of pressure on the guard
railing, however. A very slight amount of movement will be
found in many deck’s guard railings over time, but a slightly
loose (or very loose) guard railing will only loosen further in
the future. Close attention is needed and repair is often
recommended prior to the railing getting worse. A repair
may often only entail some extra screws or bolts to better
secure the guard railing and its posts to the deck.
The photo above shows a
proper guard railing on a newly built deck.
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