As we near the end of the year and welcome the melodious sounds that can be heard everywhere during this magical time, we couldn’t help but think of some of the yuletide music that seems to have been written with home inspections in mind: “Up on a Rooftop”; “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (or inside, if the furnace isn’t working); “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (maybe squirrels in the attic); and “Deck the Halls,” to name a few.
This latter example prompted us to revisit the critical importance of having a home’s deck inspected—part of the 500-point foundation-to-roof service performed by the experienced inspectors at A-Pro for clients in the market for a new home as well as sellers who benefit from receiving a Certified Pre-Owned Home Inspection.
Total deck collapses, as well as defects with deck stairs and railings, lead to thousands of injuries and even fatalities annually in the U.S. Further, experts estimate that two-out-of-five decks in the U.S. have safety issues. This is why your inspector will take a good amount of time during the exterior portion of the inspection to report on conditions that present a hazard. If you’re a home-shopper looking for the ideal property, it’s a good idea to recognize that a well-maintained deck that supports human/object/snow load and is properly connected to the house can add a great deal of value to a home (both in terms of money and enjoyment). However, a problematic deck can pose grave dangers—just another reason never to skip a professional home inspection. After examining the underside of the deck and evaluating stairway conditions, an inspector may deem the structure too risky to inspect from up top (this will be written in the report). Please also note that as performed by a home inspector, deck inspections are not technically exhaustive.
Here is a brief checklist of some of the issues that the inspectors at A-Pro have discovered when evaluating decks over the last 28 years.
Rotting Wood: Your inspector may find wood decay on the deck’s framing. Depending on the severity and location of the decay, this may compromise the integrity of the structure. In addition to rain, snow, and ice exposure that can damage the deck over time, other conditions that expedite wood rot may be cited, including downspouts that drain toward posts, posts directly set on soil, and holes or depressions surrounding a post that may lead to pools of water that can degrade wood, weakening the overall structure. Cracks in framing members (frequently found near fasteners), the presence of mold, and insect damage will also be highlighted by the inspector.
Installation Defects: Whether installed by a professional contractor or a do-it-yourselfer, deck installation problems are common. These include joists and girders installed too close to the soil (more of a concern in wet climates), and girders that rely entirely on the strength of a fastener to connect to a post rather than correctly having the girder directly bearing on the post. The inspector will note if the beam is sagging, often a condition caused by incorrect installation practices.
It is estimated that nine out of ten deck collapses occur because the ledger board (a horizontal lumber beam) pulls away from the home’s band joists. When proper ledger board attachment is not possible (per building codes) and verifiable by an inspector, decks must be of a freestanding type. There are a number of defects than can occur with ledger board installation, including lack of recommended fasteners; use of improper fasteners (nails instead of bolts or lag screws); wrong ledger board size; lack of sealing that may lead to moisture problems; washers, insulation, or unremoved siding resting between the band joist and ledger board; lack of hold-down tension installations; attachment to stone or brick veneer, which are never recommended as viable support structures; attachment to overhangs; incorrectly executed or absence of deck ledger flashing; and direct attachment to stucco or EIFS. Please note that there are some ledger board defects that are beyond the scope of a traditional visual home inspection.
Other defects include freestanding decks without recommended bracing on all sides; corroded and missing connectors or fasteners; loose, ungraspable, or non-continuous handrails; stairs separating from the deck; absence of required handrails for stairways which have at least four risers; stairway tripping hazards; improper baluster spacing that could allow a child’s head to get stuck; guardrails not supported by a sufficient number of posts; guardrails that are missing altogether, are not high enough, or are laddered, making it possible for children to climb on them; tight decking that allows pooling of water; protruding nails; electrical outlets without weatherproof covers; and other conditions.