No matter where you live and work, many homes you inspect will have decks. While more slightly more common in temperate regions, even the most northern of cities will contain at least a few homes with decks. According to the Center for International Trade in Forest Projects, 85 percent of all single-family homes in the United States have a deck or similar structure. Anyone hoping to become a home inspector owes it to themselves to get educated on deck structures.
Decks are often built by handymen or homeowners because they are fairly simple to construct. It’s true, some decks are complex and fancy, but the standard, everyday deck is easy to build. But is it easy to build correctly? No. Deck building encompasses important safety considerations. Some decks are quite high off the ground, and a fall could mean serious injury or death. If a guest gets hurt, the homeowner opens themselves up to legal liability for the damages they sustain. While you might initially save some money by building your own deck, the potential fall out from an accident could cost you in the long run. An inspection by a professional with a home inspector certification can help mitigate these risks.
The ASHI Reporter points out that although in some areas, regulations for decks improve their safety and durability, the truth is that many decks were constructed before these regulations were made, or without the benefit of a permit and inspection. In some cases, you may be asked to inspect decks that have never been held to the safety standards currently on the books.
What should you look for when inspecting decks? Anyone hoping to become a home inspector should earn their home inspector certification, and then put these tips into action.
Check the connections.
- It’s a scary image: barbecue attendees are enjoying their food on the deck when suddenly, the platform begins to shift away from the home. One of the most common reasons for deck collapse is connection failure; the deck separates from the house or from the posts holding it up. Or sometimes the stairs disconnect from the deck. All of these situations are avoidable if the right connectors are used. Decks should always be connected with heavy-duty bolts, never nails, Inspectapedia says. Joist hangers and connectors should be used for each support beam as well. Deck Magazine brings up the point that the danger of beam rotation can still exist with this type of bracing, however. To cut the risk, they suggest using notched beams, splice blocks, or diagonal support braces.
- Look for flashing on decks attached to houses. ASHI says this is a necessary protection for the wood. It doesn’t matter how secure your connections are if the wood rots.
- Check the spacing between balusters. Although there may be no code regulating this in your area, balusters that are too far apart may allow a child to slip through. The rule of thumb is that they should be no more than 4 inches apart. Check also to see if they are affixed with nails or screws. Over time, nails will lose their grip and it will be possible to pull the balusters off with your hands. This is a safety hazard for small children who may lean on them and fall through.Are there only 4 inches between balusters here? We don’t think so.
- Look for railings on stairs. This may not be regulated by code either, but many injuries have been logged due to the absence of railings on decks. Users don’t need to be elderly or carrying a plate of hamburgers to lose their footing and tumble down the stairs, although this may occur more often at parties at which alcohol is served. If there is a rail, check to see if it’s tightly secured to the structure. The only thing worse than the absence of a rail is a wobbly one that fails when it’s needed most.
- Check that footings are properly connected. Some deck posts merely sit on top of footings, or inside a footing without connectors. Posts should be connected to footings.
- See if there are any drainage issues around the deck. As with most systems in a home, moisture can cause chaos. Posts that are close to downspouts or in the path of a sprinkler are more prone to rot. A rotting post cannot properly support a deck and poses a safety risk.
Of course, these tips are just the beginning of a thorough deck inspection. Though they appear to be simple structures, decks are anything but. Considering how dangerous a deck collapse can be, it’s worth spending some time to fully understand the way a deck has been constructed and how it should be maintained through the years.
Anyone hoping to become a home inspector should educate themselves before officially assessing a house, a deck or any property in need of a professional’s insight. ICA School’s home inspection courses can teach you everything you need to know about inspecting homes, including decks and porches. To learn more about our online home inspection courses, check out our website today.
Curious about what makes ICA different from other home inspector schools? We’ve got the answers you need to make an informed decision about your future career.