Can we make the deck bigger?
In fact, can we cover the whole yard with it?
Sure honey—will get right on that this weekend!
What started out as a nice little rectangular deck on the back of the home, turned into a complicated series of decks, which did in fact cover much of the back yard. Decks can be maintenance nightmares and, as nice as they might be, it is important that they be constructed properly.
They must be supported properly, attached to the house properly and have safe guard railings. It is actually pretty unusual to find a deck that does not have one or more issues with it. Missing flashings at the ledger on the house, the ledger attached over the top of the siding, missing ledger bolting and/or missing joist hangers on the ledger are just a handful of the common issues found with just this part of the deck.
This is not intended to be a treatise on deck construction and my focus today is merely on how these newer decks were “connected” to the existing deck. There was no access under the deck so the picture I have of the underside had to rely on the light of my flashlight with the camera looking through the lattice that skirted the deck.
As you can see, the older original deck is all of the greenish/grey colored wood to the right in the picture. The newer deck is all the reddish/brown structures to the left in the picture. The board that divides the two is the original outer rim joist of the old deck. Notice that (as would have been common with attachment of the original rim joist) the board is merely nailed into the end grain of the joists. The joists are cantilevering across the top of the original beam that can be seen to the right side of the picture.
The new deck ledgers have been butted into the old rim joist and metal joist hangers have been used to support the joists at the attachment. So now we have half the weight of all the new deck structures that hangs on this rim joist being supported by the few nails driven into the end grain of the original cantilevered joists. This weight of course does not include whatever numbers of people are able to gather on the new portion of the deck. In this next picture—everything to the right of the red line in the picture is added to that original rim joist.
This deck has been this way for about 10 years so all is good right?
Depending on lots of factors, this connection may or may not fail catastrophically. I know my E & O policy would not be happy if it did. The size of the nails driven into the end grain is critical. Whether they can rust and corrode is critical. The total number of nails is critical. None of these can be actually determined in the course of a Standard Home Inspection.
The bottom line is that this type of connection would never stand up to modern deck construction “best practices” and the connection should be properly supported. It will likely be necessary to move the existing beam over under this connection or to add another one. Simply adding hangers on the other side may be sufficient but that would have to be determined by someone working beyond the scope of a Standard Home Inspection.
Sometimes the things that can be done on weekends should be left to weekdays.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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