Honey, the deck ate the WHOLE yard!


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!


wholeyarddeck1What 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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It has been that way for 82 years—how can it be wrong?

I love the passionate and sometimes heated “discussions” revolving around whether old construction is better than new construction.  Of course if one does not define any parameters one can come to the conclusions they are looking for either way.

Inefficient older home

However, given that a better than average builder in 1800 has built an absolutely state of the art house, and a better than average builder in 2000 has built an absolutely state of the art house, there is no question but what the 2010 house is going to be superior–in probably any way you may choose to define superior.

It will be structurally sounder, it will have a better foundation, it will be far more energy efficient, it will have safer electrical systems, it will have safety glass, it will have smoke alarms, it will have frost-free hose bibs, it will have indoor plumbing, it will have double pane windows, it will be “comfortable” everywhere in the home, and snow will not build up on the window sills “indoors.”  There won’t be any asbestos products or lead paint chips for your kids to snack on.  The floors won’t squeak either.

Newer more efficient home

I realize that what most people mean is that compared to that great old mansion on the expensive side of the tracks that was built by some bootlegger baron in the early 1900’s, the tract houses on the other side of the tracks being built today are much worse.  But then we are not comparing apples and apples–we are comparing apples and lemons.  All those houses on the other side of the tracks built in the early 1900’s are long gone–because they were crap houses.  Just because all our crap houses are still around does not mean that there are no REALLY good quality ones around.  I would argue that the tract quality houses built today are even superior to the tract quality houses built in 1900–but only time will tell.

In my own home, built in 1930 (and certainly not by any bootlegger baron), which I would consider of “better-than-average” construction, but not “great,” I found a faux pas from 1930 that shows that quality control was as much an issue in 1930 as it is today.  It also shows how redundancy of building techniques can result in some mistakes being fairly forgiving.   During my recent window/siding replacement project, when I was taking the old siding off, I found where the original felt paper had been installed wrong.  It was actually lapped the wrong way, and for 82 years it has not been a problem.


Why has it not been a problem?  Because the siding had not failed yet.  As long as the siding acted to keep water off the building-paper it did not really matter which way it was lapped.  If water had been able to get behind the siding it would have been able to run behind the felt paper as well.  If this had happened there would be a problem sooner or later–especially on the “weather-side” of the home.

This is also a good example of the kind of things that no home inspector can see–unless he is replacing his own siding.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Thinking outside the Turkey!

This post came just in time for Thanksgiving a few years ago—and I am thankful for that!


Perhaps not so much looking forward to Thanksgiving

I got a call from a very nice lady I met at my doctor’s office. She wanted to talk to me about a water leak on her back deck. She was having a difficult time figuring out where the water was coming from and, so far, after many months, no one she had consulted with had come up with a satisfactory answer.

She said that the roofer couldn’t find anything wrong with the roof and her electrician, a plumber, a pest control operator, a jack-of-all-trades person and a very cleaver son-in-law couldn’t figure it out either.

She was at her wits end by the time she called me to see if I had any ideas. I asked her a few questions to try and eliminate a few of the possibilities. After all, figuring this sort of thing out is a process of elimination–it is never going to be rocket science no matter how illusive or elusive the answer may seem.

I told her I had some time the next day, and I would stop by her house with my moisture meters and brain and see if I could figure it out.

She informed me that whenever it rains really hard, or for a long time, the wet spot shows up and gets worse the rainier it gets. Well that sure sounds like a roof leak, doesn’t it? In this picture you can clearly see the wet spot and it most certainly tested “positive” for moisture with my moisture meter.


There was a toilet on the other side of the wall in the area of the wet spot, so the bathroom, while not a great suspect, was a possible suspect too. But investigation of that area turned up nothing out of the ordinary and what the heck would a leak in the bathroom have to do with rain?

I checked the attic in the area above the wet spot. But again, nothing consistent with past, present or ongoing leaking could be found.

The moisture meter could find nothing in the wall near the wet spot and all the flashing details of the deck attachment to the house seemed well done—a lot better than most decks I see.

As you can see in the next picture, the ceiling of the roof that covers this deck is vaulted and there is virtually no way wind is going to blow water into this area—especially given that this spot is not on the side of the home that is most exposed to the prevailing winds and weather.


It was an opportune time to figure out the problem because Seattle had been in a monsoon for several days and it was raining hard when I got to her house.

The deck surface is a composite-type decking and the deck has a very long set of uncovered stairs that go down to the back yard. These stairs are actually the first clue as to what is going on–even though they are quite a distance from the wet spot.

Since I was just about out of ideas and I had already opened myself up to ridicule by stating that the solution was not rocket science, I was starting to think that perhaps I was going to have to eat the whole rocket!

Suddenly it all came together in a flash that I am sure it would not have come to me “after” turkey dinner.

However, I have to think that the anticipation and planning for the cooking of my 26 lb Thanksgiving turkey must have played a critical part in my epiphany.

I turned to her, and with some trepidation asked, “Do you keep a bag of salt where that wet spot is–for the stairs in the winter time?”

I knew instantly from the expression on her face that I had indeed hit upon the answer. In fact the ultimate “taste test” confirmed that the wet spot was indeed salty. The wet area gets bigger the more it rains because there is more moisture in the air to be collected by the salt. The wet spot was purely hygroscopic and getting rid of the salt deposit will get rid of the wet spot.

But now I need to get back to the “very clever son-in-law.” He perhaps came the closest to a possible answer with his guessing that perhaps it was a raccoon marking his territory–that would indeed be another way of getting salts to the area. Now I am having second thoughts about that “taste test.”

Sometimes you have to think outside the turkey!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner already.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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