On Your Guard

Your deck is 14” off the ground. You know it does not need a guard (barrier railing in lay terms). A guard is only required when the deck gets to be more than 30 from grade (plus some other rules that we are not going into right now).

The point is that you feel you want one anyway–after all, a fall from 14 inches in the dark with a beer in one hand and a girl in the other could still be at best embarrassing.

So you install a nice guard around the decks as you can see in the following pictures.

The problem is that once a guard is installed, even though it is not required, it must conform to the current requirements of a guard. The guard is not merely a thing installed to keep you from falling 30 inches. If that was the case, the spacing between the balusters or rails would not have to be so close together. The spacing is such that a small child will not either fall through or strangle themselves in the openings.

So even though this guard was not required the spacings between the rails on the one deck and the balusters on the other should be no greater than 4” per current standards.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Transactions in Seattle

Honey, the deck ate the WHOLE yard!

Honey?

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.

wholeyarddeck2

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.

wholeyarddeck3

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

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email! 🙂

But I used fire-proof wood!

Sometimes inspectors find examples of construction where either the cart is ahead of the horse, or where the cart is actually on the horse.

As you can see in the following picture we have a very nice outdoor fireplace—open on three sides with a patio all around.

fireplace-wrong1

I can only guess that the new deck that now uses the fireplace structure for support of one corner was an expansion of the original deck that does not show in the picture (above the point where the picture was taken from).

This creates a problem for use of the fireplace. This fireplace has no flue liner and there is only one layer of brick behind the wood beam of the deck that crosses above the fireplace.

But this is the least of the installation’s problems. If you look back at the first picture you can see that the deck floor joists are sitting on top of the wood beam which puts the rim joist of the deck in the proximity of the fireplace flue as well. Now we have a stack of wood 20” tall that has no separation from the single wall of brick of the fireplace chimney.

That would be the best case scenario. As you can see in the next picture, it is actually a much worse scenario than the one previously mentioned.

fireplace-wrong2

There is actually no flue at all—the chimney is way too short to provide any protection from heat, sparks and fire exiting the flue.

So what is the solution? The list is long and none of them cheap. Perhaps the cheapest solution is to wall up the openings of the fireplace and seal the top. Other options are removal of the fireplace, removal of the deck—or possibly converting the fireplace to a gas fireplace.

What approach is taken for improved fire safety is really not my concern—even while I am willing to throw some ideas out there.

I stressed in the report the importance of NOT using the fireplace for wood burning–that is the primary concern.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email! 🙂