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

A Driveway with a View!

Would it make you nervous to pull up to this “psychological barrier?”

Is this really a barrier?

Is this really a barrier?

You most likely would not even think about it.

We tend to “assume” that things like this are going to be safe–much the way we take for granted that a chair is going to hold us when we sit on it.  Now it would likely not be practical to build a barrier that could stop an out of control car going many miles an hour–that is what bridge abutments are for, however some amount of adequate barrier is a good idea.

As a side note, that nice little black wood line along the walkway is, for all intents and purposes, flush with the asphalt.

But take a closer look at this fence that has the illusion of being a barrier.  I seriously doubt that it would have the strength to withstand much of an impact and of course the wood walkway, rotten in many places, most certainly would not support the weight of a car.  Of course if the front or back wheels dropped through the walkway, I suspect the car would come to a pretty immediate stop that even four wheel drive might not get you out of.

The supports below this walkway are inadequate as well.

As you can see in the next picture, on the other side of the fence, there is a very steep ravine with a nice little stream at the bottom (wish you could see the stream).

Like I said, is this really a barrier?

Like I said, is this really a barrier?

Of course if someone crashed through the fence and the car hung up on the edge, they would have a much better view of that nice little stream 30 feet below.

I personally like to avoid situations that might make my pants wet–view or no view–but that is me.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Being on your guard around guards

On first glance this stair barrier railing appears to be “adequate.”

It meets current requirements as to the amount of space between the balusters as well as the space along the floor under the barrier.  It is even of sufficient height.

Unsafe guard

Unsafe guard

Where it falls short is that it is not fastened in place—AT ALL!  Some might consider the balusters and construction to be a little “wimpy” too, but that is besides the point compared to its not being attached.

The little ear, on the left side, that wraps around the corner is all that holds this barrier in place.  Certainly leaning the requisite 200 lbs against it would see whatever that 200 lb object was go spiraling down the stairs.

I think perhaps it was designed to facilitate moving things up and down the stairs–or perhaps someone just never got around to attaching it properly.  Since there was a door to the exterior at the lower level I am going to go with someone never getting around to properly attaching it.

This is another one of those house-warming-party tragedies waiting to happen.

Here is another nice looking staircase.

Nice stairs

Nice stairs

On this one, a large number of the balusters were not sufficiently attached.

Loose Balluster

Loose Baluster

These are not difficult fixes for someone that knows what they are doing–but they are good examples of how important it is for inspectors to check these sorts of guards at the time of inspection.


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 🙂