Thinking about adding a deck to the house? Now is the season for it. Before you start hire a builder or buy lumber, be sure what you are planning to build is safe — and legal. Here are the three biggest issues I see when inspecting decks.
#1: No Permits
New decks REQUIRE permits. If a builder doesn’t want to pull permits, don’t hire them. If the builder is caught mid-construction working on an unpermitted deck, they will lose their license and you may be required to tear it down and start over. If you are building your own deck you still need to obtain a permit; if you don’t, and are caught mid-construction, you may be required to tear it down. What’s more, if someone is hurt on a deck that you knowingly built or had built without permits, your homeowner’s insurance may deny any claims resulting from the damage.
#2: No Flashing
The function of flashing is to prevent water from infiltrating your home via the deck-to-house connection.
Vinyl siding is NOT flashing. Flashing protects the junction of the ledger board to the house, the bolts and more. A deck ledger without VISIBLE flashing is considered unsafe by many home inspectors. Note that the flashing goes BEHIND the siding and OVER the ledger board.
#3: Poorly-constructed Railings
The railing posts need to be securely fastened to more than just the rim board. The rim board is not structural enough by itself. If the railing can be moved more than ½” TOTAL MOVEMENT it is considered UNSAFE by many home inspectors.
Balusters should be fastened with screws, not nails. Nails will pull out if a heavy force (think falling adult) is applied to the baluster. The balusters in the picture at right are not installed properly, and could lead to a nasty fall if enough force is applied.
One of the best “prescriptive” deck plans provided by a local jurisdiction is available from the Fairfax County (Virginia) Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (PDF file) . This is used by a “Reference” by many other jurisdictions and inspectors as “best practice.”
We also offer our own brochure about deck safety, with more information about proper installation and what to look for when evaluating a deck design.