May 1995 Edition

Is Your Deck Safe?

In the light of the tragic accident in Buckhead, can you tell us how to inspect our deck to be sure it is okay?
Being in the inspection business, I first must say “have it inspected by a professional”. They will look at more items than I can describe in this article. However, if you would like to do it yourself, there are a few key points that are the most important when inspecting decks.
First, begin at the bottom and check the support post. Most post will be buried in the ground. This is not a good way to install the post because the ground will hold moisture against the post and they will decay quicker. The problem with this is  you will not know it until it is too late. Take the longest screwdriver you have and probe below the ground level. If you have steel post and the screwdriver punctures thru it, then you know the post has rusted out and needs replacing. If you have wood posts and can penetrate into the wood more than 1/2”, then repair is suggested.

Deck 1

First support the deck with temporary support post. Then, cut off the decayed post about 6” to 8” above the ground. Dig out the ground down to the original footing (assuming you do have a proper footing). Install a galvanized column base to the bottom of the post. This will prevent it from being knocked off the concrete pier. The ones I like best are “CB” or “CBS” Column Bases by Simpson Strong-Tie Connectors (1-800-999-5099). After the bases are installed,  build a form about 12” wide under the post for a concrete pier. Be sure the top of the form is about 1” below the bottom of the post. When you pour in the concrete, you will want to slope the top of the pier so water will run off easily.          
Next look at the rest of the post. Most older decks are supported with 4x4 wood post. The maximum suggested height of a 4x4 is only 8’ without additional bracing. Check to see if the post are bowing in the middle. If they are, then the post may be overloaded. Make sure the post is either bolted, nailed or screwed to the framing above. 
Deck 2
Verify that the deck header is “thru-bolted” to the house framing. The bolts must go all the way througj the framing in order to be properly connected. The minimum size bolts that should be used are 1/2” diameter with washers and a nut. They should be spaced no farther apart than every 48”. Some decks are only nailed or lag bolted into the house framing and these could pull out.                 
Look at the other end of the floor joist to check the header beam. This is the beam that will be supported by the steel or wood post. 

Deck 3

A single header will typically span 4’ which means the support post should be no farther apart than this. In many cases we find a single header spanning 8’ to 10’ which is too far. If this is the case, you should either double the header or add more support posts. A double header should be able to span around 8’ without any problem. One way to tell if the headers are overloaded is to look down the bottom of the header to see if they are sagging or what is commonly referred to as “deflecting”. A properly supported header will be straight without deflection. Some decks are built with support beams instead of headers. These beams should be continuous under all of the floor joist. The ends of the floor joist probably will have a single header without a 2x2 ledger strip or joist hangers. The same rule applies for a double 2x2 beam that applies for a double header.
Next check to see if all floor joists are supported properly on each end. The joist should be supported by either continuous 2x2 ledger strips or joist hangers. The ledger strips should be nailed at each joist. The joist hangers should have nails in all of the holes provided in the hanger. If the floor joists are missing proper support, you can always go back and add joist hangers. If not properly supported, the joists could eventually drop down and pull out.         
Deck 4After you have finished  with the main structure, take a look at the deck steps.  The steps should be solid and not bounce when you walk up them. If they do bounce and the length of the steps is over 8’, you may want to install additional support under the stringers, which are the main wood members supporting the steps.            
The next item to pay close attention to is the handrail. The rails should be solid and not loose. The new requirement for the openings in the rails states that a 6” ball should not pass through any area of the handrail on the deck and on the steps. This will prevent a small child from accidentally falling through the railing.            
After you finish  inspecting the structure of the deck, look for any signs of wood decay. All decks will eventually decay. A small amount of decay shows that the deck will need to be repaired or replaced in the next few years. This normally shows up on the floor decking first. If any of the main structure has decay present then it is time to call in a professional contractor. 

If you have a question, change of address, comment, home tip or would like to send Home Tips to your clients, send your letter to Home Tips, Christian Building Inspectors, Inc., 3697 Habersham Lane, Duluth, Georgia 30096. You can E-Mail your questions to us at We reserve the right to edit questions for length.

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