By Jesse Morado
Reading or seeing a story where many people are injured from a collapsing deck or balcony is never good news. Every year hundreds of people are fatally wounded or severely injured by collapsing decks.
Improperly constructed or old decks can be at risk of collapsing when overloaded by people, furniture and other items placed upon them.  A common hazard associated with a collapsing deck is missing flashing and improper fastening of the deck to the house.
Improperly flashed construction allows water to penetrate the homes floor system rim joists, where the deck is attached, causing wood rot, which weakens the structure.  Nails and screws can then easily pull out or shear when the deck is loaded with people or furniture.  Building codes have become much stricter for deck construction as a result of the many injuries, which occur by falling decks and balconies.
Many homeowners don’t see building a deck as a major structural event and fail to secure the required building permits for the construction of a deck.  The homeowner chooses to build the deck themselves or hires a contractor who fails to follow today’s building code practices for proper deck construction.
Think about it, you are sending your family, friends and neighbors out on a structure supported by columns and beams floating out in the air. Decks and balconies must be properly designed to handle the loads being placed upon them if you wish your family, friends, and neighbors to be safe.
The structure should be designed to accommodate its planned uses for entertainment, fixtures/furniture, and dining.  Engineered connectors and fasteners, properly sized posts and beams, stair connections, and railing details are now required by code for elevated and suspended deck structures.
The above are to be integrated into your deck design to insure that all members and materials are properly secured and connected to withstand the forces placed upon the structure.
Deck and balcony usage increases in the summer and if you haven’t checked your deck lately here are a few things to look for to determine if your deck needs replacing or repairs:
· The deck moves or sways when you walk upon it
· Stairs bounce or sway when you use them
· Handrails or guardrails are loose and can be moved when you pull or push on them
· Guard rails and stair rails have openings that allow a 4-inch in diameter object to pass through them
· Nails have come loose, are rusted, or are missing from decking, rails, or joists
· Support posts have buckled, cracked, warped, bowed, or have visible signs of rot
· Flashing is missing where the deck is secured to the house and deck is not through bolted to the house.
· Decking and railing materials are splitting, rotted, curled or warped
· Posts and stairs are in direct contact with or buried in soil
· Band and rim joists have separated from joist ends or where they meet the house
· Deck is 8 feet above grade and supported by 4 x 4 posts
· Joists were notched and supported by a 2 x 4 or 2 x 2 ledger which is bowed, lacks nails or is loose
Please avoid costly damage and injuries next time you remodel or add a deck to your home by hiring a state licensed professional who will secure the required building permit for the project.
If you choose to build your own deck, contact your local building department and speak to a building inspector who can provide guidance with the code requirements and the proper permit for the project.  Lastly, if you have not hired a structural engineer to design your deck, take care and do not allow your deck to become overloaded or exceed capacity.
If it gets difficult to move about on the deck, chances are the deck may exceed capacity.  Have a safe and enjoyable summer.
Jesse Morado is President of Renovation Coach, Inc. a consulting firm providing pre-construction guidance and risk management for homeowners. He writes a daily blog for and is the current Education Committee Chair for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. He is also a FHA Rehab Consultant.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.