Friday, September 16, 2011

Deck Inspection--Scary Stairs

Think Twice before walking up this Staircase!
Would you try it? What if I told you that these stairs were supported by 3-2 1/2" Nails? That the stairs were basically held up by the hand rails? 
This was for a client that lives in China and bought this place as a summer home in Canada. 

 When we removed these stairs we found 3 small nails carrying the deck, through the weakest point of the stringers. (the part that will snap off the straight grain under a load). We normally build out a base from the beam so that the stringers are capped and securely fastened to the deck structure. The cap needs to extend past the lowest extent of the stringer to be safe. 

And at the bottom of the staircase we find the same thing as the top. Supported by the tip of the stringer that is prone to break off. To make things worse it is supported by a platform without footings on sand--on top of the septic field. You are not allowed to build anything within 5' of the septic field. We ended up moving the staircase to the other end of the deck to maintain distance from the septic system.

 I don't know who the manufacturer of this frail rail system is, however I would expect it to be the lowest priced item available in a big box store. The rail is sagging under the weight of the glass and the posts are weak enough to give way if anyone fell towards it. No engineer would stamp this rail as suitable and I have no idea how it passed inspection in the first place. We changed the rail to a more robust system.

 Here's a common issue not addressed by building code. 

Code stipulates that second level decks need to be connected to the house with carriage bolts through the framing of the home... they stipulate every 24" but they don't say where to mount the bolts. All the bolts are mounted 1.5" down from the top of the beam...which means the entire structure is supported by a 2x2 piece of pressure treated lumber. We added bolts and had to remove drywall and patch inside the already finished basement.

The ledger adds another layer of safety--however the ledger was attached to the part of the rim which if tested, would fail. There were also no joist hangers... so we had to add those.

My other concern was that there was no flashing to prevent moisture from getting behind the siding to rot out the connected structure. We added flashings during the re-build.

We discovered a few other issues like non-acq rated nails here and there but we were able to salvage much of the structure. Stay tuned--the next post shows how it turned out!    L


Mark said...

So who is to responsible for this inferior deck being built?

Did the homeowner cheap out and go with the low bid? Did they do their due diligence prior to hiring the so called "contractor"? A simple visit to a deck built by the contractor in the past would have avoided wasting alot of resources.

Or did the contractor take advantage of a home owner that lives over seas?

Unknown said...

Good Questions Mark--
It was pitiful, though a good illustration of what not to do.
The builder originally built the home and the deck on spec. It's a bit of an old boys club up here for building inspectors. They tend to overlook things for their buddies and most local builders--but if you come in from somewhere else and attempt to build anything, you tend to get everything in the book thrown at you--and roadblocks put up to send you scrambling to the city.

The original deck, flaws and all was inspected, however, I really doubt the staircase was inspected. I believe that was added after.

The couple that owns the place is Canadian...but they work in China.

I would also expect that the deck was inspected by a home inspector prior to the purchase...shocking he didn't have any issue with that deck.

I am sure the builder sub contracted the staircase to some local hack--and likely didn't even look at it. Any contractor worth his salt would be embarrassed about that one.

The owners are only here to enjoy it for 6 weeks a year, and the last thing they want to spend their vacation doing is litigating with the original builder... Prudent I think.