My practice as a home inspector in Austin has yet to turn up a dangerously unsafe deck, but I personally know other inspectors who have found such, and there are lots of well-documented examples of deck failures in the broader trade literature. The importance a home inspector places on the careful inspection of decks is thus a good indicator of the quality of his overall work. This post will illustrate how I approach the determination of deck safety.
The home inspector in Austin has to take deck safety very seriously for a few reasons. One, safety in general is a primary concern. Two, inadvertent omission of a structural problem can result in avoidable damage to person and property as well as to inspector’s reputation. Third, decks are sometimes add-on projects of homeowners and are not always built to code or through the permitting process. Fourth, decks are exposed to the elements and thus can degrade more rapidly than the house.
Inspecting for Structural Integrity
Perhaps the most important items on my home inspection services checklist for decks are those related to structural integrity. Age and appearance are inadequate indicators of soundness. The previous owner may have hardly used it and/or may not have entertained a crowd. But the new owner expects the deck to support all customary loads.
All load-bearing members and joints need to be examined. I check to ensure that the deck ledger boards are bolted, not just nailed or screwed, to house beams or foundation. I also judge whether the positions and spacing of all other supporting posts or pillars are sufficient. Where joists connect to beams, beams connect to posts, and posts connect to footings I ensure bracketing exists.
A good Austin home inspector tests all these connectors and brackets for looseness or corrosion. And, depending on deck height above soil and deck area, I consider whether diagonal bracing or other reinforcing members should counteract potential lateral and uplift forces.
Inspecting for Pests and Associated Conditions
As an Austin home inspector who also has a state pest inspection license, I am qualified to make a more detailed and accurate finding in my report of property inspectionsthan someone without the license. I am authorized not only to cite conditions conducive to infestation of wood-eating organisms but also to identify species. This puts the scope of such problems in context and points towards the type and severity of treatment required.
Decks are exposed to lots of moisture, making them particularly susceptible to these kinds of problems. Failed sealants, wood touching soil, and circumstances that trap moisture lead to rot, mildew, and infestations of insects. If the home inspector knows what he is doing, he can find nests and damage even if the moisture has dried out.
Other Deck Safety Issues
I always inspect the railings and stairs, as these commonly exhibit safety issues. Here, many of the same inspection checklist items from the home interior apply, like baluster spacing, graspable rails, and guards against too-great-a fall. However, I test the rails for too much give and stairs for too much sway, as they tend not to be as firmly supported as their indoor cousins.
My other property inspection practices include checking for potential hazards. For instance, proximal trees might have branches overhanging the deck that could drop debris or even something more dangerous. I check the surface for worn waterproof coatings and mold. I examine the electrical outlets for meeting the proper standards.