Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Safety Is Not Age Dependent -- High Decks

It does not really matter when a house was built and what codes, if any, applied at the time of construction: An unsafe guardrail is just as unsafe at a 100 year old home as it is at a new house.

As a home inspector in Bellingham, WA, I point out that codes are not retroactive but I, also, inform buyers of critical safety issues.

This is a guardrail, high upper deck at a two-story residence, and "part" of the rail is of sufficient height -- 36" over the surface of the deck. However, at another section of the same deck, as illustrated in the photo, the guardrail height changes and the rail is much too short to be considered safe.

A guardrail must be a minimum of 36" over the floor of the deck or any landing that is 30" or higher above grade. There are other problems at this high deck.

The spacing between the spindles at the rails is 6". That was commonly the way it was done several years ago. But, due to the number of injuries at decks, today, guardrails at locations 30" or higher require spindles spaced so any gaps are less than 4" -- to keep a child from passing through the openings. The other "practical" safety problem here, although it is not prohibited by code, is that the spindles are installed horizontally and that makes them climbable like a ladder.

Clients can, and will, do as they choose, as far as eliminating potential safety hazards at a house. From my standpoint, I will continue to report matters that I deem to be significant safety concerns.  I do not want the moral responsibility of having said nothing, keeping mum just because a house was old, and then finding out that someone was later crippled or even worse.

A bad fall is a bad fall, maimed is maimed and dead is dead, no matter when a house was built. Taking the age of a house into consideration, as a primary factor, amounts to a pretty lame excuse for ignoring significant safety deficiencies.

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 4 commentsSteven L. Smith • December 24 2012 03:23PM


An unsafe deck should be repaired / brought up to Code.  If the Owner cannot afford this, then take the deck off the house.

Posted by Fred Griffin Tallahassee Real Estate, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) over 7 years ago



I wish everyone felt that way about it.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago

HI Steven,

A bad handrail height is still a bad height. Grandfathered in or not.

I still write up missing smoke detectors in older homes built back before there even were smoke detectors.

Have a very Merry Christmas my friend.

Best, clint mcKie and Family.

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 7 years ago


I see it the same way as you.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago