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


How Safe Is That High Deck?

This photo, and the topic, will get you thinking. I guarantee it. To get things going, setting the stage so to speak, please take a look at the high deck, balcony if you prefer -- top right side of the photo.  It is way up there, where the air is thin.

If you were standing on that deck, I bet you would want to think that it was safe. Is that a reasonable assumption on my part, that you would want to think that a parachute is not in order? Usually, unless people have an obvious clue to the contrary, they assume that decks are safe.

This upper deck is of a cantilevered design. That means that joists, which are also a structural part of the home, extend out past the exterior wall and they support the deck. Sounds pretty solid and safe, right! Think again -- rain water gets on the joists and, over time, that causes rot or decay.

The photo above is one joist that is "supporting" that high deck. There were other joists holding it up, including the one behind this joist. Problem is that several of them are rotted too. 

If this was a rarity, I would say so. I am afraid that it is not. It is a real worry and a huge safety concern. In my climate, around Bellingham and Whatcom County, I see this over and over again. When a deck is cantilevered it is not always easy to repair, especially if the joists end up rotted near the exterior wall. A fix might include having to go into the wall, or coming up with a totally different design.

Check your decks, or have a home inspector do it for you. The life you save might be your own.

In my party etiquette book, being the life of the party does not include spilling the guests into the yard 20 feet below.  

Steven L. Smith

Bellingham WA Home Inspections

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 14 commentsSteven L. Smith • August 27 2008 03:28PM



Normally I would high decks are safe, except when you have wood rot as you showed in your photos, not good or safe. That's why we have home inspectors.

Good luck and success

Lou Ludwig

For additional information on Peak Performance Services www.LouLudwig.Com  

Posted by Lou Ludwig, Designations Earned CRB, CRS, CIPS, GRI, SRES, TRC (Ludwig & Associates) over 11 years ago

wouldn't you just fall onto the lower deck if the upper one failed? who doesn't love a little deck hopping?

Posted by John Morrison, Exclusive Buyernulls Agent, CBR - Boston Area Real Estate (Buyer's Choice Realty) over 11 years ago

John, That could be. Then again, it would not be good to be on the lower deck if the upper one came down.

Lou, Rot is only one problem. Others include poor fasteners, no lag bolts or screws, poor positive connections, bad columns, bad footings. Any number of things to be done, or go, wrong.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Does a deck like that have a life exptancy factor in years?  Let's assume minimal to no maintenance.

Posted by ARDELL DellaLoggia (Better Properties Seattle ) over 11 years ago


It just depends so much on exposure that it would be hard to predict. If in a dry place, big overhang, maybe it will last years and years. Get it in a real wet spot, that never drys, and you might see problems in houses less than ten years in age.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Yikes!  I bet I look more closely at deck supports from now on!  Wasn't there some tragic deck collapse several years ago that was in the news with lots of injuries/deaths?  I can't remember the details, does anybody?  It seems like there was a big party going on.

Ann Allen Birmingham Realtor

Posted by Ann Allen Hoover, CDPE SRES ASP e-PRO Realtor - Homes for Sale - AL (RE/MAX Advantage South) over 11 years ago

I guess there's nothing like a little preventative maintanence when you buy a house with a deck like that.  Here in Baltimore we have a huge problem with roof top decks not being secure and also causing leaking. 

Posted by June Piper-Brandon, Piecing Dreams One Home at a Time (Long & Foster Hampden) over 11 years ago

And paint sure doesn't improve the situation any.  Bad enough that it is not treated wood----add paint to it and help keep the moisture in the wood once it gets there:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 11 years ago

Gee Charlie, and you used to be a leading advocate for painting over rot.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 11 years ago

I certainly would not want to be holding a party on that deck. 

Posted by Tim and Pam Cash, Real Estate Professionals - Clarksville TN (Crye-Leike (Sango)) over 11 years ago

wow...That don't look too good. Just think if they had a party and everyone decided to go out on the deck......CRASH!!

Sean Allen

Posted by Sean Allen, International Financing Solutions (International Financing Solutions ) over 11 years ago

This is one I would have my new squirrely employee inspect for me.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Sean, Talk about party crashing. Seriously though, decks are so important to check, it is amazing the number that I find that have issues. Thanks for the post Steven...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 11 years ago

Thanks for the comments Michael. You see much exterior rot in Nashville?

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 11 years ago