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

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Things Change -- Deck Safety

When a deck is of significant height, say 30" above grade, it should have a guardrail around it. People have known that for years. While sometimes homeowners neglect to install such a rail on a deck that is about 30" high, almost everyone agrees that a deck several feet off the ground should have a guard rail.

Below is a rail on a deck that is about 7' off the ground.

bellingham home inspector, king of the house

There is a rail there, and it is at least 36" high above the surface of the deck. So far so good. However, there is a problem. Some of the spaces, gaps, between the rail are as wide as 7". Now, at one time, do-it-yourself books used to state that a rail should not have any gaps wider than 6". However, today, that standard is no gap wider than 4".

The reason for this is simple: A child might be able to get through a gap that is wider than 4". With safety, far as I can tell, rules almost always become more strict. Very seldom, do they backoff or go backwards.

Steven L. Smith

 Bellingham WA Home Inspections

  

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 19 commentsSteven L. Smith • October 23 2008 02:09PM

Comments

Horizontal barriers make good ladders too Steve.  Nothing like assisting the little delinquents:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 10 years ago

No truer words were ever spoken. This one was pretty appealing. In a similar note, one thing I find funny is the number of "public" buildings or stairways that are so loosy goosy on handrail or guardrail safety. They seem to almost always use the horizontal design and often have gaps wider than what they would make Joe Homeowner put in. It seems like it ought to be the other way around.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Good safety tip, and a great story about how our building codes and standards change and improve over the years.

Posted by Vickie Nagy, Vickie Jean the Palm Springs Condo Queen (Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate) almost 10 years ago

Steve don't building and occupancy codes and permits in your area mandate certain types of railings on decks, ours do.

Posted by Richard Halpern (Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT) almost 10 years ago

Steve, residences have "minimum" standards----public spaces have "minimal" standards:)  (as a side note codes for residential, used to be fine with 8" spaces)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Richard,

Sure they do. But there are still many old decks out there that do not comply. There are also quite a few safety gaps in most codes, from my viewpoint. We have to call these things on an individual basis.

Charlie,

A guy has to be really, really old -- like you -- to remember that one.

Vickie,

Thanks for checking in.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Good information Steve.  I love hanging out with home inspectors.  I always learn a lot.

I work with an ASHI inspector that is very focused on quality.  He has "killed" some deals, but it is best in the long run.  I would rather protect a buyer than ruin my reputation or get someone in a bad house.

I appreciate the work you all do.  Down in a crawlspace or up in a 150 degree attic, you may not feel appreciated.  But I respect the profession.

Posted by Richard Barbee (Realty Executives Assoc) almost 10 years ago

Steve, excellent reminder!  Charles also makes a good point about horizontal slats making it great for little ones to climb. 

Posted by Tony & Darcy Cannon, The C Team (Aubrey and Associates Realty) almost 10 years ago

In Massachusettes any deck 24" or more off the ground requires a rail system.

Posted by Mark A. Stanley (William Raveis Real Estate) almost 10 years ago

My little rugrats would be over and under that one in seconds.  Course they love a good dare.  But hey, my kids can fall off a deck that's one step off the ground, so there is that.

Good point about codes!

Posted by Joel Weihe, Helping you to use your VA home loan benefits (Realty World Alliance) almost 10 years ago

We have the most over-protected kids now, don't we?  Kids used to play on top of the house or barn and occasionally fell off, bounced, and went back up there.  They should worry about "seniors" instead of "kids".  LOL

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) almost 10 years ago

You have hit on one of my "scary" buttons.  I can take bugs, spiders but if a deck looks the least bit unsafe, I steer clear of it.  About 10 years ago, there was a horrible accident in my area where  30 people at a party fell 90 feet from a deck that overlooked the river. 

Posted by Leslie Stewart, Realtor, ABR, CRS, Oregon Licensed Broker (Oregon Licensed Broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Real Estate Professionals) almost 10 years ago

Steve-- Not only could kids slip through these slats, but so could some curious pets! Even if you don't have kids, you might want to think about making the deck safe for Fido. Thanks for posting!

Posted by Ilyce Glink, Best-selling author, award-winning TV/radio host. (Think Glink Media) almost 10 years ago

Yes, as people are pointing out here, there are all sorts of risks with high decks. Really, I do not think it is possible to make them completely safe, at least in a manner that still keeps them appealing, but we do what we can.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Steve, as a home inspector, how would you address an older deck with huge gaps (nothing between top and bottom rail) and support columns that have a rock placed between them and the footer. I have a client who is considering a property that has a deck that is obviously unsafe, and he is wondering if he should reduce his asking price upfront because of it, or should he let the home inspector write it up in his report first?

Posted by Rich Mielke, REALTOR, Frederick Maryland Real Estate (REMAX Results, Frederick MD) almost 10 years ago

Rich,

If it is not a safety worry, then he could live with it. If there is danger involved, or probable, then I would think fix it. If no kids are ever on it that gap is not an immediate danger for seller I guess. As an inspector, a typical write up for a deck with problems goes like this.

 There is wood decay fungi (rot) evident on a post supporting the high deck or balcony. This applies to the post at the south. This is a safety issue due to the height of the deck. Additionally, this high deck does not have lag bolts attaching the ledger board to the home. That was not common when the home was built, but lag screws or bolts help keep a deck in place. The rail around the deck has gaps of up to 6". Today, to keep a child from passing through, it is recommended that a deck over 30" high have gaps no wider than 4" at any location.  Many decking boards have fungal growth present and are deteriorating. Recommend that qualified contractor repair/replace deck, as required, and upgrade it to meet all modern safety guidelines and install proper metal flashing to protect against moisture at exterior wall. I would recommend that posts used should be pressure-treated material. When complete, seal and finish with quality stains or preservatives.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

Steve, thanks for the response. I think he would be better off having the entire deck replaced.

Posted by Rich Mielke, REALTOR, Frederick Maryland Real Estate (REMAX Results, Frederick MD) almost 10 years ago

Yep ..... There be a problem there. How about the railing height of 36", does that fall into compliance for being high enough?

Sean Allen

Posted by Sean Allen, International Financing Solutions (International Financing Solutions ) almost 10 years ago

Sean,

The 36" should be okay for a one or two person dwelling, but that is the minimum height.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 10 years ago

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