Home Inspections: Unsafe Decks

by : Eric Badgely

Decks are so commonplace that people tend to take them for granted. In fact, decks that are not well maintained can pose a serious safety risk to life and limb.

People tend to take deck safety for granted. Sellers, buyers, realtors, and even home inspectors who should know better, might walk right up on an unsafe deck. Decks are simple and so common that we seldom even think about them. In other words, they are taken for granted. While that is the reality, often decks, even the low ones, can be treacherous. They are prone to concealed rot on beams, joists, columns and decking boards. This can lead to soft spots, springiness or even collapse. I know realtors who have fallen through, or off, decayed or dangerous decks. I know one home inspector who fell through a deck and hurt his ribs. One realtor was left hanging from a high deck, with his arms over the joists, after the decking gave way. In another instance a realtor sustained serious neck injuries after falling from a deck. And, in yet another case, a lady realtor fell through rotten decking boards, on a low deck, and put a welt on her leg. She was lame for several weeks.

Warning: Before you tread on decks, even low ones, use caution and give them a once over with your eye prior to walking on them. A fresh coat of paint or stain might, instead of being a positive statement about deck maintenance, be a negative factor. Often people, who understand nothing about construction, know that the deck has problems and they simply paint over the rot. This makes the deck even more dangerous because it conceals the most obvious visual defects.