Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Deck Inspections for Homeowners

In this podcast, Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Murry discuss their allergy experiences and the necessity of maintaining healthy indoor air quality. They move on to the major topic of deck safety, emphasizing the importance of correct attachment to the house as the leading cause of deck collapse. They refer to the standards and guidelines in the building code and the Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide.  They emphasize the need to adhere to these recommendations to maintain deck safety. Reuben mentions that brick veneer is an exception, since a special fastener known as the Simpson Strong-Tie can install a deck through the brick veneer.

Please check the links below for the following topics: 
How to inspect your own deck:

Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide (DCA-6):

Decks attached through brick veneer:


Maintaining good air quality in the home is important for allergy sufferers.
Proper attachment to the house is crucial for deck safety.
The building code and the Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide provide guidelines for deck construction.
Different methods of attaching a deck ledger board to the house include lag screws, through bolts, and specialized fasteners.
Following these guidelines is essential to ensure deck safety. Proper attachment of a deck ledger board to a house is crucial for deck stability and safety.
Different attachment methods include using lumber or engineered floor trusses to attach the ledger board to the rim joist or band joist of the house.
Siding and wall coverings need to be removed before attaching the ledger board, except in the case of brick veneer where a special fastener called the Simpson Strong Tie can be used.
Flashing over the ledger board is essential to prevent water intrusion and potential damage to the house.
Lateral load connectors are required to ensure a secure connection between the deck and the house.
Frost heave can be a problem in colder climates, and alternative footing options such as helical piers or diamond piers can be used to mitigate this issue. Proper construction techniques and adherence to building codes are crucial for deck safety.
Deck footings should be properly designed and installed to prevent settling and movement.
Ledger board attachment is a critical area that should be carefully inspected to ensure stability.
Deck posts should be securely attached to footings and properly supported to prevent movement.
Joist hangers should be the correct size and properly installed with the appropriate nails.
Rot is a common issue on decks, especially on the end grain of wood and where cuts have been made.
Guardrails should be strong and able to resist 200 pounds of pressure along the top rail.
Deck lifespan can vary depending on the materials used, with the bones of the deck lasting 30-40 years and deck boards lasting around 15-20 years.
Deck replacement can be a significant expense, and homeowners should budget accordingly.
Composite materials are becoming more popular for decks due to their longer lifespan and lower maintenance requirements.


00:00 Introduction and Discussion on Allergies
04:18 Transition to the Topic of Deck Safety
07:48 Requirements for Building a Deck
16:08 The Importance of Proper Attachment to the House
23:06 Emphasizing the Importance of Following Guidelines for Deck Safety
23:34 Methods of Attaching a Ledger Board
25:08 Siding and Wall Coverings
26:06 Exception for Brick Veneer
29:04 Lateral Load Connectors
32:44 Importance of Flashing
35:24 Considerations for Different Situations
36:31 Taking a Comprehensive Approach
37:53 Potential Issues from a Distance
39:31 Dealing with Frost Heave
47:50 Introduction and Overview
48:08 Deck Footings and Ledger Board Attachment
52:54 Improper Joist Hangers
56:07 Preventing Rot on Decks
58:27 Guardrails: Strength and Pressure Resistance
01:01:33 Deck Lifespan and Replacement
01:09:36 Conclusion




The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.



Reuben Saltzman.: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman, I’m your host, alongside building science geek, Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom.


RS: Welcome back to the Structure Talk podcast. Like I said last week, I think, summer’s here, it feels great outside, the sun is shining. What a beautiful summer we’ve had. I think I’ve… I think I turned on my AC once this year, and it was very reluctantly. Otherwise, it’s just been so beautiful out. How about you?


Tessa Murry: Well, that’s impressive, you’ve only turned it on once. I guess I have people that have allergies in my family, and so we… And we have an air-to-air exchanger and we’ve got a MERV 11 filter, and so the air quality is much better inside the house with the windows closed. So, some days, we open it up, but a lot of days, we’ve kept it closed, especially with the cottonwood. We talked about this last time, but…


RS: We did.


TM: It is still everywhere where I am. And so people with cottonwood allergies in my house are just sneezing all the time. So we’ve kept our windows closed and our AC on. But yes, it has been a beautiful summer.


RS: Ah, I feel for them.


TM: Yeah.


RS: There was a week, I don’t know when it was, might have been May or April, something earlier this year, and it was like five days, I just, I swear I was dying, Tessa.


TM: Really? Your allergies too.


RS: Just sneezing non-stop, eyes were just swollen. Nose is running.


TM: Oh, man.


RS: I was incapacitated. Maybe it was a wicked cold, but I don’t think so. Pretty sure it was allergies, ’cause it was right after we started keeping our windows open.


TM: Yeah. Okay, well, I wonder what you’re allergic to. Have you ever been allergy-tested?


RS: Yeah, I was like 15 or something, I should probably do it again, ’cause stuff changes, right?


TM: Yeah. It does. It does change, yeah. I went through immunotherapy for a while in college where you go and you get shots. They test you for what you’re allergic to, and then they give you shots of the things that you’re actually allergic to to build up immunity. It was awful, but I…


RS: That sounds awful!


TM: The process is awful. Yeah, the process… My arm would swell up like the size of a football after every shot.


RS: Oh, no.


TM: And it was absolutely miserable, but I have to say, well worth it in the end, because I got shots for cats, for mold, and for all sorts of different pollens and trees and grass. I was allergic to everything, and it made a huge, huge difference.


RS: Really.


TM: And this is when I was going into a lot of houses for, doing weatherization work, and a lot of those houses had mold and cats and everything, and so, I was sick all the time. So that made it feasible for me to go work in unhealthy environments, I guess, is what I’m saying.


RS: Sure. And does that last for a long time?


TM: Well, over time, it loses its effectiveness. And so, my dad did that too, and I don’t know how many years they say it will last, but I’m a good 15 years out, and I… And I think also… And allergies change over time. So mine have just gotten better. The shots helped, and then also I think a lot of these allergies have faded for me too. I still have the seasonal allergies, but I can handle being around cats now. I never used to be able to, so.


RS: Okay.


TM: It was it was worth it for me. Yeah. If your allergies impact your day-to-day life, it’s something to look into. It’s an investment, for sure, time-wise. But I had good insurance, and I had easy access to the place that gave the shots, so I did it. And I don’t regret it.


RS: Well, it almost seems like it would be a good thing to have a severe mold allergy for what you do…


TM: I know.


RS: ‘Cause you remember, we had Vickie Swenson on a couple of times, and she talks about how she goes into a house, if there’s mold, she knows it instantly. How great would that be?


TM: I know. I know. Well, and that’s, I think… I used to have pretty bad reactions to that too. I would say I still… I can smell it, and I know you can too, like when you walk into a house and it’s musty…


RS: Yeah.


TM: You just, you know. You know it.


RS: You know.


TM: Yeah. So I don’t have the severe health reactions and the respiratory stuff that I used to have, but I can still sense it, smell it. Yeah.


RS: Okay. All right. Well, that’s good.


TM: Yeah. Yeah.


RS: All right, so…


TM: What do you think? Should we…


RS: Today…


TM: Yeah.


RS: Yes. Yeah.


TM: Let’s start it.


RS: We’ve got a topic other than what the heck is going on this week, and it is…


TM: Talking about allergies. [chuckle]


RS: Yeah. But it’s decks. Now, we missed May. I don’t think anybody even knows or cares. But May is officially Deck Safety Month, and May has come and gone. But I don’t care.


TM: How did we miss that?


RS: How’d we miss it, Tess? We’re the worst. But what? We could still talk about deck safety. There’s so much when it comes to decks, and this is one of those topics where it’s like, it’s kinda nice if you can do it with a slide deck and people can see what you’re talking about. It’s even better if you can talk about inspecting decks and deck safety up close, and you’re actually looking at a deck. That’s best. But I think there’s still a lot of stuff around deck inspections where I think we can add a lot of value just talking through it podcast-style, too. So…


TM: I agree. I agree. Well, and there… I know that you’ve blogged about this before and you even have CE classes that talk about decks. You’ve got like hours of content of deck failures and deck issues, don’t you?


RS: We’ve got a lot of content on decks. Yeah. I’ve written about it quite a bit. And today, I thought we’d kinda go over a blog post I put together many years ago. And if you’ve already read it, then you kinda know everything that we’re going to be talking about, but there’s probably one person listening who might have read it. For everybody else, the blog post is titled How to Inspect Your Own Deck. It’s on our website, And we go through a whole lot of the stuff that homeowners can do to make sure that their deck is safe. And it’s not a substitute for hiring a professional to come out and look at your deck and make sure it’s all good, but there’s a lot of very important stuff that we cover that if just a little bit about houses and construction, you can look at a lot of this stuff yourself to make sure that your deck is relatively safe. So, I thought it’d be fun to go through it.


TM: And I think this is a very, very helpful list, and it’s good to empower homeowners and people to check these things out for themselves. Because, I’m pretty sure you can agree, Reuben, that a majority of decks out there, older decks, even newer decks, have issues, even if they’re built by what you think are “professionals” or “contractors.”


RS: Couldn’t agree more, Tess. Yep.


TM: Yeah, so let’s dive into it. Let’s dive into it. Where do you want to start?


RS: All right. Sounds good. Well, let’s start with the requirements on how to build the deck. Now, here in Minnesota, our requirements, our rules for building a deck changed quite a bit in 2015. We adopted a new building code. We updated our building code. And with that, we adopted a new version of the International Residential Code. And that newest version had a greatly expanded section on how you’re supposed to build a deck to code. In the past, it’s so weird, but the building code really didn’t have anything specific to decks. They had like a paragraph or two, but it was very little, and you were just supposed to rely on floor construction for how to build a deck.


TM: Oh, wow. Okay. Didn’t talk anything about the connection of the deck to the house or any specifications on fasteners or anything like that?


RS: That’s… It probably talked a little bit about the connection to the house, and that was about it. There wasn’t much. But now it’s really been expanded. And for any geeks out there who want to look it up, you’d pull up the International Residential Code, the IRC, and it’s Section 507 of the IRC. That’s where you’re gonna find all this stuff. But I will say, even though it got greatly expanded, there’s still a ton of information where the building code doesn’t tell you how to do stuff. It’s not a cookbook. It just tells you, “When you’re all done, it kinda needs to look like this, and it needs to be able to do this,” but there’s a lot of things where people question, “Okay, well… Okay, so how am I supposed to get there?” And that’s where there’s another document that comes into play that, for any home inspector out there, they surely are aware of this. If you’re a home inspector and you’re not aware of it, I strongly recommend you download this document. It’s something called the Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, and it’s put out by the American Wood Council. And right at the top of this document, it says “Design for Code Acceptance 6,” and because of that, if you Google it, what you’ll probably Google, what everybody just refers to this as, is DCA 6, Design for Code Acceptance 6. It’s about a 20, 24-page PDF. I’m just looking at it right now, I got it pulled up on my other screen.


TM: Oh, 44 pages, actually, I think.


RS: What?


TM: Quite long. Yeah.


RS: When did it turn into 44? What are you looking at, Tess?


TM: Well, I’ve got it pulled up here. I think a lot of the pages are tables and references, too, though.


RS: Oh. Yeah, you’re right. Okay. You’re right. I’ve got 44 pages, too.


TM: Yeah.


RS: And it looks like… It officially ends on page 23 or 24, and then the rest of it… Yeah, the rest of it is an appendix.


TM: References. Yeah. Okay.


RS: Yep. Appendices.


TM: A lot of good info.


RS: How’s that for a good plural word for you, Tess? The appendices.


TM: Impressive. Impressive.


RS: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. So, download that document. It’s got all kinds of illustrations and lots of specific information, paragraphs and paragraphs telling you how to build a deck. I will warn you: This is not code. Your local jurisdiction has the authority to adopt this as code. I don’t know of any authorities who have done so. It’s different all over the country. But it’s a document that was written to help people interpret what the code is supposed to mean, and they say, “If you follow what’s in here, your building official is probably going to be okay with it.” That’s my version of what this document does. So, I can’t imagine anybody following the requirements of DCA 6 and any building official having an issue with the deck. This is a great document. But even having said that. It’s not perfect. It’s not complete.


RS: One thing I find very lacking in this document is how to attach a stairway to a deck. They give you some options. They say, “You could do this. You could do this,” but there are so many different ways for attaching a stairway. And most of them are totally wrong., I’ve got… I wrote a blog post on this, and I probably have 40 different… I’m exaggerating. There’s probably literally about 30 different photos of improperly attached stairways. And every one is just a little bit different. There are so many goofy ways of doing it. And I wish there was just one or two ways, like, “Here, use this bracket, or use this bolt, and that’s it.” That’d be nice. Otherwise, we just gotta look at it, and we gotta say, “Huh. Do we think this is gonna work, or don’t we?”


TM: Yeah. Yeah, I think that document’s very helpful. Thanks for bringing that up. I was just gonna say, when I was doing training with the new home inspectors for Structure Tech, I always felt like decks are such a… There’s so much to know. There’s so many things to look at. And we could have easily have taken, I feel like, a whole day just to talk about decks and how to properly inspect them.


RS: Yes. Yes. There’s just so much going on.


TM: You don’t realize it. Yeah, you think, “Oh, it’s just… Whatever. It’s just some posts and some joists and whatever.” But then when you really dig into it, there’s so many connection points. You got to think about the load, how it’s… There’s a lot of ways for decks to be built wrong. And you have lots of good examples in some of your classes that you teach. So, yeah, and your blogs that you’ve written, too.


RS: Yeah. And we’ll try to talk through…


TM: And let’s take it head on today.


RS: Yeah. We’ll try to talk through a bunch of it, and just make it easy to understand where you don’t need to see pictures. So, first, let’s just define what a deck is, because there’s two structures that people kinda confuse, and it’s a deck and a balcony. And today, we’re really focusing on decks. A deck is something that is going to be somewhat supported by the ground. It could be supported entirely by the ground, where you’ve got posts going all the way down to the ground and it never even touches the house. That could be a deck. It could be supported by the ground on one end and supported by the house on the other end. That’s the most common way of building a deck. It’s the easiest way. You’ve already got a structure, so you attach it to the house on one end, and then you’ve got a big beam, and you’ve got a bunch of posts going down to the ground on the other end. That is also a deck. Definitely the most common. What’s not a deck is something that is only supported by the house.


TM: Okay. That’s a balcony?


RS: That’s a balcony.


TM: Okay. Okay. Thank you for defining that. Does that come from the code book?


RS: That’s just what I’ve decided. No, just kidding.


TM: It makes sense to me, all right. I’m not gonna challenge you on that one, Reuben.


RS: No, it’s surely in the code book. I know this. Give me a minute, and I bet you, I could find the exact definition. I wasn’t prepared to give it to you.


TM: I’m sure you could. Reuben, you are like an encyclopedia, your little brain, so I thought I might ask you. I was like, “Well, this sounds like he’s looked this up before.”


RS: I’ve definitely looked it up. I can’t remember where it was. It’s surely in Chapter 2: Definitions, in the building code. I’m sure that’s where you’ll find it.


TM: It probably is. Okay. Didn’t mean to derail us. Okay. Let’s continue.


RS: No, that’s okay. All right, so. Tessa, all right, so pop quiz: What do you think is the most common cause of deck collapse, of deck failure? Where does it go wrong?


TM: The attachment to the house, right?


RS: Boom!


TM: Did I… Okay. Thank you.


RS: For a thousand dollars, you nailed it, Tess.


TM: I still got it.


RS: That’s exactly it. Yes. And that that’s why I started out by defining what we’re talking about, because that’s the most common way of supporting a deck, is half of the deck is supported at the house. And so it means that your attachment to the house needs to be really, really good. We can’t let that fail. And traditionally, the way you do it is somebody would take a whole bunch of lag screws. And that’s like this big, thick fastener. It’s kinda like a screw, but it might have a bolt type of head on it where you’d use a socket wrench to get it into place. And you’d use a whole bunch of those going into the house. That was the more traditional way to do it. But if you’re gonna do that, you can’t just use a big old bolt and go right into the wood, you need to pre-drill it. You need to drill a hole into the house…


TM: Who does that?


RS: Well, you have to, otherwise, it ain’t gonna go in.


TM: Okay.


RS: But then you’re also supposed to drill two holes. You need to drill a larger hole in the part of the deck that’s attaching to the house. That’s called a ledger board. You need to drill a larger hole in that thing, and then you drill a smaller hole when you’re going into the house part, ’cause you really want those threads to grab on to the house really well. Now, I don’t think anybody in the history of building a deck has ever actually done that. [chuckle]


TM: Yeah. A smaller hole…


RS: Normally, they just use the same hole for both. And you’re supposed to use some big washers to help hold it in place. That seems like common sense, right?


TM: Yeah.


RS: Yeah.


TM: Okay. Does that happen too?


RS: A lot of the time, a lot of the time people use washers. We’ve seen a lot of decks where they don’t use washers, and they’re using a socket wrench and they get that bolt all the way up to the wood, and there’s not much that it’s gonna grab onto, it’s gonna kind of sink into the wood, and they tighten those bolts down until there’s really nothing to grab onto anymore. You can’t even get your socket wrench over the hex head anymore. That isn’t a great way to do it, ’cause now it’s sinking into the wood. And you may think, well, who cares? But over time, water’s gonna leak into that location because you’ve compressed the wood and it’s gonna start rotting, it’s gonna get looser and looser. So we’re paying attention to that. If we got the old school lag screws, do we have good washers on there? And do we have them all over the place? So that’s something we’re looking for. If you don’t have any of those at all, like let’s say somebody just nailed it to the house, that’s not cool. If you…


TM: Nails are not acceptable, are you saying?


RS: Nails are not acceptable. Those things will pull out. That’s probably one of the more common causes of deck collapse. And when a deck is brand new and you nail it on and you’re taking these 16D nails, they’re gigantic. And you’re pounding ’em in all over the place, there ain’t no way that thing is moving. That thing is so solid. But you give it a couple of seasons and water coming in and the wood shrinking, now that all changes.


TM: Yeah. And lateral loads.


RS: And you’ve got the potential for that to fail.


TM: Yeah. Yeah.


RS: Lateral loads. Yes. Yeah. Trying to pull away from the house. So nails aren’t enough. Having a bunch of little screws isn’t enough, you need to have some big bolts. Now, another way to do it would be to have full through bolts. And this isn’t like a screw. This is like a bolt and a nut and a washer where you’ve got a bolt going all the way into the house. And then you gotta go inside the house, you need to have access, and you need to put a nut and a washer on the other side and tighten it all the way down. I’ll say this, ain’t no way that’s failing. That is a great way to do it. But it’s also very labor intensive. It means that you’ve gotta have somebody on the outside of the house pushing it through, you gotta have somebody inside putting the nut in the washer on there. And then you need to have access to the unfinished space in your basement, typically, so that you can get at all of this stuff. And if it’s a newer home where somebody has spray-foamed the rim area with spray foam insulation, how do you get at it? How do you do that? Well, you gotta cut it all away and you gotta be very precise with where you’re putting your bolts. So it gets to be a challenge. So we don’t see that often, but it’s…


TM: We might.


RS: It’s very solid connection. Yeah.


TM: What would you see in a more modern day deck construction now for attachment methods?


RS: More modern day. You go to any big box retailer, Home Depot, Lowe’s, whatever. And in the area where they sell all of the fasteners for decks and brackets and all that, you’re gonna find a box of these special fasteners made just for attaching a deck ledger board to a house. One of the brands is… Let’s see there’s one by Simpson, there’s one by FastenMaster, it’s called LedgerLOK, L-O-K, I believe it ends with. And it’s got a little hex head. It looks a lot more like a screw, it’s not this huge lag screw, it’s a lot skinnier, but it’s bigger than your typical deck screw. And you don’t need to pre-drill when you put these in.


TM: Excellent.


RS: All you do is you take your impact driver or your drill and you go right into the ledger board, right through the ledger board into the house. And you use a whole bunch of these things. Now, the code book, we’re not gonna get into this, but the code book is gonna tell you how frequently you need to have these, how staggered they need to be, how close to the top of the ledger board or bottom of the ledger board you can put ’em. And all of that stuff is gonna depend on the size of your deck, how much load you’re actually supporting, that’s gonna tell you how many fasteners you need. So it’s gonna totally go beyond the scope of what we’re talking about to say how many you need to have. But let’s just say you need a whole gang load of them. But it’s pretty quick, pretty easy to put them in.


TM: Are they expensive?


RS: No, they’re not expensive. I’d say you probably get a buy… They’re probably about a buck each. Something like that would be my guess. I bet you get a box of 50 for 50 bucks, something like that. Well worth it for the time you spend where you don’t have to mess around with pre-drilling or going inside and attaching a nut to the inside. They’re pretty simple. Now, the one caveat to any of these that you’re putting in is that you need to have something good on the house that you’re attaching to. You’ve got the potential…


TM: Define good. Define good.


RS: If you’ve got an older home with traditional lumber, like two by material, two by eights, two by tens, two by twelves for your floor joists, you’re surely gonna have a big two by member going around the outside that would be called your rim joist. And your ledger board is basically the same thing. It’s gonna be another two by 10, two by 12, something like that, that’s gonna go right up against it. And that’s what you’re attaching to. But when you’ve got newer homes, you’ve actually got the potential to have an engineered floor truss instead. And you don’t have any traditional lumber going around the outside of your house. You might have just plywood. I’ve seen that happen, where they don’t have a rim joist at all, or a band joist, somebody might call it. And in that case, you need a carpenter to figure this out. You can’t just go right into that plywood ’cause, or OSB, ’cause that’s not gonna have any holding power. What’s probably the most common today would be a one inch thick OSB rimboard. And those are acceptable to attach to.


TM: Okay. Okay. And what about different types of siding? I’ve seen decks that are attached through like stucco for instance, in an older house. Is that okay?


RS: Bad news. Bad news, Tess.


TM: Okay.


RS: Pretty much any siding you have needs to be removed. The ledger board needs to go directly up against the house, the wall coverings, the siding, whatever, that stuff can compress. And there’s really no good way to flash it. So, I can’t think of a single wall covering or siding material where it’s acceptable to put your ledger board right up against the house wall. In every case you need to cut the siding away. And…


TM: That’s important.


RS: Although, you know what? I will make one exception. And now this is a weird one, but I know the knee-jerk reaction, people are gonna say, “BS.” brick veneer.


TM: Oh, tell me your reasoning for that.


RS: Now, it says right in the code that you cannot attach a deck to brick veneer. They’re very specific. They say that’s a big no-no. And the reason you can’t do it is because brick veneer is gonna be floating from your wall. It’s not actually attached to the wall. It’s freestanding. You’ve got these little spacers that hold it out from the wall. And so now if you’re gonna crank it up against the house you’re gonna be collapsing that brick. It is not meant for that load at all. However, the exception here is that Simpson’s Strong-Tie, a manufacturer of fasteners. Hold on. I was not prepared. But they make a brick veneer ledger connector. It’s this special fastener that’s made specifically for attaching a deck through brick veneer. It’s super fancy…


TM: You just happen to have this box with these fasteners underneath your desk for this podcast.


RS: Tessa, I was not prepared for your question at all, but I know that I’ve had this sitting there. I had reached out to Simpson ’cause I said, “Hey… “


TM: I thought you were being sarcastic. I thought you were being sarcastic.


RS: No, no. I’m dead serious.


TM: We did not plan this, listeners.


RS: We did not plan it. This has been sitting under my desk for years since I last wrote about it. And it’s this whole kit that lets… It’s not cheap. It’s 45 bucks for one attachment point, and you need to have a bunch of these attachment points. And I’m not gonna try to explain how it works on the air, but if you do a little Googling and you type Simpson Strong-Tie and how to attach a deck through brick veneer, it’ll surely be the first thing that comes up. They’ve got an awesome little YouTube video showing somebody installing one of these things. So there is a way to do it. And now it’s gonna be up to your building official to accept this device. But I can’t imagine any building official not accepting it ’cause it’s engineered just for this, it is a one trick pony.


TM: Just for brick. Well, I wonder if they’ve done something like that for brick, if stucco… If they’ve got something like that for stucco too, or EIFS.


RS: Now I’ll say for stucco, I don’t care if they do or they don’t. You don’t have any good way of flashing around those fasteners. And as a home inspector, I would raise concerns about it no matter what. If you’re attaching a deck over stucco or over stone veneer.


TM: Okay. Now have we covered all of the attachment methods that you wanna talk about yet? ’cause if you haven’t, I wanted to…


RS: You know what…


TM: I wanted to back up and touch on something you just said.


RS: Okay. Well, all right, there’s one last thing before I forget about it.


TM: Okay.


RS: And it’s that there’s this new code requirement that’s been in effect for about a decade or so, I think it came in 2015. And it’s these special lateral load connectors. So you can’t just bolt it onto the house, you also need some special brackets. And I’m not gonna get into all the little details of it. You can google a lateral load connector. But when the building code first came out, the way it was written, these things were just about impossible to install, and they wanted you to have at least two of ’em, and each one needed to support at least 1,500 pounds. The code quickly changed and they said, okay, instead of doing that, you can use four of them and each one can support 750 pounds, and these are gonna be way easier to install, and that’s all that I have ever seen done. So it’s an extra little fastener.


TM: What do they look like?


RS: It basically looks like a little L bracket, and it’s gonna be installed underneath four different joists along the deck. And it doesn’t matter the size of your deck, whether your deck is four feet wide or it’s 60 feet wide, the code says you need four of them. So it’s kind of weird that they don’t care, but it’s this little L-shaped piece. It’s gonna be fastened underneath four different joists. And then you’re gonna have a huge screw going through it into the deck ledger board, and it goes through the ledger board into the house. And it helps make sure that your deck does not pull away from the house.


TM: If they’re attached to the underside of a joist. How do they go through the ledger still? It seems like the ledger would be higher than them.


RS: It’s gonna have a… What does it do? Oh, you know what? I think I misspoke, Tess. It does not go through the ledger. That’s a great question.


TM: Okay.


RS: It goes right below the ledger, and then it’s gonna hit the top plate of the bottom wall.


TM: Wow. That’s… Okay. Very interesting. So does the siding have to be removed where those go through the side of the house as well? Or do they typically go through siding? I’m getting way into the weeds on this. But I…


RS: Now, I don’t remember.


TM: I’m just curious. Okay. So where the ledger attaches to the house, the siding has to be removed, that has to make a strong connection to the framing, to the structure of the house. But where these additional supports go through, they don’t necessarily go through the structure of the framing or the siding has to be removed, they kind of just go through the wall almost and tie into the bottom plate.


RS: Right, right.


TM: Okay. Okay. Interesting. Wow. And when were those required those…


RS: I wanna say 2015.


TM: In Minnesota.


RS: And I’m doing a little googling, and the pictures I’m seeing, they’re going right through the siding.


TM: The siding.


RS: So that’s truly what I’ve seen. But I’m seeing some other ones here where it looks like… No, they all go underneath the joist. I saw some other pictures where they went on the side of the joist, but those are the old ones I was talking about that will support 1,500 pounds. And I’ve never seen those installed, ever.


TM: Interesting. So you might have seen first generation installation on the side of the joist going into the ledger, but now what you’re commonly gonna see is them attached underneath the joist parallel, like running parallel with the joist into the side of the house.


RS: That’s right.


TM: Under the ledger.


RS: That’s right.


TM: Okay.


RS: Yep. You got it.


TM: Okay. Interesting. All right.


RS: Was that the thing you were gonna ask me about?


TM: Yeah.


RS: Or was there something else we need to back up to?


TM: Well, actually there was something else. Yeah, so you mentioned one thing that we haven’t talked about yet, which I feel like is one of the most important things when we’re doing deck inspections to look for, and that’s the flashing. We haven’t touched on that yet. But the flashing over the ledger board and for anyone that is not familiar with kind of some of these terminology, it’s just a piece of metal that is supposed to integrate kind of under the siding and ideally underneath the weather-resistive barrier tuck up behind that. So any water that comes down the wall behind the siding will flow down over top of this flashing piece. And this flashing goes over top of the ledger and it prevents, in theory, water from getting in between the ledger and the house. You don’t want water getting in there, right?


RS: Yes.


TM: So you wanna see that piece of metal, and typically if you’re inspecting, and there’s no way you can see how that flashing is installed if it’s integrated properly with the weather-resistive barrier, how far up the wall it goes, but what you can see…


RS: No way.


TM: Hopefully, is if you’re standing underneath the deck, looking at that ledger board where it attaches to the house, if you look up, you can hopefully see just a little peak of that metal that’s bent over the top of that ledger board. So that’s one really important thing that you wanna see. And if you don’t see it, then you should definitely mention that you can’t see it as a home inspector, and hopefully maybe do a little bit more digging looking for potential signs of water intrusion into that wall that could lead to not only like severe rot and degradation of wall sheathing and framing, but also it could lead to big structural concerns and deck failure too.


RS: Absolutely. Absolutely. That is a very critical connection to keep water out of, you got a high rate of failure at that connection. But you said it all perfectly, Tess.


TM: Yeah, flashing…


RS: Yeah, I don’t have much to add to that. It’s very good.


TM: Okay. Perfect. So look for flashing at the deck ledger. Yeah.


RS: And you know what? There’s one other thing I’ll say as to how big of a deal I would make about this, if I’m looking at a deck that doesn’t have flashing, I’m not just looking at the flashing, I’m also looking at the bigger picture. If this is on a deck where you’ve got this huge overhang on the roof, and then you got a nice system of gutters, and water is probably never even going to get here, I just kind of give a shrug and say, “They should have flashed it. You’re missing flashing. It ain’t right. It’s probably never gonna make a difference.” And I’d kinda leave it at that. And then if I were on another deck, exact same deck, exact same situation, but there’s no overhang at the roof, and it’s a two-storey house, and all of the water that hits the house is gonna run right down, and it’s gonna hit that intersection between the house and deck, I’m making a big deal about it. I’m gonna say, “This area is gonna see a ton of water. It’s not flashed properly,” and I am going to inspect the heck out of that whole area looking for any signs of water intrusion. And if that’s stucco and it’s not done right, I’m surely gonna recommend having intrusive moisture testing done on top of it and say there’s a high potential for concealed damage in your wall.


TM: Good point.


RS: I’m not just looking at the deck by itself. You’re looking at the bigger picture. And that’s why home inspectors, that’s why we have a job, it’s ’cause we’re not looking at just one thing, we’re looking at the bigger picture. That’s what home inspectors should be able to do is piece it all together.


TM: Yeah, yeah. Home inspectors, we’re an interesting breed because a lot of the home inspectors I know that love what they do and are really good can get into the… They love the details, they get into the weeds, but you also, as you just mentioned, have to be able to take a step back and look at the big picture. And I think when you’re inspecting a deck, it takes both skills to do it well. We were focused in on kind of the specific types of attachment methods for the ledger, which is really important. But one of the first things that we would talk about doing when we were training new home inspectors is to take a walk around. I know you talk about this too, Reuben, in your classes, obviously I learned this from someone, I learned it from you. Take a walk around the back of the house and look at the deck from several different angles. Because you would be surprised at how many potential issues you might find just from looking at it from that 20,000-foot view.


RS: Yes.


TM: So some examples of potential issues you might find would be improperly framed decks, you wouldn’t believe how many times, like the way that they connect the beam to the joists, to the posts, is not done correctly. And you’ve got beams that are not properly supported by posts and they’re just floating and they’re being held up by some nails. Or maybe there’s some frosty that’s happened that’s making the deck out of plumb or something else is going on that you can’t really catch if you’re just looking up close at some of these details that we’re talking about.


RS: Yeah. And now for people in our southern climates, tell ’em what this crazy thing is we get to deal with called frost heave.


TM: Frost heave. Oh my gosh. Well, here where we live in this frozen tundra, the ground freezes, it can cause some movement with footings and with decks, and ideally when you are building a deck, you should be putting these footings below the frost line. So that doesn’t happen. What is it, four feet?


RS: It depends on what part of Minnesota you’re in. There’s a very magical line that cuts Minnesota in half. The north half and the southern half. And the depth changes right at that line from three and a half feet to five feet.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: And it’s not a straight line either. It’s a zig-zaggy line depending on county. So you can be kind of North. You could be a northern area where the people to the south of you actually need to have deeper footings. They need to have five foot footings, and you can get away with three and a half foot. So.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: It really goes by county. It’s just so they can administer the code. It’s not a magical number. But it’s either three and a half or five feet where we live.


TM: Okay. Well, if you’re one of those people that lucks out and only has to dig down to three and a half feet, hopefully that will serve you and you won’t suffer frost heave, because if frost heave happens and you get a deck that is completely out of plumb, and then that puts stress on the house deck connection and can create all sorts of issues. So, I don’t know, what’s a… Well, how do you fix that, Reuben?


RS: Well.


TM: How do you fix a frost heave?


RS: The way I’ve always seen it fixed is to have the deck torn down and redone.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: I don’t know that… Technically the way it should and could be fixed, I guess, would be you redo the footing. But, it’s like okay, all the load is designed to go right where this footing is. How do you get rid of the existing footing? It’s like you have to move it. So I don’t know of any easy way of fixing frost heave. The only way I’ve seen it done, and I say this ’cause I’ve had a number of neighbors have this happen where I drive by their house everyday and their deck is janky. You’ve got a section of the deck where it’s like six inches to a foot higher than other portions of the deck. It’s like somebody just grabbed that thing and ripped it out of the ground and shoved it way up with a carjack, and now it ain’t going back down. That’s how bad this is.


TM: Wow.


RS: And I’ve seen a lot of ’em where the fixes, they get a new deck built. I haven’t seen any one actually get repaired.


TM: Yeah, ’cause aren’t you supposed to put the footings in undisturbed soil?


RS: Yes. Yes. And by undisturbed soil, Tessa means that it’s not part of the soil that was dug out around the house and then backfilled, it means soil that has compacted over decades. That’s where the footings need to go.


TM: Right, right. So yeah, I don’t understand how you can really easily, or cheaply fix a deck that has suffered from this frost heave, you’d have to build a whole new deck with a different footprint.


RS: Yeah. It is, it’s unfortunate. And if you have some really nasty soils, the most… And we’re totally going off topic here., I did not mean to cover this much depth in this podcast, but that’s okay. If you’ve got some super nasty soils, and you just wanna be 100% sure that you’re not gonna deal with frost heave, you end up having a company come out, and they are a very specialized company. This isn’t a deck builder. This is a company that just does this for a living, they put in this thing called a helical pier, and it’s basically like a huge screw that goes into the ground. And they’ve got this, I think they got like a bobcat with a special attachment on the end of it. And it’s gonna crank this thing, it’s gonna keep screwing it into the ground until basically… And they keep welding on new sections of pole as it goes deeper and deeper into the ground until it can’t go no more. And it’s gonna reach some type of compressive strength. And they say, “Okay, now we’ve hit bedrock, or we’ve hit soil that is just so stable that we can’t turn this thing anymore.” And that’s where they stop. And I’ve never heard of one of those failing. That is a very good solution if you’ve got soils that tend to expand and contract… Typical of soils that have a lot of clay content.


TM: Yeah. No, I think that’s a really good solution to bring up. And is there a… If people wanna look this up, I think there’s a brand called Diamond Pier, P-I-E-R, that creates these, and you can see what they look like. They’re kind of alien-looking…


RS: Well, you’re talking about something else.


TM: Oh, well, okay. Clarify what’s the difference? Holy, you have a little…


RS: Why not?


TM: Oh my God. That’s cute. A little model…


RS: Well, so the Helical pier is like a big old screw. Now the Diamond Pier that you’re bringing up is just like, it’s just a big chunk of concrete, and it’s got four metal rods that go through the chunk of concrete at a 45-degree angle and they go into the ground. It’s tough to envision. If you Google Diamond Pier, you’ll be able to see what it looks like, I’m holding one up to Tessa in my camera so my listeners can’t see this but.


TM: A little tiny model.


RS: I have a model.


TM: Where did you get that cute thing from?


RS: One of the reps gave it to me, ’cause I blogged about their topic and they came out.


TM: Wow.


RS: And they installed one at my neighbor’s house, he was one of the first ones to get one of these in Maple Grove. And he gave me a cute little model, so, I keep it on my desk.


TM: Oh my gosh. You were totally unprepared for this podcast today. Reuben.


RS: Yet I’ve got the stuff just sitting here, Tess. Yeah.


TM: Okay. Well, when would someone use something like a Diamond Pier then instead?


RS: You know what? So your options for a footing, let’s back up, a footing, that’s the part that supports the deck on the ground. You can’t just have a piece of wood sticking into the ground, that ain’t gonna work. You need this big hunk of concrete or something, some type of pad. And like you said, that pad can’t just be sitting on the ground ’cause it’s gonna heave, it’s gonna go up and down. It needs to be buried way down below the frost line so the… Or, it’s gonna be sitting on Earth that is undisturbed, like you said, and Earth, where the frost line is not gonna get to it. So it’s not gonna go up and down. So you need a big old chunk of concrete sitting down there. And the traditional way of doing it is to dig a big hole into the ground and then pour a whole bunch of concrete in there.


RS: Usually they’d use a foam for it, this big tube, it’s kind of like a toilet paper tube, on a massive scale. We commonly refer to as a sonotube. You’d fill that thing up with concrete. You don’t have to use it, but people like using ’em, ’cause it makes it nice and clean-looking. But you fill that thing up with concrete, you let it set, and you stick a little bolt in there. And then when it’s all said and done, you put your deck post on top of that. That’s a footing. But you don’t have to do it that way. That’s the traditional method. You can use these other things and they’ve been tested, and it’s a big chunk of concrete that just sits basically on top of the ground, but it’s got these big steel rods that go into the ground. I don’t know how it works. It seems to me like this chunk of concrete ought to move up and down. But it doesn’t, they’ve been tested in areas with severe frost heave problems and they work really well. They are way faster to install than digging a hole and pouring concrete and then having to wait for a day or two for the concrete to cure and then come back and do it. You just pop this thing in, you put the pins in the ground, and you’re done. It’s so much faster. But they do cost a fair bit more than a number of bags of concrete and a cardboard too. It is more expensive.


TM: Okay. I was gonna, yeah, ask.


RS: It’s just how much is your time worth?


TM: Yeah, I was wondering about that. Well, interesting. Okay. So there’s new technologies out there that make it a little bit easier, if you can afford it. That’s cool.


RS: And you know what, let’s just touch on this since we’re going in the weeds. I talked about putting the post on top of the deck footing. I’ve sat through a number of classes taught to home inspectors saying you can’t just put that deck post on the footing. You need to have a bracket there that positively anchors it to the footing. You need to have some special bracket so if you get this big wind that’s gonna lift the deck up, it’s not gonna lift it off there. And all of that is hogwash. That is not true at all. You don’t need any special bracket, you don’t need anything. That’s a nice way to do it. I like doing it that way, and it’s gonna stand off of that chunk of concrete. And you’re not gonna have water wicking up into the bottom of your post.


RS: There’s lots of great arguments for doing it that way, but there’s nothing in the code that says you have to do it. All you need to do is make sure it’s not gonna move side to side. And that can be achieved by having a steel pin. It’s usually gonna be like an L-shaped round metal dowel basically. You have this pin and that sticks up out of the ground. You drill a hole in the bottom of your post, you put that hole right over to the pin, and now it’s not gonna move side to side. And that’s all that’s required by code. And as home inspectors, there’s no way we can see that. So if you’re a home inspector, and you’re looking at a wood post, sitting on a concrete footing, you got nothing to say about it. You can only assume that there’s a pin there. You can’t inspect it. You don’t need to write disclaimers in your report and fill it all up with stuff, like, “Due to the construction, I could not verify that… ” Oh, shut up. Just stop it. It’s fine.


TM: Okay, so this is Minnesota, we do have tornadoes here, which could have high winds and potentially lift the deck. But I’m thinking about areas that have hurricanes and stuff. I wonder if their code specifies some sort of mechanical attachment to the footings, although do they even… What about footings in hot climates where they don’t have to worry about frost? It’s a whole different animal, I guess.


RS: Yeah. I bet in those areas you could probably use those things called deck blocks where it’s like a square chunk of concrete and you just set it on the ground. Yeah, I wonder if they could use those. How easy would that be, Tess?


TM: Well, they probably can ’cause they don’t have to deal with the frost, but then I guess there’s no point in attaching that deck post to that concrete block because the block’s not anchored into the ground anyways. So who cares if there’s a wind uplift?


RS: Yeah, good point.


TM: We need someone who understands deck building from a very warm climate to come on our podcast and talk to us.


RS: Right. Yeah. We’re talking about national codes.


TM: I was gonna say. Yeah. Well, and they’ll have issues with termites too, that we won’t have to worry about that they have to make sure their decks aren’t eaten up as well.


RS: Yes. Yes. Oh, and you know what, that reminds me of another thing. I’ve seen many home inspectors write up the deck posts going into the ground, and doesn’t that seem stupid? Like having the wood in contact with the ground? Come on, it’s gonna rot. That has to be wrong. There’s nothing wrong with it as far as the building code is concerned. If you’re a home inspector, and you don’t like seeing the post going into the ground, you can say, “Hey, the posts go into the ground, and you are going to have an increased potential for premature deterioration and rot.” And you could even recommend having someone change it if you want. If I’m the seller, I’m gonna tell you to go pound sand. I’m gonna say, “That’s the way my deck was built.”


TM: Or go dig dirt.


RS: Or go dig dirt, because it is not a code violation, there’s nothing in the building code that says you can’t have the wood in contact with the ground. The wood needs to be ground contact, pressure-treated, preservative, whatever it is, it needs to be rated for contact with direct burial. There’s nothing that says you can’t do that. So for the home inspectors I’ve seen writing this up and saying, this is an improper installation, you’re making stuff up. You’d be right in saying it has an increased potential for rot, but whatever you do, don’t say it’s wrong, ’cause you’re making us all look stupid.


TM: Reuben, I’m glad you were able to get this off your chest today. There’s all these things that need to be corrected within the industry, and here’s your platform to do that.


RS: Yes.


TM: I will say it’s counterintuitive to think that it’s okay to have the wood post buried in dirt, but if it’s the right kind of wood and it’s been treated properly then it’s…


RS: Yeah, I’m not saying I like it. And if I’m building my own deck, I’m using a standoff fastener. That post is gonna have positive attachment to the footing. It’s gonna be six inches above the ground, it’s gonna be nowhere near the soil. That is definitely a best practice. But when I see that not done, I’m not gonna say it’s wrong.


TM: It’s wrong.


RS: I’m just gonna say there’s a better way of doing it.


TM: Yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure. Okay, well moving on. What’s another one of these, would you say, deck issues that you see commonly that gets you whipped up?


RS: All right. I’ll let you explain this one, Tess. And again, it doesn’t… This is pretty minor stuff, but you’re so good at explaining stuff. Let’s talk about improper joist hangers. What’s a joist hanger and what goes wrong with the installation?


TM: Oh boy. Where do we start? Okay. Just let’s make this brief. Joist hanger is a piece of metal bracket that holds the joist, the structure of the deck to the beams or to the ledger. So you’ll see them around kind of the… Typically any place where a joist starts and stops. And you wanna make sure that we’ve got proper nails in all of the engineered holes of those joist hangers, ’cause that’s how they’re designed to carry a proper load. So a lot of times what we’ll see is joist hangers that are either improper joist hangers, they’re not the right size, or they’re not meant for that type of joist, or they’re missing nails, or they’ve got screws instead. So lots of potential issues there that we see. Okay. What did I miss?


RS: Well put, Tess. No, that’s great. The one asterisk on you can’t use a screw. The one exception would be if it’s a structural screw. Simpson makes one. It’s gonna be a very special-looking screw. It’s gonna have a hex head on there. Those are fine, but they’re not typical.


TM: Good point.


RS: Typically you need nails, you need ’em in every hole. If you see deck screws or whatever, there’s no way that’s right. And then the other thing… We don’t even have… We don’t have time to talk about improper nails, do we? ‘Cause that’s such a long topic.


TM: I feel like if people wanna get into the weeds on this, they can google some of your blogs, ’cause you have some really good examples of ways to check for that, little tools you suggest carrying around that help you determine if the nails are proper or not. So yeah, that’s a whole nother topic.


RS: Yeah. And I will say though, on every deck I inspect, I’ve got this tiny little pry bar. And I try to pull out one nail, one of those nails going in at a 45-degree angle. I try to pop one of those out. And if it’s the right nail, it’s gonna be a full 16D nail, it’s gonna be like three inches long, and there ain’t no way I’m moving that thing. But if it’s the wrong nail, I can pop it out pretty easily with my little six-inch pry bar that I carry around in my tool pouch. And that’s a problem. That’s a problem.


TM: Devastating.


RS: We’ll put it that way.


TM: You’re just devastating that deck with your baby pry bar.


RS: I know, I know.


TM: Heartbreaking news for the buyers.


RS: Yep. But you know what, nobody’s ever gonna know which nail it was, ’cause I’m able to pound it right back in with the back of my screwdriver.


TM: Nobody knew. Yeah.


RS: Nobody knows. No.


TM: Nobody knows. Oh man.


RS: Okay.


TM: Okay.


RS: Next one is rot. Look for rot on your deck. The most common place you’re gonna find rot is on the end grain of wood. Wherever you have cuts in your wood, that’s the area that’s most likely to rot. If you’ve got wood deck boards, it’s where the boards butt up against each other, where they’ve been cut. If you got guards, guardrails, it’s gonna be where they’ve cut the guards to notch them to fit into the deck. If you’ve got big fasteners that have been sucked into the ledger board or the guardrail posts, that’s gonna be a common place for rot. It’s, everywhere the wood gets cut, that’s where it’s gonna rot first. So look for rot.


TM: And word of warning, too, if you’ve got a deck that’s painted, once you paint it, you have to keep it painted. And so, a lot of times, with painted decks, if there’s deferred maintenance, it seems like… If water is getting in there, that paint just holds that moisture in and it just kinda rots from the inside out. So don’t…


RS: Tessa.


TM: Yeah.


RS: I completely agree. I don’t think I have ever seen a painted deck without rot.


TM: Somewhere. Yeah.


RS: Somewhere, and I don’t know if the paint causes the rot, or they painted the deck because it was rotted, and they wanted to hide it.


TM: Often try to cover it up. Well, I…


RS: Yeah, I don’t know which came first.


TM: You know I don’t… I think it definitely speeds up the potential process for rot, because you’re putting like a… You’re wrapping the wood in a vapor barrier, it can’t dry. So, if water is getting in somehow, which inevitably it will, then yeah, it can’t dry. So, if you’re a homeowner and you’re kind of wondering, take a good look around. Walk underneath your deck, if you can, look around, and don’t be afraid to start poking at things. You can use a screwdriver to see if any areas are soft. But a lot of times, you can visually tell if something’s rotted. If you’re not sure, give it a poke.


RS: Solid advice, Tess.


TM: Okay.


RS: All right, we…


TM: What else…


RS: Man, this is a long podcast, but we’re almost done. All right. We’re in the home stretch here. Guardrails. Make sure your guardrails are strong. And I’m saying “guardrails,” ’cause that’s what everybody calls it technically. The way the code is written, it’s just a guard.


TM: Really?


RS: We always add the word “rail” on there, but yeah, the code definition is just a guard. It’s that thing that keeps you from falling over the edge of a deck. Right? That’s a good way to describe it?


TM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not a person you hired to protect you, it’s… Okay. Sorry. Guardrail, yeah.


RS: Yeah, I still call them guardrails ’cause that’s what everybody else calls them.


TM: Yeah. Someone’s gonna look at you weird when you say “guard.”


RS: Yeah.


TM: Okay. Yeah, so there’s different spacing requirements and height requirements and weight requirements, or for how much it can resist? Like if you lean on it?


RS: Yeah. Yeah. The deck needs to resist 200 pounds of pressure at anywhere along the top rail.


TM: How would you test that, Reuben? What’s a good method?


RS: Oh, very simple. You get a bathroom scale. I say it tongue in cheek, I wouldn’t expect anybody to ever do that, but of course, I have done it, just so I can get an idea of what 200 pounds really is. I remember, there was about a month, I carried around a bathroom scale, and at every inspection I would do, I would just see what 200 pounds feels like, just to have a good gauge of it. And I realized that for me to exert 200 pounds of pressure, I need to have really grippy shoes, I need to have a good surface to push on, I need to get really low, and I need to give it all I got.


TM: Really?


RS: And I can barely exert 200 pounds of pressure. It is not easy. It’s pushing with all I’ve possibly got…


TM: Okay. That’s a lot of force.


RS: Yeah. It’s a fair amount of force. So, if I can take a guard, and I could just kinda hip-check it a little bit and it moves a lot, or I can take one arm and I can move it a lot…


TM: Wiggle it.


RS: Now I know, this isn’t anywhere close to 200 pounds. And then we’d suggest having it reinforced, ’cause the best one I ever heard, another home inspector said, “Just think about your largest friend, and do they ever like to drink?” And you just picture a lot of people hanging out at your house and someone just kinda tripping and leaning into it. Is that gonna hold them up? Because we talked about injuries. You started out with the most common injury, most common cause of deck collapse, is detaching at the house. The other big cause of injuries is a guardrail failure. That’s the other big one. When we think about deck safety, is it properly attached? Are the guardrails super, super strong? That’s the two things we’re looking for.


TM: Yeah. Critical. Critical. Okay. Man, decks can be scary, can’t they?


RS: There’s a lot that goes wrong with them.


TM: And you know what? And they are not cheap to build or replace. And how often would you say someone should plan on replacing a deck? Every how many years? What’s the expected serviceable life of a typical wood frame deck?


RS: Boy, I don’t know, Tess. I think it depends on what you have for materials. I think the bones of the deck, like the footings, the posts, the beams, even the joists, I think you ought to be able to get 30 to 40 years out of it. I’m thinking about my dad’s house. He built his in around maybe like 1980, something like that, ’79. And I think the joists are still intact today.


TM: Really?


RS: But I might be wrong about that. I’m thinking about my own deck. I think it’s about 20 years old, and the joists are still in great shape. They’re nowhere near needing replacement. If you have deck boards that are made out of traditional lumber, you’ve got cedar or something like that, maybe 15 years on those. And then you’re gonna have to replace the deck boards. Those aren’t gonna last nearly as long. But I think an average life would be at least 20 years.


TM: Yeah. That’s kind of what I was thinking, too. And yeah, it seems like the guts and the footings and all of that might last longer, and most commonly what you see fail first is the deck boards and the railing.


RS: That’s right. Yep.


TM: And potentially the stairs. Yeah.


RS: Well, and I said my deck still has a lot of life, but, okay, I gotta have an asterisk. My guards, or guardrails, those were falling apart when I got my house five years ago, or whatever it was. The deck wasn’t even 20 years old.


TM: Was it original? Oh, it was less than 20?


RS: It was… It could not have been more than 15 years old. I think it was less than 15. It was probably about 15 years old. And those guards were falling apart. Tessa, I knew it when I bought the house, and I was like, “All right, this is gonna be a big investment, we gotta… Or big expense. We gotta replace all these.” And I put it off a little bit, I didn’t do it the very first year. The next year, we had this big rainstorm, and it was really strong winds, and a section of the guardrail actually fell off the edge of the deck, Tess. That’s how bad it got. And I was super embarrassed, I’m like, “All right, I’m a home inspector. I’m talking about shaking these and having them not be strong enough.” I had a wind take out a section of mine.


TM: The wind took it out. Oh, my gosh. Well, all this is… Needless to say, that a homeowner should probably budget for replacing large portions of the deck, if not rebuilding it, every, what? 20, 30 years, probably.


RS: Totally fair. Yeah.


TM: Okay. And how much would you say to budget for, for something like that?


RS: I have no idea. My deck is… It has a lot of guard, and it’s an unusually large deck, it’s larger than most. And it’s got the stairway that goes down and then it’s gotta landing and then it turns the corner and goes down the other way. And I think I had about 150 lineal feet of guard that needed to be replaced, so…


TM: Wow.


RS: It was a lot of money.


TM: Yeah. Yeah. Decks are not cheap. We’re talking about a big-ticket item when it comes to inspecting a house potentially with a big deck that’s built high off the ground, making sure that it’s attached properly, it’s safe, it’s not gonna fail, and that it’s sturdy and strong. And if any of those things are an issue, it can be a big expense.


RS: Yes. Yes. And if you’re planning on getting a deck built or rebuilt, be prepared for some sticker shock. I remember, when I was getting quotes to have a deck installed at my last house, I was thinking somewhere around 10,000, something like that, ought to do it. And Tessa, I got quotes, I think… And I was not looking for a gigantic deck; I was just looking for an average-sized deck. I think I got quotes ranging from about 35,000 to 70,000.


TM: What? This was just the guardrail and the stairway? And we’re not talking replacing the joists or anything?


RS: No. Oh, this is my last house, and this is building a deck from the ground up.


TM: Oh, wow. 70,000?


RS: Total new installation, but of course, I said I wanted a composite decking, and I didn’t wanna deal with stain and all that stuff. But yeah. The highest quote I got, and it looked really nice, they gave me the diagrams, the mock-ups of it and all that, and it looked gorgeous, and it was 70,000 for this deck. And this was probably six, seven years ago, Tess. This was a while ago, I can’t even imagine what they’re at now.


TM: Oh, my gosh.


RS: So, you’re looking for a new deck, be prepared for some sticker shock. It’s not what it used to be. And it’s not like you’ve got contractors robbing people; it’s just that the cost of materials have gone up so much, and most people are gonna wanna stay away from traditional wood for the deck boards. Most people are going to composite materials that are gonna be more maintenance-free, ’cause staining deck boards just sucks.


TM: It’s not fun. Yeah.


RS: No. Not fun.


TM: No, the lifespan is longer with composite material, too. Less maintenance, longer life. It’s a win-win.


RS: Yup. Yup. Yup. All right.


TM: Well, we covered a lot. Did we…


RS: This is the show.


TM: I know, I was gonna say, did we… I know there’s a lot more we can talk about, but I think we hit the key points of things that we look for when inspecting a deck.


RS: We hit all the key points. Yeah. And like you said, Tess, oh, my gosh. We could do a multi-part series on this, but I don’t wanna bore anybody ’cause, look, it’s like I said at the beginning, a lot of this stuff, it really helps if you can see it. I think we are right at the edge of what we can talk about without people looking at diagrams. We probably went past that already. We should probably call this a show, but if you want more information about any of this stuff, like I said, I’ve got a blog post, if you go to our website, and you type in “How to inspect your own deck,” you will find it. If you go to the show notes, I will include a link to that blog post in the show notes. It is a mega-post, there’s a lot of photos in there. It’s a much longer one than typical. And I also have a video on there, which was a mega-video, it’s like a 20-minute video that I recorded on how to inspect your own deck. So.


TM: Yeah. Good info. Good, good info. And Reuben, I think we need to post a picture of that little cute diamond pier model you have as well. Maybe that could be cover of this podcast. [chuckle]


RS: Okay. I will include a photo of this in the podcast. I don’t know how I take a screenshot of this, but I will figure out a way to do it. Yes.


TM: Awesome. Perfect. And if anybody that’s listening has questions or want to add something, how do they reach us, Reuben?


RS: Please email us, And if they wanna get ahold of you for anything, how do they contact you, Tess?


TM: They can reach out to me, you can find me on my website,, and all my contact information is on my website.


RS: Sweet. Thank you, Tess. I say we’ll call it a show, and we’ll catch everybody next week. Thanks for tuning it. Take care.


TM: See ya.