In 2003 a real disaster happened in Chicago because the builders of a deck outside several apartments didn’t anticipate the number of people who would gather on it one fateful evening. 13 unfortunate fatalities and 57 seriously injured told future builders that codes are not something to be taken lightly. Lives might hang in the balance. So, what can builders do to make sure the deck structures they build are safe? 

Today, most local building codes follow the International Building Code. These stipulations require that porches, decks, and balconies be able to support a (human or equipment) load of 40 pounds per square foot. Yet, the Code also states that a “dead load” must be included in what the deck must be able to support in order to be deemed safe. Basically, this “dead load” is meant to represent the weight of the structure itself.

One of the most violated code items is the length out from a building a deck can extend. This was one of the violations in the Chicago tragedy. Other stipulations call for the proper width of the supporting joists and specify a certain thickness for the supporting beams that come from the ground. There are a few more vital considerations that must be made during a deck’s initial design. 

Finding a good building and home inspector to go over the deck and ensure codes are met will eliminate unsafe situations and possible legal actions. Another factor to examine closely is evidence for elements that may be rotting. Wood rot is created by a fungus, a living organism with spores that can be found spread throughout. For this type of rot to thrive, it needs warmth, food (the wood), and moisture. Consequently, you will want to eliminate these factors to keep rot from expansion. 

A thorough inspection of your deck can cover the areas where rot might be discovered. There are also specific areas you will want to check where moisture is known to store or collect. For example, check the zones where the fascia board rims the deck. Since there’s no flow of air in spots like this, collection of moisture is unimpeded and can begin the rotting process. 

close up of wood deck rotting

Again, an experienced home and building inspection team, or individual, will help you uncover these problematic areas and help you take the necessary actions to prevent rotting.

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