Deck Collapses

Bill Bergstedt
Certified Master Home Inspector
Inspecting in California and Nevada
530-577-7811 (office)  



Even some licensed contractors do not build safe decks, let alone the average do-it-yourselfers.  An unsafe deck is a critical safety hazard, not just a nuisance.  A professional home inspection will give you the information you need.  Click here to watch video of a deck collapse


The Saturday Night Dance Party came to a chaotic halt when the second story deck collapsed with dozens of young people mixed in with the fallin timber and railings.

Early rumors were flying regarding injuries with one 18 yr. old reporting that someone had a broken neck.  What was certain according to arriving authorities was the damage and the fact ambulances took numerous injured to hospitals for treatment.  A professional Home Inspection likely could have prevented this kind of tragedy from occurring.  It is reported that decks cause more injuries and loss of life than any other part of the home structure.  In my experience of inspecting hundreds of decks I find many of them are not safe although to the untrianed individual they look great.

Residents of a Cedar Village Apartment on Old Hwy 53 were evacuated Tuesday Morning shortly after 10 am when a stairway collapsed.  An unidentified man was walking down the stairs when the section fell approximately eight feet to the ground. As of the news account his condition was not known.  Lake County Fire Protection District responded to the scene with two medic units, an engine, battalion chief and the fire chief.  Evacuation of the second floor was completed by use of a ladder.

According to to one firefighter on the scene, the wood appeared to have been rotten and there were no L- brackets supporting the staircase.  This is an aprtment complex that was built within the last few years.  Obviously the proper brackets and flashings were never installed thus creating a severe safety hazard.  The proper flashings would have prevented moisture intrusion during storms and thus have prevented the rot.

It is of critical importance that all stairways be examined by a profesional home inspector during  your home inspection.  It is not enough to look at the stairs and walk down them and pronounce them safe and sound.  That could be a tragic mistake.

According to the January 23, 2010 issue of THE PRESS DEMOCRAT from Santa Rosa. the deck was built about 1995 without a permit and the current owner of the house purchased it around 7 years ago.  It would be interesting to know if a Home Inspector was hired when the home was purchased.  Offficials further state investigation shows it was improperly constructed and was not safe to use.  As a Certifed Master Inspector who has inspected thousands of large decks, I do not find this surprising.

Decks are popular, they can be a lot of fun, a good one is costly, they require upkeep and most importantly they can be very dangerous.  This event caused many injuries, an 18 year old girl may loose her foot.  The attorney's that will follow will get huge settlements.  Many decks are built without a permit, built by homeowners or handeymen who mean well but do not know how to build the deck.  They do not know the proper lumber size, the spans between supports, the correct hangers, rust proof bolts with washers, and the spacing required.  Many more items of major importance are often ignored or left out.

Several lessons should be learned from this tragedy.  FIRST, a building permit should be obtained and a qualified builder should do the construction.  SECOND, when buying an existing home you should always retain the most qualified Home Inspector available.  Select a Home Inspector who has  been certied by a recognized and respected Home Inspection Association. These organizations require training, experience, monitored testing and members are required to participate in continuing education.  They should also have errors and omission insurance.  Not all certifications have value, anyone can get a certification in under an hour on their computer, worse yet, some just do inspections with nothing but a business card.  THIRD, once you get your report from the Home Inspector, immediately correct the health and safety issues that the report indicates need your attention.

It is estimated that of the 40 million existing decks in America only about half of them are code compliant, thus many of these decks are potentially unsafe.  More than a million decks are built each year, a large percentage are built by home owners and individuals who are neither trained nor qualified to build them.  "DECKS CAUSE MORE INJURIES AND LOSS OF LIFE THAN ANY OTHER PART OF THE HOME STRUCTURE"  reports Don Bender, Director, Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory, Washington State University.  Because a reported 44,700 deck injuries occur each year, it is imperative that a deck be properly inspected for safe Deck materials, method of construction, flashing, support posts and beams, size of materials in relation to span of beam or joint and proper care and maintenance.  When any of these is incorrect, it can be life threatening.  For more information on deck construction, click on Links or visit Simpson Strong Ties at /deck.