Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


We sure love our decks!

Given the issues with owning decks, it is somewhat impressive that we insist on having them.  I understand the fascination with them--have built plenty of them myself.  We have been building them for as long as we have been building wood houses no doubt.  We used to call them porches and they typically had a roof over them, they often had real foundations under them and many could even be enclosed in the winter and/or screened in the summer.

The whole notion of extended decks (that are sometimes more square feet than the house itself, with no roof) is a relatively new idea.  They gained a whole lot of popularity with the advent of pressure treated lumber, which allowed them to last long enough to warrant the expense.

Aside from homeowner maintenance issues, the construction of decks is all too often the work of the weekend warrior or “professionals” that missed the class on deck construction because--well, how hard can it be?

A recent newer deck that I inspected is a case in point.  It is almost understandable that older decks might have a variety of installation issues that make them unsafe.  For new construction to have safety issues is almost arrogant.  The building codes have become so prescriptive that even the weekend warrior should be able to handle the project safetly—assuming they can read, care and/or know where to find the information.  A thing called “Google” has made the excuse of “ignorance” an impossible defense.  What we have left is relegated to arrogance.

The intent of this post is not to list the many things that can go wrong with deck installations but to show how this particular deck performed under “inspection” and why it performed as it did.

When you look at this next picture, you can see how this walkway (about 5’ wide), that connects a huge deck on one side of the house to another huge deck on the opposite side of the house, is supported. 

It is supported by diagonal 4x4’s that terminate on top of some buried 4x4’s against the foundation.  What these buried 4x4’s rest on, could not be determined but they are inadequate as indicated by the amount of slope away from the house of the walkway.

There is considerable leverage at the outer edge of the walkway.  This leverage is demonstrated in the following video, where my friend and fellow home inspector Don Hester obligingly jumps up and down at the outer edge.  You may have to watch the 6 second video a couple of times to see what happens.

The ledger is actually flexing under the weight and pulling away the ledger, along with the siding, it is attached over. 

This movement is consistent with inadequate attachment of the ledger and the two 2x6 outriggers that attach to the diagonal brace.  The fact that these outriggers are undersized for all the joists and floor loads hanging on them only exacerbates the issue.

As in icebergs, this was just the tip in relation to the many safety concerns with this deck.  It will need major modifications—hopefully by professionals other than the parties that built it originally.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Comment balloon 26 commentsCharles Buell • October 24 2013 05:38PM


That's nuts!  I wonder who ever thought that was a good idea and/or sufficient structurally!

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) over 6 years ago

Hi Charles - It's hard to believe anyone would actually do that. It's definitely scary enough for Halloween.

Posted by Dick Greenberg, Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate (New Paradigm Partners LLC) over 6 years ago

Charlie, That one was a beauty. Hard to imagine that a contractor came up with that idea.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Marc, this is why we have engineers.  While some builders can actually acquire the skill set necessary to do these simple deck designs--this one does not come close.

Dick, great for Halloween

Don, it is a "floating" deck

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Charles, it doesn't look it will take much to tear the deck away from the house.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 6 years ago

This is an accident waiting to happen. . I'm no engineer. .but that does not look right!

Posted by Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group, 301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA (Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001) over 6 years ago

Michael, this was just one person jumping a little bit at a critical attachment point---a dozen people walking or standing watching over the railing could be more than it could take

Fernando, it doesn't take an engineer to see it for sure

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago
I sincerely doubt the construction code official passed this. Odds are, no permit was ever pulled. If he did, he needs to be fired.
Posted by Bill and MaryAnn Wagner, Jersey Shore and South Jersey Real Estate (Wagner Real Estate Group) over 6 years ago

Nothing better than standing on your deck and swaying in the wind. Kind of makes you feel like you're on a boat. So I guess just imagine the waves rolling in as you sip your coffee on your wobbly deck.

Posted by Aaron Hofmann, aka Mr. Smyrna Vinings (Atlanta Communities) over 6 years ago

Can't imagine anybody reacting positively to that deck, what a sure fire way for a major accident.  

Posted by Morgan Evans, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) over 6 years ago

I would be curious why they opted for that type of support on such a heavy load. Too bad, looks like the rest of the construction was done fairly well. Some vertical support would go a long way to making this deck stable!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 6 years ago

A lot of homes in our have decks, and those decks are typically a concern for home inspectors.  Many of them were done incorrectly, although I haven't run into any with those diagonal supports yet!

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (406-270-3667,, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty) over 6 years ago

 This appears to be the handy work of "Uncle Bob" the master of creative construction concepts. Bob prides himself on out of the box thinking. It appears he chose not to include duct tape in the application.

Posted by Paul Miner (Affinity Inspection Group "For The Discerning Client") over 6 years ago

Bill, it is highly unlikely that any permits were involved

Aaron, it is called a dramimine deck

Morgan, needs repairs yesterday for sure

Fred, supposedly the ground was too hard to dig

Kat, decks are a huge problem for inspectors

Paul, or spray foam

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Very interesting.  Glad to know more about decks and these are good examples of what to watch for.   Many weekend warriors know what they want to do on decks and stuff like that, but have no idea on how to do it safely.

Thanks for sharing..


Posted by Ginger Harper, Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County! (Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage) over 6 years ago

Well it was a good idea in theory. Too bad theories don't pass for up to code.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) over 6 years ago

Ginger, as always the devil is in the details

Suzanned, the codes are the result of hundreds of years of costly expense--and how best to avoid those costly expenses in the future--given current information.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

I admit it!  I have a love-hate relationship with decks.  I don't have one.  I opted for a brick patio instead.  Over the years, I've had transactions where decks have been real assets, and others that were almost deal breakers because of design flaws, or deferred maintenance which added up to multiple thousands of dollars to remedy!

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 6 years ago

Decks in the Pacific NW are always such a joy to encounter.  And thank you for sharing your encounters.  Always a pleasure looking at the HUH, What Were They Thinking? photos! No exception with this one. 

Posted by Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED (RETIRED / State License is Inactive) over 6 years ago

I guess we've all seen decks built every which way and usully the owner/builder is quite proud.  

Posted by 1~Judi Barrett, BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK (Integrity Real Estate Services 118 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745) over 6 years ago

Scary!  But was there anything major?  :)

Posted by Joshua Frederick, Home Inspector in Defiance & all of Northwest Ohio (Home Inspector for ASPEC Residential Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

That's scary to think of a bunch of people being on it and something happening. I've heard of decks falling and I'm sure weekend warriors did it without properly educating themselves of how to build it correctly.

Posted by Pam Graham, Jacksonville, Clay & St Johns Counties (All Real Estate Options) over 6 years ago

Mryl, the ongoing costs of decks can be staggering--especially when constructed poorly to begin with

Carla, isn't my job fun?

Judi, yes---toes get stepped on very easily with decks

Josh, just the usual

Pam, I am pretty sure as well

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

The world would be a better place with folks on an open deck, using open front porches and talking, communicating. The TV off, conversations happening.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) over 6 years ago

Another case of thinking outside the box. Waaaaaaay outside :)

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Andrew, while that is the common wisdom---I am not sure how truly accurate it is.

Jim, it is Waaaaaaaay over the box."

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago