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The Critical Eye!

Michael Leavitt’s professional inspection related blog.

Top 10 List to Avoid Deck Failures

Top 10 List to Avoid Deck Failures

THIMichaelLeavittI spend many dozens of hours each year scouring the internet for deck failure related information and articles. The way I see it, if my compiling this information saves even one life from the prevention of a deck collapse, then my efforts are worth the time invested. I want your next family BBQ to be filled with fun and laughter, and not with screams and ambulances carrying your friends and loved ones off to the local hospital. I was impressed with this well written article from the Gaudette Insurance Agency in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.

NOTE: I have a specialty website,, that has the news accounts of the major collapse of decks and balconies archived for research and educational purposes.

Top 10 Tips to Avoid Balcony, Porch and Deck Collapses

Gaudette Insurance AgencyGaudetteInsuranceAgency
Whitinsville, Massachusetts
Fri, Jun 07, 2013

Every summer, hundreds of people are injured when a porch or deck collapses and they are standing on or under it. Decks can even collapse when no one is standing on them which stresses the importance of making sure if you have a porch, deck or balcony on a commercial prroperty that you own or lease, there are certain precautions you can take to avoid a tragic accident.
Because most decks are elevated it is almost impossible to avoid injury during a collapse. Injuries resulting from a porch or deck collapse can be fatal so care should be taken to regularly inspect and maintain your deck. Below are some tips and resources that will help you recognize the signs of a dangerous porch or deck.
Here’s our top 10 list for deck, porch and balcony collapse prevention:

  1. Building, condo and apartment house owners should know and clearly post the maximum capacity for balconies and decks.  Overcrowding and exceeding capacity must be prohibited.
  2. Many older porches, decks and balconies were built before codes required them to support a minimum load pounds per square foot, or to have ledger boards with direct structural connections.  In 2003, building codes began prohibiting nailed-on ledger boards.  Ledger boards that are not lag bolted, or through bolted (i.e., you only see nails), need immediate correction.
  3. Inspect for missing or rusted nails or fasteners and replace or repair as needed.SanDiego A
  4. Check for splinters, buckled or loose boards, uneven stair treads, popped nails, and discolored areas. These are all symptoms of deterioration and inspection may reveal deeper safety problems.
  5. Examine the railing and supports for broken or missing pieces. When supports are missing, the railing is unsafe, especially for children and pets.  Is the railing high enough? Local codes govern railing height, a key component in preventing falls. If your deck was built a while ago, or if the builder didn’t comply with code, it may be too low for safety.
  6. Inspect posts and footings for cracks or rotted wood.  Make sure post and beam connections are secure.  Plus repair any washouts or soil subsidence around footings.
  7. If there’s horizontal movement, the deck may need cross-bracing to prevent sway.
  8. Remove or consider the weight of furniture, appliances, wading pools, air conditioning compressors or other heavy items. (NOTE: Other than 1 and 2-family homes, gas or charcoal grills may not be used or kindled on any balcony, under any overhanging portion or within 10 feet of any structure.)
  9. Try to keep your deck clear of dirt, debris, and water. Dirt and water only speed up the decaying process of wood so you should take care to keep your deck dry and clean. Make sure run off water from your roof is not streaming down onto your deck or in between supports as it will cause damage after a period of time.
  10. Even the best-constructed decks are built to last only 15 years. How old is yours?  If you have a deck older than 15 years, have it professionally evaluated, repaired or reinforced.

A few must watch videos that highlight both what to look for in a faulty deck and solutions to prevent deck collapses include:

The North American Deck and Railing Association promotes Deck Safety Month® each May, where you can find a Check Your Deck® Video, a Consumer Checklist and a detailed Deck Evaluation Form right on their website.

Today Show Segment on Deck Safety (showing a simulated collapse and what warning signs to look for to help prevent deck collapse, in a Consumer Smarts Tips Segment).

Deck Dangers (KDKA TV reports 50% of decks are ready to fall, or are on their way and provides inspection information).

Simpson Strong Tie’s Deck Safety (showing The 5 Warning Signs to look for during an annual deck inspection).

Over time, even treated wood begins to weather and the result is cracking, splitting, and weakness in the supports and joints of your deck. To ensure your safety and the safety of others you should inspect deck, porches and balconies on your commercial property for damage regularly, at least once a year is recommended.  Failures and collapses are avoidable with proper construction and upkeep.


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