What I'm Seeing Now

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The Dangers Of Kit Decks

One of my bugaboos as a home inspector is deck installation.  Or decks in general.  So often installation is incorrect.  And among decks, my least favorite are the kit decks.

What are kit decks?  These are decks that are picked out of a catalog at a hardware store or design center.  They offer different designs, with decks that are put together with panels which fit into slots created by framing.  The patterns are pleasing, checkerboard, herring bone, alternating angles, and so forth.  Different guardrails are offered and you can mix and match and design a deck!  Kit decks have personal appeal.

The big problem I have with them is they are put together entirely with 2x4s and 2x6s, pre-cut to length and put together on site.

Nothing is solid wood.  The columns are 2x6s put together and posts 2x4s put together.

And if the crew putting it all together on site is not diligent, or experienced, here is the result!

I can tell you the problem with this deck in one word:

NAILS!

Nails get loose over time.
Nails rust over time.
Nails can't hold over time.
Nails aren't made for heavy loads.

THIS DECK IMPLODED UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT BECAUSE OF NAILS.

This is what it looks like from underneath.

The only thing keep this deck section from total failure is a single cross brace, made of 1x6" stock.

DANGER, DANGER, DANGER.

Of course my client wanted to know if it could simply be fixed and salvaged.

Well no.  I will show you why.

My client's delightful agent, Kieno Simeon, whom I met for the first time on this inspection, walked around the deck with me as I explained some of its finer features!

When we were done he also understood that this was not something his client wanted to save.

So, am I sure NAILS were the problem here?

Look at the light fixture in both of these photos.

It was in the way of the putting-it-all-together crew!

So what did they do?

Just move it down!

The support beams (2x4s NAILED together) merely rested on that double 2x4 ledger beam (bolted to the house with lags, which are not approved in this county).  This section merely slid off that beam!

Look at the red box.  The next section is barely hanging on, with about 1/2" still resting on the beam!

It has slid so much the support underneath, NAILED on, is loose.

How much longer does it have?

Dunno!  Duncare!  It's dundone!

Here are some more of the finer features of this deck!

 

 

Here's another section hanging on with 1/2"!  Timber!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the other end of the collapsed beam, NAILED on with a similar 1/2" left to go!

Dryer vent?  We don't need no stinkin' dryer vent!

 

Let's see...  is this an indoor our outdoor lag screw?

 

 

Not much aplomb getting columns plumb.  Oh, they are three 2x6s NAILED together.

These are special stair posts that don't need to be buried.  Oh, they are two 2x4s NAILED together.

 

 

 

And, if we cut the stair tread too short, we can just screw it tight to pull it together, right? 

My recommendation:  beware the kit deck!  Beware the installers!  Beware the NAILS!  Beware time and gravity!

Just beware!  And hire a home inspector...

I know one you can call.  But there are others.  And get an experienced one who can control his laughter in front of the client.

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 31 commentsJay Markanich • May 11 2011 07:40AM

Comments

Good morning, Jay. I have never been a huge fan of nails on decks. But you know the drill. Give a man a nail gun and "Ker-Chunk, Ker-Chunk". Talk about Nirvana...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

That's true Michael.  Not working however!  Hangers and bolts, with nails to hold sections together.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Yikes!  It is amazing that that deck has not collapsed already! You have such a fun job!

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach (GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881) almost 8 years ago

We wouldn't go out on it Kathryn.  Just one part, to take the picture!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

I hate decks - they are nothing but trouble, and funny thing is everybody wants one! It also troubles me that homeowners hire contractors and either don't understand what they are doing, or just don't inspect for themselves as the work progresses. Wish you were here....

Posted by Anne M. Costello (Weidel Realtors) almost 8 years ago

Jerry, That deck is just a newspaper report waiting to happen about the injured/killed during the collapse.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) almost 8 years ago

Anne - properly done, decks are a cheap extra room and you can enjoy the outdoors or a barbeque.  I like ours, but it is a great deck!

Bliz - the house is vacant and it is unknown when the collapse occurred, but my client won't have the danger!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Decks are bad enough ... do it yourself decks usually spell disaster. This deck is a mess!

Posted by Cynthia Larsen, Independent Broker In Sonoma County, CA almost 8 years ago

Time and gravity work every time Cynthia if something is not done right.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Couple of years ago we had a deck collapse during a party in our area due to poor construction.  People were killed and injured.  An agent in our office at the time was at the party and had a broken leg and she had simply been UNDER the deck on the patio.  It was pretty horrific.  Hadn't heard of "kit" decks before this post though, I'll be on the look-out now!

Posted by Joel Weihe, Helping you to use your VA home loan benefits (Realty World Alliance) almost 8 years ago

Jay. You're in 'de-nail' or denial. Yes the nails are loose and all that. But the nails themselves are not the problem.

It's the absence of 'compression framing'; posts on footings, beams on posts, joists on beams, decking on joists, etc.

Nails are only pins to keep things in place, they are not to be weight bearing.

 

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 8 years ago

Jay ~  I love decks, and I, too, had a good friend (in Sterling, VA) who had a deck collapse during a party.  Fortunately, it was a very low deck and the injuries were minor -- DIY and it could have been catastrophic.  Now, about that gravity . . .

Posted by Tish Lloyd, Broker - Wilmington NC and Surrounding Beaches (BlueCoast Realty Corporation) almost 8 years ago

Jay - Those are some frightening photos! Can't imagine what the installers were thinking--or not thinking--when they "installed" the deck. 

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) almost 8 years ago

Jay,

It seems that decks are one of those items you almost never seen done correctly. I was reading some stats on how many are done correctly and so on. Field observations do not confirm this. When I find a deck done correctly I always remember it because is seems to be a rare item.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay, I have to admit, I rarely check the construction of decks, assuming they are constructed properly... That said, I always suggest a home inspection =)

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) almost 8 years ago

Jay,

Other than one I inspected once, that had rotted and fallen down, that is one of the worst looking decks I have ever seen. I would have Nutsy walk that one while I stand back.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Oh my.  See you Friday morning.  Do you want coffee and an Egg McMuffin? 

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) almost 8 years ago

Jay, I think I see a "start all over" moment coming.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Sheree - unfortunately we hear those stories frequently, and then the code people scramble to change things to "prevent this from happening again..."

Robert - no kidding!  This whole thing was done with nails!

Tish - DIY is a big problem, but these kit decks are usually installed by the company promoting them!  Hence, I wonder about the installers.  Sorry about your friend in Sterling.

John - and I don't know how old it is, but not very.  There are more photos!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

It is often the case, right Don?  And I find deck flashing in maybe one in ten decks, or less!

You aren't weird Chris.  Most people assume they are fine!

Steve - Nutsy likely would not have collapse it more, but I would not go out on it!

Cindy - does the house in Burke have a deck?  Sure - see you then!

Charlie - that was the consensus after I was done explaining what was going on!  I woule start again if it was my deck.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay,

Well done! I'm personally an extra large individual and above ground level decks have always caused me to wonder and be super careful. This disaster was WELL worth your time to share with the world and your photographic storytelling really helps.

Also found Robert's comments above curiously interesting regarding compression construction. Not being an engineer, maybe one of the two of you could write about that concept.

Posted by Brad Rachielles, REALTOR, CDPE, Upland, CA (CENTURY 21 Peak, Ca BRE# 01489453) almost 8 years ago

Brad - another disaster averted!  My client will tear this little fellow down.  And I have no idea what "compression construction" is!  I think Robert was saying something tongue in cheek, or however they do it in Canada, and I am not sure I understand, but his comment was interesting to say the least!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

If that deck had been here in CT this winter, all those problems would have been solved by the snow.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Right Jim!  And for all I know this happened 2 years ago when we had that 5' snow storm!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay - now that I have seen this I am going to want to start looking under decks......some are pretty low to the ground down here!

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) almost 8 years ago

Last summer two decks in one apartment complex in Hoover collapsed within just a couple of weeks of each other.  Scary stuff!

Posted by Ann Allen Hoover, CDPE SRES ASP e-PRO Realtor - Homes for Sale - AL (RE/MAX Advantage South) almost 8 years ago

Not so dangerous when they are so low Barbara-Jo, but all decks should be investigated!

Ann - the authorities will determine why and if codes need to be changed that will happen quickly.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay,

Thanks for the great inspection on this home.  Although my client was heartbroken upon hearing how awfully constructed this deck was, he is very very appreciative of the fact that you have saved him and his family from attempting to repair something that's irrepairable.  I am sure there's someone out there who would have attempted to put lipstick on this pig just to earn a buck.

Thanks again,

 

Kieno

Posted by Kieno Simeon Your South Riding Real Estate Consultant (Keller Williams Realty) almost 8 years ago

Thanks Kieno.  I am glad he is going to get rid of this pig, lipstick and all!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Holy crap, what a complete disaster.  I'm just glad it didn't completely collapse while it was loaded with people.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Who knows Reubs!  Actually I don't know how long this house has been vacant.  This could be one of the reasons it was!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

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