What I'm Seeing Now


A Chimney Is Not A Structural Member To Attach To

Often times decks are weakened by the way they are attached to a house.  And a chimney should not be used to support the deck's structure.  A chimney is not a structural member to attach to.

This house has two wood-burning fireplaces.

So, to accommodate both flues, which have to be independent, the chimney box is very wide.

The structure for these chimney flues is a mere wooden surround.  It is basically a bump out, attached to the house's structure, but not a part of it.

There is no cantilever inside this chimney to make it a part of the house's structure.

And so decks are not supposed to be attached to them!

Approximately one third of this deck is attached to the chimney.

And not even very well!  I only counted four bolts.  And I'm not sure what kind of bolts they are!

Decks usually don't collapse downward.  What usually happens is people go out onto the deck and congregate at the outer guardrail.

This places all the weight to the outside.  Attachment to the house is CRITICAL to the deck's ability to stand straight and support that weight.

When decks collapse, it is most often by falling away from the house.  This deck has been there a long time, but that doesn't discount the potential danger.


This is one of the most common mistakes made by homeowner or unprofessional deck builders.  What should have happened?

The two joist surrounding the chimney on both sides should be doubled up.  And between them a double joist should run parallel to the chimney, but not attaching thereto.  Then those perpendicular support joists can be properly, safely and securely, attached to that double cross joist assembly.

That is one way to tell that this deck was not built professionally.

Here is another way!         --------->

The outside joists really ought to be doubled also.  This provides strength to the deck "box," but also for the outside guardrail to anchor into.

But look.  Not only is this (and the other) outside joist single, it is attached flimsily with a single angle bracket in the corner.

That bracket does not afford enough nail holes for proper attachment.

When they give way, and they often do, this is the result.

From above it is obvious that the decking in that corner has sunk a bit over 1".


So this "deck guy" was consistent in his inability to understand structure and attachment.

My recommendation:  decks afford many opportunities for failure.  They seem to be one of the things most-often attempted by nonprofessionals.  They watch a TV show and bang, they can build one too!  Look at the decks very carefully, see how wobbly the guardrails are, see if there is any sagging or if the joists are close enough.  And don't walk out on a deck with high heels!  You will appreciate that tip... pun intended!



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

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


Comment balloon 49 commentsJay Markanich • August 25 2011 06:24AM


Jay - here you are again this early morning pushing out excellent advise.  I always enjoy reading your well written and informative posts.  Thank you!

Posted by Barbara Hensley, Homes for Sale in Rockwall County, Texas (RE/MAX Properties) almost 9 years ago

I recall when a deck failed a few years ago and collapsed with 16 people on it and serious injuries.  The deck fell AWAY from the house.

This was new construction town house and the deck was standard installed by Michael Harris builders. 

I never forget. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

YEOW!  As for decks collapsing downward, let's not forget the overcrowded upper level porches at the Pavilions at the UVA lawn that collapsed downward a decade ago during graduation

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) almost 9 years ago

Thank you for the information. It is importnat to hire a good home inspector to check out these issues.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) almost 9 years ago

Barbara - thank you.  Again, glad you enjoyed it!  We try to be instructive here!

Lenn - that is how it almost always happens.  And that is why the attachment codes have changed so much over the years.  "Standard" decks by builders can be a problem?

I remember that Wallace.  It's always structural.

Gita - decks have to be looked at carefully.  They can be very dangerous.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Jay - I agree, decks seem to be a popular DIY weekend project with very little thought/research....

Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) almost 9 years ago

Jay, your experience and knowledge shows in each inspection blog you write. You are an asset to your profession. Of course, I had to go outside and inspect the front deck on the house. My property manager will not like you. Too bad you are in VA. When we get ready to buy in two years, your expertise would have been highly desired.

Posted by Carolyn Nelson, Your Triangle to Triad Real Estate Expert! (Realty One Carolina, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Most home owners never learn of these dangers until it's too late and they fail. Hire a Professional Home Inspector to get the whole picture.

Posted by A1 Certified Home Inspections almost 9 years ago

Thanks for the post Jay.  Great information,  I always look forward to your posts.  Decks are one of the reasons my buyers reject a home.  If it wobbles, shakes, or looks run down my buyers pick another home.

Posted by Phil Hillerman, Crye-Leike Realtors® (Crye-Leike Realtors®) almost 9 years ago

Another "Home Run", Mr. Jay.  Good morning, today is a good day to "Make ready" for Irene.

Posted by Kenneth Cole, NYS Licensed Real Estate Salesperson (Weichert Realtors Appleseed Group, 2043 Richmond Ave. S.I.N.Y. 10314. office phone 718-698-9797, Appleseedhomes.com -) almost 9 years ago

Great point Jay, have seen 1 too many wobbly railings and even decks that have a sway too them if you walk heavily. A professional can definately assist in pointing out these structural problems before you buy to avoid disaster later.

Posted by Scott Godzyk, One of the Manchester NH's area Leading Agents (Godzyk Real Estate Services) almost 9 years ago

Good morning, Jay....in my town, it's illegal to put a deck on unless you submit a plan and pull a permit....no handyman decks allowed....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Marketing Agent for The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) almost 9 years ago


When I bought my new house ten years ago, the first thing I did was reinforce my deck. When you add a gas grill, lots of flower pots with water, some furniture and a few people, you really have a load.

I love the information that you share!

Posted by Richard Weisser, Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional (Richard Weisser Realty) almost 9 years ago

Well, Jay, one thing about shoddy craftsmanship is that it is universal.  We're getting an REO ready for sale.  It was built by the homeowners.  Lots of things to point out on this one.  Yeow!

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) almost 9 years ago

Great post Jay.  Homwowners and buyers rarely pay much attention to poorly built or flimsy decks.  Of course it can be a hugely dangerous situation.

Posted by Howard and Susan Meyers (The Hudson Company Winnetka and North Shore) almost 9 years ago
Jay -great post. Great reminder to let those who have the experience and expertise do the job.
Posted by Mike Yeo (3:16 team REALTY) almost 9 years ago

Jay, when I had my deck built the plans had to be approved by the County and it was inspected three times before the permit was signed. How do people get away with this?

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 9 years ago

Jay, thanks for an educational post.  Did you do a chimney inspection as well?   How were you able to determine that there was no cantilever inside the chimney attaching it to the structure?

Posted by Brian Schulman, Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552 (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA) almost 9 years ago

Jay - once again you are teaching something I needed to learn.......even down here we DO have the occasional chimney.

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 9 years ago

Decks in the city of Toronto at the second and third levels have become quite common. Many of them are just as risky as this.


Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) almost 9 years ago

Thanks for the lesson in deck construction Jay. seems like there are a lot of important things to remember in the construction of a deck, especially in the fastening to the structure.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) almost 9 years ago

Jay, people get whacky with decks for sure

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 9 years ago

Jay, Thanks for the great information as always. Have a great day!

Posted by K.C. McLaughlin, Realtor, e-PRO, Homes for Sale - Cary, Raleigh NC (RE/MAX United) almost 9 years ago

I bet your clients are very happy they hired you - you seem to really CSI the inpsectoin and find thigns that could mean big bucks for buyers if they bought the house and didnt have your excellent advise

Posted by Linda Edelwich, Glastonbury Office's #1 Top Producing Agent-not on (William Raveis Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

Jay, you clients may be feeling somewhat relieved, but the sellers are definitely not going to like this report. And then there's the deal about the permit?

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) almost 9 years ago

Amazing in this day and age of these things taking place considering that a good inspection does what it is supposed to do. Not having an inspection is an invitation to have big problems. When I do my walk-thru report, I question and mention everything. I then welcome an inspection after that. In the end, I want everyone to get what they bargained for. That's why people hire us...good post Jay

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) almost 9 years ago

That makes a lot of sense that most of the strain is going to be when people walk towards the outer perimeter of a deck and that will push away from the house. 

Posted by Morgan Evans, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

Jay - Every year we hear news reports of decks collapsing, yet builders and homeowners fail to give them the attention they merit.  That's why a close inspection of a deck during a home inspection is critical.  Not only can it prevent further damage to the structure, it could save a life or serious injury.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) almost 9 years ago

Jay, there you go again..doing your job and making people aware of dangerous situations!  Can't you open a branch in NJ..my buyer's need your expertise!  I love the information your blogs provide..the knowledge makes me a better Realtor!  Thanks

Posted by Tara Stone, NJ Estates and Stables (eXp Realty) almost 9 years ago

The deck seems to be an afterthought to most buyers of something that they need to be very careful about, but obviously the potential for a major accident on a deck is important to know about. 

Posted by Eileen Hsu, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

Jay - we had a deck collapse near our office a few years back -- it also fell away from the house, and the partygoers were hurt.  Surprise, surprise - no one had applied for or gotten a permit to build it either. 

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) almost 9 years ago

Very find and good post Jay,


BUILDING CODES and NO SHORTCUTS are ALWAYS the best way to Go! Best support for any deck would be "Independently Supported." Yeah, they can say the house blew away but that deck was still in place, lol.

Again Good Post Jay! 

Posted by David Stokes (Ambassador Home Inspections, LLC.) almost 9 years ago

I wonder why people can't understand how something that may stand on its own may not be strong enough to hold their weight in a sustainable way. 

We have had so many stories of deck collapses in my area, especially in the boroughs of NYC, that it is amazing to me that it doesn't sink in. 

Posted by J. Philip Faranda, Broker-Owner (J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY) almost 9 years ago

Jay, great information, that many people are going to benefit from, thanks.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) almost 9 years ago

Carol - structure is not something you should ASSUME you know about!

Thank you Carolyn for your very kind words!  Maybe one day I can see your deck!  Send me some photos!

A1 - that's the idea and pretty obvious to you and to me.  But so many don't see that.

Phil - decks are serious business and so often wrong.  It is wise to be wary.

Ken - I am NOT looking forward to Irene.  They are saying maybe 120mph sustained!  My house for sure is not used to that.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Scott - the rail is a very serious part of the deck!  Next to the support, it is the next most crucial.

Well, Barbara - it is code here too!  Does everyone pull a permit?  Obviously not!

Richard - smart move.  It's probably worked out well for you too.

Mike - have fun with it!  Those homeowner gems usually add a lot of time to the sale.

H&S - and with each collapse or accident the codes have to change again!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Mike Y. - that seems to be a very hard thing for some to do!

Michael - that's because you pulled a permit!  These faulty decks obviously weren't approved, and therefore slipped by without one.

Brian - the fireplaces and flues are metal inserts.  There are two fireplaces and therefore two flues inside that chimney cavity you see.  That does not afford room for proper catilevering, but a cantilever is for horizontal support, not vertical.  Also, I have done enough pre-drywall inspections to know how they frame these things.

Barbara-Jo - now you know not to attach to them!

Brian - they are risky all over the place.  It's a matter of professionalism.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Tom - there are many reasons for the many deck codes.  Attachment codes are pretty specific.

Shadow - they get whacky on the decks too!  Then they fall...

K.C. - I always do.  Even during Irene this weekend!  Can't wait...

Linda - safety is an important part of the home inspection process.  And improper building techniques.

Ed - I don't know what happens with the permit thing.  The county might not cotton to this deck!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Richie - that is why!  We all do what we do best, and in the end everyone benefits.

Morgan - hence all the attachment codes.  Decks fall away, not down!

John - and with every one of those reports, the codes change!  It's hard to make all that stuff proactive!

Thank you Tara, glad you subscribe!  I used to go to Princeton every summer to visit my aunt and uncle.  Is that like opening a branch?  It was a long time ago though...

Eileen - things like this happen because people are ignorant and assume.  When we are unaware of something, we probably shouldn't proceed as if we did!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Steven - so someone checked into it AFTER the collapse?  Great policy!

David - for sure, all of that!  I say to clients all the time, when the deck is really well done, to run out onto the deck in the event of an earthquake and they'll be safe!

Joe - it all boils down to ignorance.  It's unfortunate too.  People see something on TV and think they can do it.  We don't know what we don't know.

I hope so too Chris!  That's why I post this stuff.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Jay great post...here in Chicago we learned how important it is to have your deck/porch built right.

Posted by Goran Utvic, We Buy & Sell Chicago Houses Fast (606 Homes LLC | Chicagoland Brokers Inc, Chicago IL 60656) almost 9 years ago

Goran - everywhere it seems there have been serious deck issues.  It is important to get it right!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

I was showing an REO not too long agon and the deck was VERY shaky.  I'm always leery stepping out onto an deck that is unknown to me.

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) almost 9 years ago

Justin - you should make it a habit to look at it from underneath before you venture out on top!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago


It seems almost every deck I inspect will have some issues. Like the one you used in this blog some much more than others. I am sometimes amazed that more people do not get hurt on some of these decks.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Decks are always worth a close look, but at least they are usually open and accessible. Just because it's holding today, doesn't mean it always will.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 9 years ago

Don - which is why accidents seem to happen so often!  And when least expected.

Robert - all things need is an event - too many people, lots of weight on the guardrai, whatever!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

That deck looks like a good candidate for more footings and more posts.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Good point Reubs!  Interestingly the deck next door had been extended 4' on each side and stairs were added.  The obviously professional deck guy saw that the deck was bolted to that chimney, like this one, (builder done since they are the same?) and suggested they add another long beam just to the outside of the chimney and spanning the deck.  I pointed it out to my buyer as not only smart but necessary.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 9 years ago

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