While most decks are constructed in areas where it is almost impossible to build without a building permit, in some instances do-it-yourselfers sneak their building projects past the Planning Department under the guise of “replacement”.
What this means is that the property owner wishes to replace all or part of a structure with the exact same structure with the exact same design because the previous structure is starting to fail. The problem with this is that the new structure may not be designed or certified by an engineer and it may have been built by someone unqualified to do so.
Before we dive into this article with Darren our Certified Master Inspector (CMI)® here in Myrtle Beach, it is very important to understand the design and building process along with the necessary steps required to ensure proper building practices and a safe and sound structure:
1/ Design – A residential deck can be designed by the owner of the property, however for any deck over 100 sf the deck must have a permit and in order to get a permit the deck design must be certified by an engineer. This design will be incorporated onto a site plan provided by your local government or a survey provided by a licensed professional surveyor.
2/ Engineering – The designer will have the design reviewed by the responsible professional engineers (e.g., structural engineers) to certify that the design meets the most current engineering requirements outlined by the State or Federal authorities. The engineer will produce certified engineered construction drawings for the deck.
3/ Permitting – The certified construction drawings must then be submitted to the local Building Department for review and issuance of a building permit.
4/ Construction – Following the issuance of the building permit, construction may commence with building inspections performed by a County or local building official at the following stages of construction. This can include the following:
  • Excavation inspection prior to laying the foundation and footing
  • Framing & final inspection and a Certificate of Occupancy (CO)
If any of these steps are missed or ignored, then the end result is a compromised and possibly unsafe structure and deck system. If you encounter one or more of the following major concerns detailed below, there is a definite possibility that the seller has not followed the rigorous standard process detailed above.
All of the major concerns listed below were found at a multi- family property with a 3 story deck and all concerns are indications of a person or Contractor with very little building experience. This structure would not pass a local authority building inspection and/ or would never be certified by an engineer.
Structural (Framing)
Structural framing is pretty basic, decking is fastened to joists which span from beam to beam and then the load is transferred to columns or load bearing walls below. The detail below (or variations of) is typical in almost all applications and if one or more detail components are compromised or missing it could be a catastrophic failure. Any number of methods can be used to construct a deck system however, it is fundamental that the basic principles are followed. Directly below is a typical detail of what is more or less the same in all wooden deck applications.

Connections & Hardware
A critical part of deck construction is that proper connections are made from the foundation-to-post, post-to-beam, beam-to-joists and in a multi level deck situation post-to-beam-to-post. It is also critically important that the proper hardware and fasteners are used in the correct places. Below are some typical connections you will find on a well designed, well constructed deck.

Foundation to Post Connections

Ledger board connection (Deck to exterior wall)

 

 

Post to Beam Connections

Post to Beam to Post Connection

The “Nightmare”

What we are about to show you is a major safety hazard in an undisclosed location. Failure of any of the components listed below could result in a catastrophe.
~Disclaimer- Steps were taken by our office to alert municipal officials to visit this property to review and assess the deck structure. What we found out is that the deck did not have the required permits, was not designed or certified by an Engineer and was built by an unlicensed person or Contractor. Typically we would not alert County officials regarding any unauthorized structures, however, in this case lives are potentially at stake.~
No foundation to post connections (Major Safety Concern)

Major Safety concerns with the 2 photos above;
1/ These lower level posts are 4″ x 4″, the calculated live load (people) plus dead load (building materials) for a 3 story deck requires the lower level posts to be 6″ x 6″.
2/ There is no foundation to post connection or anchorage hardware. Enough lateral shift of this post at this location will result in the complete failure of the 3 story deck structure.
3/ We can assume that the required concrete footing below the concrete sidewalk is inadequate for the live and dead load of the structure above.

What should be there?

Inadequate Post to Beam Connections

(Major Safety Concern)

Major Safety concerns with the photos above;
1/ Incorrect or inadequate post to beam connection hardware.
2/ Incorrect or inadequate fasteners
3/ No post (lower level) to beam to post (upper level) connection.
Failure of any of these incorrect or inadequate components will result in complete failure of the deck structure.

What should be there?

Inadequate post (lower level) to beam to post (upper level) connection

(Major Safety Concern)

There are all kinds of concerns with the photos above but the primary concern is that there are no proper vertical connections from one level to the next which means that each level is deflecting, settling, and shifting independent of one another opposed to the latter. In this case, the Major Safety concerns with the photos above are;
1/ Inadequate or no beam to post connection (impossible to correct because the post is cut above the deck)
2/ Incorrect fasteners
3/ 4 x 4 post was cut short and shim used to compensate (strict building code violation and an obvious failure)
These components among others are critical in the make up of the deck structure, they will most certainly fail if the problem is not addressed and when they fail it will be a catastophe.
Experience and Craftmanship

The photo above is a great example of what you will find with an inexperienced builder. There are several engineering, quality and obvious lack of experience issues with positioning of the 3 columns, the sizing of the 3 columns and the load transfer of the 3 columns etc. however, the real conundrum here is how did they build this without it falling down during construction?

Stairway to Heaven

The staircase shown above was showing signs of excessive dry rot and deterioration and must be replaced. As you can see almost every stringer for the staircase has split. This particular person or Contractor did not think it was necessary to do anything to correct the problem. The Major Safety concerns with the photos above;
1/ All dry rot must be removed and replaced with weather resistant dimensional lumber.
2/ All fasteners and hardware must be weather resistant.
3/ Excessive dry rot must be inspected by a qualified termite inspector to ensure extent of dry rot is not inclusive of termites of other wood boring insects.
When encountering a situation like this your Myrtle Beach Home Inspector will ask themselves the following;

1/ Was there a building permit granted for the deck?

2/ Was the deck designed and engineered by a professional engineer?

3/ Was the deck built by a licensed contractor or a home owner with the skill set to do so?

If the answer to any of these questions is “NO” then these problems or over-sights are now the responsibility of the purchaser and they will inherently have to deal with them down the road.

If you factor in that all the patent defects are not only lacking design, proper installation and include building code violations, they are also lacking common sense in which case it needs to be assumed that there are potentially many latent defects that cannot be seen by the myrtle beach home inspector.

In any scenario like this the potential buyer will almost always ask how much it would cost to repair these items, at which point we will always explain that they should not be concerned about the cost of repairs, they should be concerned with safety, the latent defects, inconvenience of repairs and resale potential of the home, and in other words why they should “RUN”. Based on my findings during this deck inspection it was my recommendation that the Buyer not proceed with the purchase.

We hope you enjoyed this article.

This experience was created by;

Darren Dawson- Certified Master Inspector

Myrtle Beach, SC

(352) 665- 9900

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