Decks are one of the most popular outdoor living projects for today’s homes and a favorite project of DIYers and handymen. New products continually appear on the market to make these spaces more inviting while promising less maintenance.
Decks are also the most frequently revised topic in the national building codes due to the high failure rates.
The code models are constantly searching for a formula that will eliminate the variables that contribute to the failures. The primary source of these failures is lack of knowledge of proper construction techniques on the part of the deckbuilder.
This is vitally important for a structure that is subjected unprotected to abuse of the weather 365 days a year. And decks also tend to periodically get very heavily loaded by the very nature of their intended use (it’s the fair weather party spot of choice).
Improperly constructed decks not only have a significantly reduced lifespan, but can also damage the house they are attached to contributing to water intrusion, wood rot, mold and structural failure of the attachment area.
Something most homeowners – and many deckbuilders – don’t know and understand are the building codes surrounding the construction of the handrails.
Any deck or porch over 30” above the adjacent finished grade must, by the International Building Code, have a handrail system that must must meet certain specifics on opening sizes and be able to withstand a laterally applied load of 200 lbs.
What does it take to achieve this rating? The codes don’t tell you that. There is actually very little data available on what it takes to achieve that rating.
The code inspectors (if your deck was actually permitted) won’t make a ruling on the strength of your handrail. If it’s there and meets the other specifications on heights and openings, you passed. But a good rule of thumb is “if you can wiggle it, it’s doesn’t meet code”.
But why does this really matter, anyway? Most of the decks built in this country don’t meet this requirement. Well, here’s the rub.
The Liabilities of Deck Building
If someone falls from your deck due to a handrail failure, you are liable. The same as if the entire deck falls off the house. If you built the deck yourself, your homeowners insurance carrier may elect to not cover your loss (read “Law Suite” here). They didn’t mention that in the diy class at the lumber superstore, did they?
If you hired a couple of guys who “build decks on the side” to do it, the plaintiff’s attorney will go looking for them – and name you and them both in the suite. At this point, your insurance carrier may still elect to opt out, leaving you holding the bag.
Have no doubt that by this time, the plaintiff’s attorney will have hired a P.E. to analyze the construction and determine it did not meet the required rating of the building codes.
At Profitt Custom Homes, we build decks – properly. And we guarantee them to meet (and exceed) building codes. We do permit all our decks and have them inspected. And if something did ever go wrong – we are insured.
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