Photo of a residential deck construction(C) Daniel FriedmanGuide to Safe Porch & Deck Construction

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How to build a deck:

This article defines the parts & components of a deck and discusses building permits and code requirements needed for a do it yourself design-build deck project. This article series describes critical safe-construction details for decks and porches, including avoiding deck or porch collapse and unsafe deck stairs and railings.

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Deck & Porch Construction, Inspection, Repair & Safety Guide

The Parts of a Deck or Porch

Strong tall porch (C) Daniel FriedmanAs a deck project begin to take shape, you will need to have a basic understanding of the structure of a typical deck. Knowing the name and purpose of each part will also help you in talking with your lumberyard and the local building department, as well as any contractors or architects.

The photo, left, shows a tall deck project that quickly evolved into a covered porch. It was constructed by the website editor, Daniel Friedman, in 1983. One of the project conditions requested by the owner was that this high deck should not be wobbly or bouncy (nor unsafe).

Decks consist of several layers of construction, each with its own components and function.

The ledger joins a deck to the house framing. Concrete piers, often resting on wider footings below ground, provide the deck’s ’solid connection with the ground. Posts establish the height of the deck, tying the piers to on more beams. Joists attach ledger and beams, provide underlying frame for the d which is the surface layer.

If the deck is more than 2 feet above ground, it should be surrounded by a railing, which typically consists of posts, and balusters. Stairs are treads and sometimes risers attached to stringers, as well as a railing on each side.

Decks, like houses, are largely held together by lumber and fasteners. But houses have roofs, sheathing, and siding to protect them from the elements and add support. Decks, on the other hand, are exposed to all kinds of weather.

They can be buried in snow one season and baked in the sun the next, and may have to endure heavy foot traffic, deep freezes, and drenching rainfalls. When faced with such conditions, the materials that go into a deck are prone to deteriorate. Wood rots, fasteners loosen, metal rusts, and foundations may heave.

On many decks, shortcuts or simple errors made in planning or building accelerate the damage. A well-designed and well-constructed deck can survive intact for decades with regular maintenance. A poorly built and maintained deck can begin to deteriorate in just a couple of years.

Fine deck building may require that you spend a little more for materials, take a little longer on the construction, and take time to maintain and repair the deck as needed, but the results will be worth it.

Deck Building Building Permit and Deck Building Code Inspection Warnings

We inspected a deck built nearly eight feet above ground level, and without any railings. The owner wanted the view to remain unobstructed. The owner promptly asked us to convert the deck to a sun-porch using translucent corrugated roof panels. At the time of this photo safe railing balusters had not yet been installed.

At another New York deck that was built abutting the home but not attached to it, we also encountered deck high above the ground (about 8') with no railings whatsoever.

Our opinion was that this was a dangerous structure and that guard railings were needed. A local inspector examined the deck and opined that because the deck was a free standing structure, "building codes did not apply" and so no guardrail was "required". Our advice was that railings were needed for safety, regardless of that local opinion.

In most jurisdictions, home inspectors, building consultants, and builders are not permitted to declare that a structure does or does not comply with local, state, national, or modern building codes. That authority is reserved for the local building code compliance officer.

But in most jurisdictions a building permit and final building code compliance inspections are required to build a deck, regardless of whether or not the deck is attached to the principal structure.

And regardless of what any inspector claims about the "legal requirement" for guard rails on decks, we recommend that for safety, guard rails and stair railings (if stairs are installed) should be provided; if the deck is more than 3 ft. above ground level the requirement for guard railings and stair rails is required by model and most local building codes.

References on Deck Construction & Inspection


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Or for deck building best construction practices see DECK CONSTRUCTION BEST PRACTICES

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