Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Building A Deck - The Wrong Way

My deck sucks.

Yep, whoever built the deck for the previous owner of my home was a complete dolt.  After reading this you're probably going to feel a great deal better about your deck.  Although my deck situation definitely makes me feel "Not OK", you'll probably end up feeling quite a bit of "I'm OK" after reading this. 

Glad to help out and make your day, by the way.

Deck Builder Dude: Who Are You?

After buying my home and placing the existing deck on life support for the last few years, it's time this deck is taken down and forgotten. Mind you, it has served its purpose to remind me that out there, somewhere in deck-building contractor land, there is some guy out there building decks stupidly.

So where do we begin our voyage of discovery?

I guess from the ground up would be the best thing to do.

As we all know the thing that hold up our houses, skyscrapers, and decks is the soil or dirt on the building lot.  The best and only type of soil to build upon is undisturbed soil.

Take a look at the creative approach deck builder dude took to solve the issue about putting a post on disturbed soil close to the foundation.  The solution - there is no contact with any undisturbed soil, or any bearing surface for that matter - period.

The post is suspended with an air gap close to 3 inches separating the underside of the post from anything that would offer it support.  Disturbed or undisturbed soil.

Well, you may think this is a bad thing.  Actually, it's a good thing, especially when you look at the beam to post connection up above.

Two Posts Are Better Than One

Typically, the beam to post connection is just pure compression.  The beam collects the live and dead loads from the deck joists above.  The post accepts these loads and transfers them down into the soil below. Undisturbed soil that is.

 Well, deck builder dude must have had one too many during this summer holiday project.  To be on the safe side, two posts were installed.  The beam is connected to the shorter post with three nails and to the longer post, one screw and one nail were used.

Since neither post bears on anything, deck builder dude could have used chewing gum and binder twine for this connection.

I mean, come on.

My quick calculations tell me the live load this one post is supposed to carry is about 2,880 pounds, plus or minus 10%.

When you consider the amount of weight the post and beam connections need to transfer between one another, you want more than one screw and one nail to be doing the job.  To be fair, on the other side of the "beam" deck builder dude used two screws for long post and four nails for the shorter post.

Oh, and never, ever, ever use nails or screws to hold up a beam like this. This type of beam connection needs to have a cleat nailed to the face of the post below the beam.

I bet right about now you're feeling pretty "I'm OK" about your deck, aren't you. 

It gets better.

Joist Hangers and Hand Grenades

Floor joists, whether used for an exterior deck or for your home need 1-1/2 inches of bearing surface to rest upon.  When you have a flush connection, say between a ledger board and a floor joist, you use a joist hanger to provide the bearing surface required.

The tricky part about joist hangers, at least for deck builder dude, was knowing you needed to insert the joist into the joist hanger for the system to be effective.

So for all you wanna-be deck builder dudes out there: placing the joist hanger near the joist just doesn't cut it.  The joist must rest inside the joist hanger.

So what happens when you run out of joist hangers?

Well, you can go buy more, or, hey wait a minute, why not make your own?

And that's exactly what deck builder dude did.

Yep, believe it or not, the ends of this beam are supported using home-made joist hangers fashioned out of sheet metal.  Deck builder dude did a pretty good job of making these hangers look real, but to be real, a joist hanger is engineered to provide you with the stiffness, strength, and nailing pattern required.

Mind you, this connection may not have seemed critical because, after all, just four feet away to the right, deck builder dude installed those two posts I talked about earlier.

Accuracy or Precision? Take Your Pick.

Speaking of nailing patterns, as was mentioned, every joist hanger is engineered to carry the load a floor joist may be carrying. A 2 by 10 joist hanger will have more holes in it for you to drive a fastener into than a joist hanger for a 2 by 6 joist for example.  That only makes sense since bigger joists are capable of bigger loads before they fail.

Once again, deck builder dude shows us what their opinion on the matter is.  To this particular individual, properly nailing a joist hanger is optional.

You have to give deck builder dude credit though. They managed to get the joist to sit in the hanger on this one.

Back to the joist hangers. The joist hanger manufacturers make it dead-simple to use their product.  Place the joist inside the hanger, and where there is a hole, drive a fastener into it.

Over 60% of the required fasteners for this connection in the photo are missing.


Oh, and can you see the difference between the "real" and "home-made" joist hanger? The home made joist hanger is dented where deck builder dude used those wee thin rusty nails.

Is There More?

Oh, there is just so much more to this project deck building dude messed up.  This is just a small sample of the type of idiocy that exists in the deck they built for the previous owner of my home, and the type of service that's out there.

If you're a homeowner, be aware, because this deck builder dude may be the guy building your deck.

To stop deck building dude dead in his tracks, hire a professional to design your deck for you. Create a scope of work and get a building permit.

Get a permit.

Did I say that already?

The only person you're helping by not getting a permit is deck building dude who is tired of all those inspectors telling him how to do things and messing up his zen.

If you're buying a house, have it inspected by a qualified professional, like me, who can spot deck building dude's handiwork right off the bat.

Together, we can stop deck building dude cold in his tracks.
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