Deck Collapse Hazard

Its deck season, and with that sometimes comes unfortunate deck mishaps such as structural failures or collapses. Just a few weeks ago a two-story backyard deck collapsed in Austin, Texas injuring six people.

Structurally speaking, it is very important that our decks are safe and sound as we entertain guests and expand our family space outside.

Proper materials, construction, water management, and regular maintenance are required for these outdoor areas to be safe for use.

As part of our forensic evaluation services, Pie has often been called upon to evaluate the condition/capacity of existing decks as well as to determine the cause of collapsed decks.

The most common deck failures we’ve assisted with include:

  • Deterioration of fasteners: including nails, screws, and bolts.
  • Improper material selection: decks constructed with materials that are neither decay nor insect-resistant can lead to the degeneration of materials and eventual collapse.
  • Undersized materials: building codes require that decks be constructed to match the usage of the structure to which they are attached.  So, for a typical residence, that means a weight of forty pounds per square foot, but a deck for a restaurant needs to be constructed for much higher loads.
  • Moisture and climatic variables: In Colorado for example, we assist with structural failure claims caused by heavy snow loads.
  • Deck stability: some decks are constructed to be independent of adjacent structures; most decks are attached to an adjacent structure.  If the deck is independently constructed, then there must be sufficient bracing and adequate foundations to prevent the deck from swaying, tilting, and overturning.  When a deck is attached to an adjacent structure, the deck relies heavily on the adjacent structure for stability; the connection to the adjacent structure is critical.  Fastener selection (bolts and screws) is critical.
  • Poor water management: regardless of how well a deck is constructed, improper water management can lead to water infiltrating the structure around the anchors, causing the structure of the primary building to deteriorate to a point where it is no longer capable of providing adequate stability.

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