Local News

Collapsed Deck Serves As Warning To Homeowners, Inspectors Say

Posted March 29, 2005 7:13 a.m. EST

— The Triangle area is about to get the kind of warm weather that makes for great deck parties. But such a get-together can turn chaotic. Consider what happened over the weekend in Durham when -- during a children's Easter party -- a deck collapsed, sending seven people to the hospital.

Though inspectors have not determined why the deck toppled on Saturday, building inspector Jim Lane said such incidents serve as a wake-up call for those who have a deck. Often, he added, the difference between a sturdy and unsafe deck can come down to the difference between a bolt and screw.

"We want to see the nut and washer," said Lane, who supervises building inspectors in Raleigh.

The collapsed deck was built in the late 1980s. Lane said building codes back then allowed builders to use screws to secure decks.

Since 1995, the standard has been bolts.

Now, Lane said, screws are the first thing officials look for when inspecting a house --whether a deck is freestanding or fastened to a house.

But most homeowners never think about the structural aspect of their decks. It takes incidents like the one on Sunday to pique their interest.

"We were concerned at one point in time, back when they had the a big Chicago collapse," said Peter Harris, who has a deck. "We actually had our builder come back out and take a look at our deck."

In the summer of 2003, a toppled deck in Chicago killed 12 people and injured 60. That deck was fastened with screws.

Lane said any deck built before 1995 may have trouble supporting even a small group of people.

"Ten, fifteen kids," Lane said. "We just won the NCAA and everything like that and now we're jumping on the deck. The deck starts to work itself out over a period of time and those screws will pull right out."

Lane said some warning signs of worn decks are rusted nails and portions of the deck that move when someone walks over that area.

If you are concerned about your deck, Lane added, you should contact a building inspector.